Destroyed Vines

I saw this article on and wanted to share.  What a tragedy!

Just to make it clear – I am copying and pasting this article directly from…..

Thousands of Medoc vines vandalised

  • Wednesday 21 March 2012
  • by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

About 2,000 young vines have been vandalised causing tens of thousands of euros damage at a Medoc estate.


One of Chateau Labat’s vines cut off at the stem

The plot of Merlot vines at Chateau Labat, a 7-hectare cru bourgeois estate in AOC Haut-Medoc, was attacked on Friday night, possibly by a gang, the owners suspect.

The vines, in the commune of Saint-Laurent-du-Medoc near Pauillac, were not located next to a main road, and accessible only through a main gate to the estate, indicating that the vandals may have specifically targetted the site.

The plants were cut between 8cm and 12cm from the base, with almost all of the shoots and buds cut off. Around one third may be able to produce fruit again, but the rest have been destroyed, meaning a huge loss in terms of lost plants, and manpower.

‘It is the symbolic value that is most shocking,’ owner François Nony, whose family have owned Labat since 1920, and who also owns the 38-hectare Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, told

‘We have been racking our brains as to who could possibly have done this. Clearly they were very determined. For one person alone, cutting this many vines would have taken around six hours of work, so I have to assume there may have been more than one criminal.’

The plot of 5,500 vines had been planted in 2011, and was due to be used in the wine next year, for the 2013 harvest. Between 1,900 and 2,000 vines – around 20 rows – were damaged.

A police enquiry has been opened in Pauillac, but there are no obvious lines of enquiry.

Nony is vice-president of the Alliance Cru Bourgeois, working to promote the wines of the Medoc. ‘As part of the promotions team, I deal with the good news, not the bad news, and can’t see why that would attract anger. We do have occasional staff issues at the estate, as does everyone, but again I can’t see that they have been so severe as to cause this anger towards my family.’

Although extremely rare, this is not the first time that vines have been criminally damaged in Bordeaux. In March 2006, the Cathiard family, owners of Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte, found 800 of their vines had been destroyed at their Chateau Cantelys estate in Pessac Leognan.


Interview with Laura Gray – Il Palazzone, Montalcino IT

I met Laura through this website when she read my article on a trip to Montalcino. I was sadden to learn I was a stone’s throw from Il Palazzone while tromping around Montalcino and missed their winery entirely. Laura and I have become “Internet friends” over the last year as I’ve become enamoured with Il Palazzone. I was thrilled Laura took the time out of her busy schedule to do this interview. I hope you enjoy…

1. How long has Il Palazzone been around – what is it’s history?
Il Palazzone was founded the late 1980s and was bought by the current owner in 2000. There are documents that mention the presence of vineyards on the property in 13th century so it seems certain that wine has always been produced here.

2. Where are you located?
The estate is just minutes from the centre of Montalcino. There are signs for the property at the mosaic-man roundabout, directly below the Fortress.

3. How many vineyards do you have?
We have a total of ten acres of vineyards in three quite different areas of Montalcino. All the vineyards are planted with Sangiovese Grosso and are authorized for the production of Brunello.

The wonderful thing about Montalcino is the enormous variety of terroir and the micro-climate in a rather restricted production area. This means that the grapes from each of our vineyards have quite different and complimentary characteristics.

The Due Porte vineyard, our youngest, is 530 metres above sea level and north-west facing. The altitude gives us excellent ventilation and an extreme day/night thermal excursion which is ideal for developing aromatics. The Vigna del Capa, located down below the hamlet of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, is over 200 meters lower and south facing so presents strong fruit and body. The vineyards here are over thirty years old. The harvest is distinguished by lovely saline mineral notes thanks to the presence of marine fossils in the soil. The third vineyard, also over 30 years old, is also close to Castelnuovo dell’Abate, in an area known as “La Fornace” due to the iron, magnesium and manganese in the soil. The grapes from this vineyard have a distinctive mineral component.

4. How much wine do you make?
We make between 8,000 and 12,000 bottles a year. We keep our yields low in order to make the best possible wines. We are in the lucky position of being able to make vintage-based decisions. This is important in Montalcino since one of the DOCG regulations prohibits any kind of mechanical intervention with climate e.g. irrigations, smudge pots etc.

5. What wines do you make?
We make Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Rosso del Palazzone (a 100% Sangiovese table wine) and Lorenzo & Isabelle IGT Toscana. Lorenzo & Isabelle is a Supertuscan made to commemorate the memory of the owners’ parents and their splendid marriage, which is honoured by the harmony and balance of the blend of varietals: Cabernet France, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot. So far we have only released the 2005 vintage of this wine.

6. What methods of fermentation and aging do you use?
Our wines ferment in stainless steel and, when possible, we allow the natural yeasts to start fermentation. The wine then goes into enormous botti, large Slavonian oak barrels. The current DOCG legislation for Brunello prescribes 2 years in wood before release on the 5th January after harvest. We still respect the original legislation since our Brunello always spends four years or more in wood.

7. How long should you cellar your wines?
It depends very much on the vintage – and, of course, whether the wine can be cellared properly. If you are planning on keeping a Brunello upright on a mantelpiece in full sunlight it would be better to drink it straight away… As a traditional style Brunello, our wines are made to evolve and develop in complexity over time. A great vintage (2006, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1997) can easily spend 15 years improving. The oldest vintage that we have in the estate library is the 1995 which I “have” to taste periodically. This wine has yet to peak and is drinking beautifully at the moment. Often a good Brunello will be like a tight ball of wool. All the elements are there but they will only unravel if you give them time.

8. Is your wine available for sale in the United States?  If so, where?
Yes! We are one of two Brunello’s in Domaine Select Wine Estates portfolio ( They are based in New York but have a network all over the US. The owner is an American so our US presence is very important to us.

9. Tell us about your olive oil production and program?
We make about 700 half litre bottles of IGP Toscana Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We pick the olives by hand and press within hours of picking at the award-winning Franci press. Our yields are preposterously low – usually less than 9kg of oil for every 100 kgs of olives picked. The result is exquisite oil, with a lovely artichoke bouquet and the elegance typical of high altitude oils. The IGP certification means that the oil is made within Tuscany and has undergone panel testing and lab analysis to meet very high standards of quality and “tipicità”. In order to place this liquid gold we created a club in which members own an olive tree. They have their name on a hand-painted ceramic plaque which hangs on their tree and a certificate of ownership plus three bottles of freshly pressed oil delivered to them. I have just finished sending out the harvest 2010 oil to all our members.

10. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you and your husband meet, how many children do you have, etc.
I’m always rather embarrassed by this question since visitors often assume that I left Britain with a training in wine and a burning ambition to be in this sector. Actually I graduated with a degree in English Literature from Oxford University and a burning ambition to be with my Italian boyfriend. Who happened to be from Montalcino and who I have since married. This all started thanks to my parents who made the mistake of taking me to Tuscany as an adolescent, full of Bertolucci images and E.M.Forster quotes. Marco and I now have three children whose names (Isla, James and Nia) and red hair are testimony to my Scottish genes. Along the way we have had a cult restaurant (La Fortezza del Brunello, S.Angelo in Colle, 6 tables, 600 wines..), I qualified as a sommelier and now find myself with a fifteen year career of winery administration behind me. . Sometimes I wonder what I would be doing now if Marco had happened to be from Milan…

11. What is always in your fridge?
My mother-in-law’s tomato salsa, pecorino (sheeps’ cheese from nearby Pienza) and anchovies “sotto pesto”

12. What wine do you always have around to drink?
Our house quaffing wine is the Rosso del Palazzone and whatever is Marco’s latest experiment from the cellar. One of the many advantages of living on site is that every evening we inherit whatever has been opened in tasting room.

13. What wine do you serve for special occasions?
Apart from Brunello, my favourite wines are Amarone and Sagrantino di Montefalco.

Anything else that you’d like to share?
We love receiving visitors to the property and showing people what we do here. We are building a new cellar which will be solar powered. This is just part of our efforts to make the best possible decisions in terms of the environment; we use locally sourced untreated posts in the vineyard, have adopted a lighter bottle and recycled cardboard for our boxes and, most importantly, we do manual work in the vineyard whenever we can and intervene as little as possible.

If you can’t visit in person but would like to look through a little window onto Montalcino, you can follow Il Palazzone on Twitter (@ilpalazzone) . We were the first estate in Italy to put our twitter id on the label. We are also on Facebook (


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Arrivederci Italy

I’m writing this with less than a week left in Italy.  It is hard to believe.  I came here three years ago thinking the time would seem so long but, as I’m staring at the very end of this tunnel, I realize the time has flown.  Now, I find myself reminiscing.  Sure, there were some bad times but there were a lot more good times – many of which happen to center around food and wine.  I think that may have something to do with the fact that I happen to love both.

So take a moment to relish in some of those experiences with me as I recount what will hopefully linger as great memories for years to come and possibly encourage you to plan a trip to Bella Italia yourself:

1.  I’ll start with the obvious….I love that Italians make such good wine!

2.  I love that the food of Italy is made up of ingredients that are high in quality and low in quantity.

3.  I love that Italians are adamant that certain shaped pasta must be eaten with specific sauces.

4.  I love that the biggest wineries down to the smallest wineries in this country usually are experienced with your own personal tour guide….followed by a great tasting.

5.  I love that in my little town of Monte di Procida there is Cantine del Mare Winery and  La Taverna dei Sapori Ristorante.  Both of which have wonderful owners who opened up their doors and hearts to me.

6.  I love that what we Americans consider “fru-fru” gourmet produce, and pay high dollar for, grows wild alongside the road in abundance here – plants like fennel, arugula, asparagus, chamomile, etc.

7.  I love that I happened to be placed in the region that is famous the world over for Mozzarella di Bufala and that I can buy it at a store in my town where they greet me kindly by name as they place a bag of freshly made cheese in my hand.

8.  I love that I have become infatuated with many new wines…. and rediscovered my appreciation for white wines.

9.  I love that I can experience several micro-climates in one day from merely looking out the wall of windows in my house….not to mention the breath-taking sunrises and sunsets.

10.  I love that I have eaten all kinds of crazy foods just so I wouldn’t offend the chef.  My palate has truly been widened.

11.  I love that a friend of mine didn’t finish his food and the chef actually sent someone out to our table to see why.

12.  I love that each region’s food and wine is so different from the next and rarely cross paths.

13.  I love that NO one over-cooks the pasta.

14.  I love that Italians really do make the best caffe’ (espresso)  – and I don’t even care for coffee all that much.

15.  I love that wine is such a part of the Italians lifestyle that the children grow up being able to explain the vineyards and wine making process as if they were born with it just rolling off their tongues.

16.  I love the tomatoes of Campania – I am already consoling myself knowing I will not be able to enjoy them on a regular basis.

17.  I love that even the highway rest stops have really good Italian sandwiches made with items like prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, etc.

18.  I love that I can buy lemons as big as my head from a man selling them out of the back of his truck on the Amalfi Coast.

19.  I love that in restaurants sparkling water cost about 1/8 of what it costs in America….and so does some of the wine.

20.  I love that there are huge sugar doughnuts here known as Graffa…something so irresistible yet so necessary to avoid.

21.  I love that I can get authentic pizza delivered to my door in 10 minutes by a kid on a Vespa for about 10 bucks.

22.  And finally, perhaps most importantly, I love that Italians, no matter how rich or poor, really do embrace their motto of  living “La Dolce Vita.”


Bella Umbria

A couple weekends ago I packed my bags and went off to Umbria with my husband, daugther and two other terrific families to a memorable gem high in the hills of Fratta Todina in Umbria.

I know this is a wine and gourmet food site, not a travel site, but I would be remiss if I neglected to share our accommodations with you.  We stayed at the extremely lovely La Palazzetta del Vescovo.  I first found this Relais on “Trip Advisor” after many hours of searching for a great get-away.  I was intrigued because it had many reviews and NOT ONE was negative.  Odd, because there is always some curmudgeon out there who has something negative to say about every place I’ve ever seen reviewed.  My first visit resulted in me adding to the glowing reviews on “Trip Advisor.”  This past visit was my third time back to La Palazzetta del Vescovo and it was more like going to see good friends then it was going to a place to stay.  The structure used to be a vacation home of a bishop and the owners have beautifully restored the once pile of rubble with impeccable quality and attention to detail.  Stefano and Paola, are lovely, gracious hosts who make you feel like you’ve known them for years.  The food is prepared by Paola with passion as evidenced in each taste.  The wine is carefully selected by Stefano, a certified Sommelier, whose ability to find exquisite wines and pair them with Paola’s food is superb. Chiaretta is an added bonus – a bouncy, happy dog who accompanies Stefano to greet guests upon arrival.

While staying at our truly delightful accommodations, Stefano kindly set up a wine and olive oil tasting at Tenuta Le Velette in Orvieto.  The estate is in the heart of the Orvieto Classico production (a DOC white wine). The property’s history dates back to the Etruscans and includes cellars dug out from tufa stone, a typical, volcanic stone of the area.  The estate has the ideal placement on the hills of Orvieto to produce outstanding wine and olive oil.  The owner, Corrado Bottai, generously spent several hours with us.  He took us all around the grounds.  We saw numerous cellars, some started by monks.  They were dark with cave-like tunnels and alcoves where dusty bottles of wine were hiding.  The electricity kept going out so we had to use a candelabra – it felt like the best stocked haunted house ever.  Another cellar had  floors, walls, and ceilings covered in a cushy, colorful array of white, orange, and rust mold.  Signore Bottai assured us this was some of the best real estate to age fine wines.

The tasting took place in a beautiful room in the manor.  It was adorned with fresco painted ceilings, opulent lighting and a large wooden table full of meats, cheeses, breads, olive oil and most importantly, several bottles of wine.  We tasted 6 wines – all of which were delightful.  As a matter of fact, we enjoyed them so much, my husband and I bought every varietal we tasted.    In addition, we purchased 3 bottles of their wonderfully pungent olive oil.

The Whites –
Berganorio (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Lunato Orvieto Classico Superiore DOC (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Grechetto Solo Uve (Grechetto)

The Reds –
Calanco (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon)
Gaudio (Merlot)
Accordo (Sangiovese)

I especially loved the rawness of the Sangiovese.  It was a great expression of what Sangiovese lends to the numerous varietals it intertwines with in so many wines out there in today’s market.

Signore Bottai left a great impression on me.  He has an excellent grasp on the English language but without all the colloquialisms Americans use.  This resulted in his mind churning for the appropriate words to express himself.  He spoke beautiful, mindful expressions that made me envious of his vocabulary.  I wrote down some of these so I wouldn’t forget them.  One of my favorite quotes was:  “Sangiovese is a great confusion in the glass.”  I couldn’t agree more!

I left Tenuta Le Velette with yet another great adventure under my belt.  I was somewhat full from wine and antipasti but that didn’t stop me from going back to enjoy Paola’s cooking and Stefano’s wine selections.  This was my last night and I was not going to miss out.  My friends and I dined on Cinghiale (wild boar) marinated in local red wine and drank a lovely bottle of Montefalco…if only I could just move in with Paola and Stefano…maybe I could be the housekeeper…the gardener….the dishwasher…..


Wine Pairing Lunches

The list of why I love Italy is long and has consistently expanded since I moved here in 2007.  Near the top of my list, is the wine pairing lunches offered at many wineries. Most of the time, a meal with wine is pleasantly inexpensive.  That is not necessarily the case at these feasts, however, but they serve their best.  The meticulous attention of pairing wine with well thought-out, exquisite dishes is magical.

Recently, I enjoyed this experience at Feudi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino.   Both were lovely but I would have to say, I preferred my experience at Feudi di San Gregorio best.

Mastraoberardino offered a small tour of their wine cellar followed by lunch at their restaurant, Morabianca (a scenic 30 minute drive from the winery). The restaurant is part of Mastroberardino’s Radici Resort which was built approximately 2 years ago.  The resort is nestled in the Taurasi DOCG region and surrounded by vineyards. In addition to the restaurant, there is also a hotel with stylish, modern rooms, and believe it or not, a golf course which is a novelty for the hills of Campania.

Morabianca offers regional cuisine with careful preparation and attentive service.  My handsome date (i.e. my husband) and I were served 3 beautiful wines during the 7 course meal – yes, an amazing 7 courses.  As you can imagine, we were quite full walking away from this adventure.  After lunch, our waiter graciously showed us a couple of the rooms as well as a glimpse of the grounds.

Feudi di San Gregorio also offered a tour of their facilities, built in 2000 by a Japanese architect, and is the picture of modernism at it’s finest.  The restaurant, Marenna, promotes Slow Food and is very chic with a state-of-the-art, glassed in kitchen.  Views from the kitchen and restaurant are open to the vineyards.  It is evident that this ambiance inspires the menu preparation as well as delights the guests.  The food planning is conscientious and announces itself with impecable presentation.  I embarked on this adventure with my husband and friends.  There is nothing better than sharing such experiences with those you wish to hold in your memories.  Upon savoring 5 courses with 5 flawlessly paired wines, we all agreed, it was quite possibly the best meal we’ve had in the Campania region.  By the way, we were not just poured glasses of wine during our meal.  Once our glasses were filled, the bottle was placed at our table for the remainder of the meal.  This did not go unnoticed – especially by my husband.

After enjoying an afternoon of gastronomic indulgences, we were full and completely satisfied but just had to inquire as to what the chef’s were working on in the kitchen.  Throughout the meal, we observed  the chefs in their prestine, glass cube taking turns stirring something in a large pot.  When we inquired into what could possibly merit such time and care, we were told it was risotto with truffles and goat cheese.  As full as we were, we couldn’t help but oblige when asked if we’d like to try some.  Although the chef was preplexed as to why we wanted risotto after our dessert, he gave each of us generous portions to taste.  In my opinion, it may well have been the best dish I ate….although that is hard to tell since I would easily request any of the dishes as my last meal.

I walked away probably a little too full, but full of some of the best wine and food I’ve had during my time in Italy and that is exactly why it’s earned a place at  the top of my list!

*Wines from Mastroberardino & Feudi di San Gregorio can be acquired through: or  my “Snooth” search window.

Feudi di San Gregorio:  Feudi di San


Castello Banfi – Montalcino

My family and I went on a trip to Montalcino recently and took some time to stop by the famous Castello Banfi Estate  for a tour and tasting.  I am always surprised at how these unique opportunities stare me in the face here in Italy.  I scheduled our appointment on the telephone. We arrived to a friendly greeting and a personal tour of the facility followed by a private tasting in their beautiful Enoteca.  I realize we were visiting during the “low season;” however, amazed that we were the only ones around to see and experience this wonderful estate.

Castello Banfi is comprised of about 7,100 acres, 2,400 of which are made up of a “constellation” of single vineyards and the remaining acreage dedicated to olives, fruits, etc.  The winery was founded by John Mariani, Sr., an American of Italian heritage, and is still run by the Mariani family today.  This estate produces 26 different labels, from Brunello di Montalcino, DOCG Riserva to Moscadello di Montalcino, DOC with a smattering of Brunellos and  Super Tuscans in between (they also have an estate in Piedmont that produces 15 different labels).  As you can imagine, this estate is massive producing approximately 10 million bottles of wine annually!  They have a state-of-the-art facility and are leading the way on the experimental forefront.

I was intrigued by their hybrid tanks that they use for fermenting some of their wines.  These unique tanks are stainless steel on the bottom and top with wood in the center making for a very eye-catching impression.  For traditional aging, they use Slovenian oak casks and barriques of French and American oak.  Always attending to detail, Banfi winemakers personally select the raw wood from the forests of France according to their origin and physical characteristics for their French barriques.  They season these barriques at the estate for 3 years (instead of the traditional 2 years).  According to Banfi, this gives the wood rounder and more persistent aromas.  Coopers (or barrel makers)  use an indirect and cooler toasting than usual for about 3x longer than the traditional period of time to produce a more uniform and balanced flavor.  Their custom-made barrels are larger (350 L.) than the traditional barrique (225 L.) as it is believed to provide ideal wood surface to volume of wine ratio. Their steel tanks are numerous and vary in size but some are by far the largest I’ve ever seen.  Depending on the wine, they use various aging methods and combinations.  One method has them combining wine aged in Slovenian casks with wine aged in French barriques, another method has them aging wine in various sizes of oak barrels and then of course, they do steel tank aging and bottle aging.

We finished our tour with a tasting at the Enoteca which is just as beautiful in it’s own right.  We were given a generous tasting flight that helped us decide on our “souvenirs.”  We walked away with Poggio Alle Mura, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (made from select vineyards producing consistently outstanding Brunello), Summus Sant’Antimo DOC, and BelnerO IGT (both Super Tuscans).

If you would like to try a bottle, or two, or three of Banfi wines, you can shop: or type “Banfi” in my “Snooth” search window to start shopping.

*written with information obtained from our lovely tour guide, AnnaLisa Gori, Banfi visitor guide and