The Vine Makes the Wine

Musings

Not so long ago, a member of my extended family was telling me about his job and expressing frustration with “corporate America,” how decisions are made, the barriers to getting things done, the “younger generation” and its particularities, etc. During his lament, he looked at me and shook his head saying “you run your own company, you wouldn’t understand.” I looked at him quizzically and responded, “who do you think buys from us?”

Of course, the lament was really about this individual’s personal situation. Broad brush bucketing of people, businesses, countries, political parties, generations, etc. is always an impotent wail against forces beyond oneself which are often so big and faceless as to be nearly meaningless to even categorize. Crying about such a wide circle of concern is pointless.

But that’s not the point. Not understanding my situation, anything about our company, or what we really do, impeded his ability to appreciate our challenges, but more importantly, blinded him to my point of view. Without understanding, he could not properly appreciate that point of view or even begin to see what might have been an eye-opening opportunity to shift his own. Without understanding, he could not appreciate the depth, beauty, or potential profundity of something other to his own.

Seeing in a New Way

Driving along another winding road out of San Casciano and heading toward our first stop of the day, I noticed the sun, the rolling hills, and another round of walled cities on mountaintops. Our first stop yesterday was Montefiorale, a quaint little village with a single lane road around its outer wall and into its little parking area. Walking along its cobblestone street (well, more of a walking path between narrow walls, doors to homes, and stairways that disappeared into hidden gardens or courtyards.

The chiesa was closed and the only detail I could find on this little town was that it was the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer after which the “Americas” was named. Do they still teach about Vespucci? A few minutes later, we were on our way toward a winery that was next on our itinerary. The beautiful valley, the charming homes, the unique Tuscan stone, and the impossibly scenic horizon of such charm rolled past as we chatted and I tried not to hit other cars or bicyclists who felt less compelled to stay on their side of the narrow roadway.

Pulling into Colle Bereto, we noticed the vineyards, the olive groves, a large forested area behind the buildings, and a multi=terraced complex of gardens and buildings rising up before us. Walking toward a set of big sliding doors into a stone building that was built directly into the hill, we were greeted by a man talking energetically on his phone. He motioned to wait one moment, then hung up and shook our hands. “I am Bernardo, I manage Colle Bereto.”

Farm to Table, Table on the Farm

A few minutes later, Bernardo was giving us a personal tour of the winery. We discovered that he, as the winemaker, managed all facets of the farm – a term he used repeatedly. “To understand Chianti Classico, you must understand the farm. Here, it is the vines that make the wine.” Colle Bereto is an organic winery – not in a marketing sense, but in a purity sense. Grapes are handpicked. There is no irrigation. The dry, rocky soil is nurtured but is left to do what it does best and the vines are allowed to dig deeply to find their water.

Moving us about the estate, we came to understand Bernardo and the Colle Bereto point of view. “We grow on these steep hills without automation or irrigation or chemicals. It limits our production but what we produce is of extremely high quality.” We discover that only wineries meeting very specific standards and existing within the Chianti region can receive the Chianti Classico designation – an appellation controlled by an association and designated with a black rooster symbol on the label.

“I have been with the family for 20 years,” Bernardo shared. He walked us through the barrels and massive ok vats deep within the hillside. “The Riseva will sit in those barrels for four years. They are Austrian oak but built in Italy.” The concrete vats “convey no additional flavor profile. Very good for certain varieties.” “Our wines are vegan, but that is not the point.”

Vegan? “Because we do not use machines, there is no risk of lizards getting caught with the grapes during harvest. Also, we do not use any fillers like pork fat.” That really happens? “Oh, yes. The lizard remnants are fully removed during the process but I like to know all that is going into my wines and our hills are too steep for tractors.” Pork fat fillers? “It has become common with some winemakers to increase production.”

It turns out that Colle Bereto’s Chianti wines only use grapes grown on their farm. The grape is Sangiovese – “It is a very durable grape with very thick skin. The flavor is very robust. We do no balsamic vinegar here because it takes too long to turn these grapes to vinegar.”

“I love the farm to table concept in America. That is us – farm to table. Today, you will be sitting at a table on the farm for your tasting and lunch.” Bernardo was completely charming. “This table was made out of the pallets used to bring those casks in.” The table was about 40 feet long with steel I-beams for legs. “Point to the forest above us, our estate is 88% forest, it protects the quality and volume of our water. “I hear that Colorado has good water for beer. Very same for us.”

Purpose and Point of View

Bernardo, and Colle Bereto, are artisans. Everything was built and located with purpose and that single-minded purpose centered on creating a special product. There was something virtuous in his perspective, “goodness” ran through my mind. There is a right way to do this thing and he saw it not just as art but as a way of life. I was sold.

As we tasted the wines and enjoyed what had to be a 30 ounce, 2 inch thick, T-bone steak filleted beside our pasta and chick peas, Sally spoke up, “It reminds me of Northwind. The point is not mass production – it is not about the trying to be the biggest but about creating something pure. Something that lives to its purpose and makes a difference. It is good, but it does its good in how it is.” I smiled as I thought, “That is point of view. A philosophy in how you approach what you bring to the world.”

We left Colle Bereto touched in a new way. It was a cathedral of a different sort but with purpose that approached religious zeal. Walking into nearby Radda in Chianti, we passed the Chianti Classico Winemakers Association and I saw the medieval village with new eyes. Understanding the Black Rooster symbol now meant something on these wine bottle labels. Looking at the walls and streets of the village, its history, craftsmanship, and story came alive in a new way. These things are hard earned, and in understanding their earning, the beauty emerges with more depth and meaning.

Silvia

We returned to I Barronci for a little rest and relaxation before dinner. Sally and I swam around the pool, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. We met two American expats now living in Amsterdam, where they’ve been for 9 years. “We spend all disposable income on travel,” he said as she mentioned repeatedly that she was a “blogger” and “You Tuber.” I wondered about purpose and point of view.

Dinner was at Villa Machiavelli, a place Silvia recommended and where we were meeting her for an aperitivo before dinner. We saw Silvia immediately at the end of our parking lot, waving enthusiastically. “Ciao!” She said warmly as she hugged us. We had met with her many times via Teams but it did no justice to her charm and beauty – she had become an old friend and we were meeting again for the first time.

It turns out that the special guests last night at Tiberio were in fact Silvia’s parents and they had shown up to enjoy their grandson’s (the chef at I Barronci) new fall menu items. “They told me they saw my American guests,” smiled Silvia. I wondered, do we stand out that much?

We spoke of kids, career, and life. It seems that he beautiful ordinary is universal. We discovered that this 33 year old is quite ambitious, doing event work at her parent’s hotel, coordinating over 90 trips per year for people like us, raising two boys, and managing a husband who travels extensively in the gaming business. “You are incredibly organized to keep all of that straight,” I said. “It’s no problem,” she smiled. Adding, “I don’t sleep.” She gave us a wink and the easy conversation went on.

Understanding

As we took our leave of Silvia, she gave us a few last tips and direction on our itinerary and smiled, “I may see you once more before you leave.” There are some people who are just worth knowing. Thank you Silvia.

Bernardo told us earlier in the day, “I do not make wine. God creates wine. The vine makes the wine.” His perspective gave everything we saw at Colle Bereto context. With understanding, the beauty of his art became clear. I could see it in a new way, with depth. Italy is a feast for the eyes. Stunning vistas, architecture, art, food, people. However, glimpsing the beautiful complexities layered underneath bring it to life in a new way. The art of it all starts to come alive and I can begin to appreciate it on another level – a far deeper level.

Today we will go to Florence to experience its history and beauty. I hope to see it more deeply, to begin to understand it at that other level, so that I might more fully appreciate it. Perspective is everything.

Showing 6 comments
  • Jerry Berry
    Reply

    We’ll said Phillip, Bravo!

  • Jennifer
    Reply

    Victoria asked me to read this allowed…she listened to the whole post. I think the vivid description kept her full attention and it keeps mine as it lets my imagination wander. Beautiful insights and perspectives! Btw Victoria says Hi 🙂

  • Jill Spohn
    Reply

    Wow.

  • Gay Burkhart
    Reply

    I must CONSTANTLY remind myself to think and feel more deeply. There is a sadness and shallowness that comes with living in today’s world—particularly in the United States. Fewer and fewer families remain for generations — let alone a single generation — long enough to create empathetic bonds. We lose a depth of understanding and, therefore, empathy/sympathy of the “plight” of individuals or the knowledge of ways to be of help.

  • Gregg Stefanek
    Reply

    “….it does it’s good in how it is” love that ♥️
    A fifth core value for Northwind?

  • Gregg Stefanek
    Reply

    “There are some people who are just worth knowing”

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