Sunday, May 20, 2012

Life is grape!

The days are getting longer, the vines have started to grow, the poppies are coloring everything in red, the olives are just about to flower...this is what Tuscany looks like in May!

I haven't got a whole lot on my heart for this blog post - just to share the joy of life, accentuated by fantastic scenery and lovely weather :) The picture above was taken at one of our favorite wine estates in Chianti Classico - Montecalvi, producer of great organic wines (that of course you can buy on our site

And then a picture of my adopted hometown Colle di Val d'Elsa...just because it's pretty! Not a lot of tourists make it to our town because Tuscany has so much to offer and some towns are simply overlooked. If you do decide to come here, I highly recommend the Hotel Palazzo San Lorenzo - which lies strategically across from our restaurant Officina della Cucina Popolare.

Here's a picture taken on a wine tour yesterday. You can't really see it, but Radda in Chianti is on one of the hilltops in the middle of the picture.

Happy spring to you wherever you are from Tuscany where life is really grape!!!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Trinity - the Sister, the Brother and the New Baby

Happy Spring to everyone! Here in central Tuscany the poppy flowers are going crazy painting the green countryside with red - it's so beautiful. A lot of people ask when the best time to come to Tuscany is... It's always beautiful, but May really has a special color scheme and the temperatures are still pretty mild.
Anyway, today is Sunday and we are relaxing a bit before heading in to the new Wine School in Florence.
I promised you a photo of the new one, and so finally I got all 3 lined up (even if just for a second). I'm not crazy about showing my kids on the internet, so this is all you'll get!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Confessions of a wine tour guide

RIDDLE: Is this or is this not a JOKE?!

"How many Italians does it take to do a wine tour?
1. Tour Operator / Travel agent to organise the day and write the invoice.
2. Technical director. No purpose, just every T.O./T.A. has to have one. By law.
3. Driver. To drive.
4. Tour leader, to make sure nobody gets lost and to facilitate toilet breaks."

ANSWER: To find out read on...

This post is a bit more serious than my usual posts. But I want to write something about an argument which touches us and other people who are or want to be wine tour guides in Italy.
When you read this please notice that I've chosen to live in Italy and I love it here.
I've often got the "she must be out of her mind"-look from Italians when I've told them that I've moved to Italy of my own will. So to say that nobody forced me. This may seem crazy to the tourist. Italy is indeed a beautiful country to visit - it's got all a tourist could long for. In fact, when you visit you touch the surface...and it is magical! Living here is a different story...not just for expats but for Italians themselves who of course are much more acceptant to how things work or sometimes don't work. Italians who don't accept leave Italy and settle in the New World.
Old traditions linger in Italy, laws that are outdated and go back to long lost idealisms. Bureaucracy is a good way to describe it. Endless bureaucracy. And regulations that no one knows why are there, but they are and so that's it.
Years ago I had the crazy idea to start my own company and offer wine tours. Why? Because I love wine, speak English and am good with people. The idea of showing people the best that Tuscany had to offer was almost a noble cause and it became my mission. The idea took off and what started as a hobby became a profession. I created a website and a trademark "Tuscan Wine Tours".
Things took off. Travelers were happy. Wineries were happy. I was the link between them and it made me happy, too. The company was set up with an Italian tax number and I could write invoices. I thought everything was going on well.
Then it happened that apparently I hadn't looked into all of the regulations as I should have.
I wasn't aware that I was supposed to open a travel agency (which takes several requirements such as a "technical director", a store front which is open to the public, etc.), own a licensed taxi sort of vehicle (limited by number of licences available) to which one needs to get a special parking lot, get a particular taxi driver license to drive the licensed vehicle, after having registered in the Province. In addition to this it's also helpful to have a license for guiding people around called "accompagnatore turistico" which miraculously has no cost, but it is required to have knowledge of at least 3 languages and a superior sort of education!!!
N.B. Nobody requires you to know anything about wine (!!!!)

So, of course, the only one to blame was myself for not knowing all of this, and therefore when I one day got a fine from the police, I couldn't kick anyone else in the behind but myself.
So that was it, I had to modify the way I was working and I could live with that.
What really was the sad part of the story was all the badmouthing I got from competitors, smearing travel forums about my fine trying to make people think I was some sort of criminal. Someone even gave the story to a notorious newspaper in the UK... The worst consequence was that a notorious travel forum got scared and removed the listing of excellent reviews my guests had kindly written over the years...
May I add that at the same time many others that I know of or heard of received the same kind of fine (Italians as well as foreigners)?!

I had to start over, following the rules and regulations. Fair enough, I suppose!
But when you've been trodden on, it's even more delightful for others to tread on you again (by this time you're sort of flat anyway). Others started using the name of the trademark which however had a good ring to it - Tuscan Wine Tours - which is not just the name of the website url but a copyrighted and registered trademark by myself since 2004.

Falsification is something the Italian government has dealt with in the wine industry by creating the designation system - you can check it out on every bottle of Italian wine. If you see the pink or green sticker on the neck of the bottle of a wine, you know that it's guaranteed to be authentic and original (DOCG which stands for a Designation of a Controlled and Guaranteed Origin).

So now, we've picked up the pieces and a few years later, in rethinking the image of Tuscan Wine Tours what better symbol than the DOCG itself?! For us it stands for Definition of an Original, Cool & Genuine Tuscan Wine Tour!!!