Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Destination: Italy : Crush on the Piedmont : Regal red wines, gracious growers are the toast of this lush region

October 08, 1995|JACK BROOM | Broom is a metropolitan reporter at the Seattle Times.

ARBARESCO, Italy — In her 86 years, Carolina Ferrero hadn't met many Americans, and she was determined not to let a little thing like a language barrier stop her from getting her point across to this one.

"Say-SAHN-ta CHEEN-kway," she enunciated, nodding as I wrote "65" on a scrap of paper.

ARBARESCO, Italy--In her 86 years, Carolina Ferrero hadn't met many Americans, and she was determined not to let a little thing like a language barrier stop her from getting her point across to this one.

"Say-SAHN-ta CHEEN-kway," she enunciated, nodding as I wrote "65" on a scrap of paper.

" Anni ," she continued, and now I nodded, since the term for "years" was one of the two dozen Italian words I knew.

Then, squeezing her husband's hand and smiling into his eyes, she completed the thought: " Matrimonio . "

Thus did I learn that Carolina and Domenico Ferrero, in this small but elegant brick home amid steep vineyards, near the village of Barbaresco, had together weathered the chill of 65 winters, the heat of 65 summers, the hard work, demands and uncertainties of 65 harvests.

My wife and I had come halfway around the world to meet people like the Ferreros, to see these knobby green hills in northwestern Italy and the vineyards that sweep across them. For here in the Piedmont region, nestled against the Alps, are born some of Italy's boldest red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco.

It had been a year of planning and saving since the night Judy and I sat at an Italian restaurant back home in Seattle, lingering over a deep, rich Barolo and wondering what it would be like to see the countryside and people who produced it.

It wasn't the first grand notion that ever came to us over a glass of wine. Most schemes so inspired had disappeared the next morning in a flurry of workaday concerns and economic realities.

This was different.

True, Europe seemed as far away as the moon, and true, we spoke no Italian. But I remembered that 23 years earlier, when two friends and I made a whirlwind tour of Western Europe with our student Eurail passes and youth-hostel sheet sacks, Italy stood out as particularly warm and welcoming.

I saw that warmth again in the faces of Carolina and Domenico as they walked in the midmorning sunshine in their tidy garden, patiently following my gestures as I sought the right light and setting for a snapshot. With each pose, Carolina offered a comment that sent me to my Italian-English dictionary. With pride and patience, she recited the names and ages of her grandchildren.

Half an hour earlier, with a friend as interpreter, Domenico, 93, had told of his eight decades in the vineyards.

He remembered rains so intense, the clay-rich slopes became seas of mud; snows so deep, paths had to be cleared for the oxen; hail so fierce that a friend, grazing goats on a hill, was killed by the fist-size balls.

In Piedmont, which reaches west and north to touch France and Switzerland, wine grapes have been grown since the 1200s.

But Domenico said that only in the last few decades, as Italian wines rose in global popularity, has he been able to make a living growing only grapes. For most of his life, this has been a farm producing corn, wheat and cattle, as well as Nebbiolo grapes for Barbaresco.

During our visit with the Ferreros, the interpreter was Aldo Vacca of the local wine cooperative Produttori del Barbaresco. In the shadow of an ancient stone tower, the cooperative's winery transforms grapes grown by the Ferreros and 60 other families into wines shipped all over the world.

Vacca, 36, was a key to our exploration of the Piedmont. While our trip was still in the "maybe" stage, we'd met him at a dinner at Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle, where he showed off the Produttori's recent vintages.

If we went to Italy, we asked, would winemakers take time to talk with us?

Do they enjoy having visitors?

Would he point us in the right direction?

Yes, yes and yes, were the answers that turned a possibility into a red circle on our calendar.

*

It was in Tuscany, another important wine region to the south of Piedmont, that our exploration got off to a shaky, yet delightful, start.

As we headed north from the medieval hill town of Siena, vineyards surrounded us. It looked as if any road would lead to a winery, so when I pulled off the highway to let another car pass, I decided to follow a narrower road up a vine-covered hillside.

As the road turned from pavement to dirt and wove through patches of trees, we (Judy) began to doubt our (my) decision. But a clearing with three small buildings and a grape-cluster sign prompted us to park and walk around.

Peering through an open door, I saw two women dressing a small child--not a wine bottle in sight. We had seen wine-tasting rooms in the Napa Valley; this wasn't what they looked like.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|