We work up early this morning to make it to the Santa Maria Novella Train Station area to meet our guide and group for our Airbnb “experience”: the “Tuscan Winemaker’s Tour!” But first, we walked directly to the Santa Maria Novella basilica, which lay directly in front of the train station, to seem some amazing Renaissance frescoes.
“Difficult to choose between the works of art that are kept in this important place. The “luck” of Santa Maria Novella grew in the early centuries of the Middle Ages and manifested itself with its maximum climax during the Renaissance. Giotto, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Masaccio, Domenico Ghilrlandaio, Filippino Lippi, Giorgio Vasari, Paolo Uccello and even Michelangelo. These are just some of the names associated with the complex’s rich artistic and religious history. Santa Maria Novella is one of the places where the history of Italian art was made and where some of its most brilliant artistic exponents were trained.” (from the Santa Maria Novella basilica website)
“The Renaissance began in the 14th century in Florence, Italy. Various theories have been proposed to account for its origins and characteristics, focusing on a variety of factors including the social and civic peculiarities of Florence at the time: its political structure, the patronage of its dominant family, the Medici, and the migration of Greek scholars and their texts to Italy following the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks which inherited from the Timurid Renaissance.” (from the Renaissance Wikipedia page) The discovery of America in 1492 also greatly influenced the Renaissance. “The Renaissance was a period in European history marking the transition from the Middle Ages to Modernity and covering the 15th and 16th centuries. It occurred after the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages and was associated with great social change.”
After the Santa Maria Novella basilica, we met our “Tuscan Wine Maker’s” guide, Roberto, and our small tour group at 10 a.m. sharp. The leader drove us in a Mercedes van, out into the Tuscany region, surrounding Florence, to the Montespertoli comune area.
First up, we went to a centralized wine-processing facility. There a wonderful English expat, Anita, met us and translated from the Italian spoken by our tour guide, Roberto. They explained the whole process to us, from start to finish. Grapes are separated by quality and the quality grape juice goes into certain vats, to make the best wine. The Tuscany region is known for its Chianti red wine, but many other types of wine are processed here, as well. At the end of the tour we could see pallets made ready for shipping around the world, with many destined for U.S. wine importers on both coasts.
From the wine-processing facility, we drove in our vans over the winding rural roads and up a long gravel driveway beneath ancient overarching trees, to the Castello di Santa Maria Novella, a 500-year-old castle on the highest hill in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The views from the Castello were spectacular -we could see all of central Tuscany laid out below us, with green rolling hills, lush vineyards, dense forests, fertile fields, gently flowing rivers, tiny villages, ancient churches and luxurious villas. We could even see the snow-capped peaks of the Apuan Alps far beyond in northern Tuscany. The owner of this castle could obviously survey all the lands he owned and those of his competing neighboring landowners in this part of central Tuscany. The Castello was most certainly built for defense.
When we walked through the beautiful grounds in front of the grand old castle and into a gravel side terrace, we were struck by the elegant table laid out for us, complete with red table cloths. We sat down at the long table, beneath profusely-blooming and fragrant wisteria. We were served slices of wonderfully crusty Italian bread, suffused with local truffle oil and extra virgin olive oil produced here at the Castello. We could dip our bread in the truffle and olive oils as much as we wanted – and we did, a lot! The bread and oils was paired with refreshing local sparkling, chilled Prosecco frizzante.
After the mid-morning refreshments on the beautiful, scenic Castello terrace, we were invited to climb the tall Castello tower, up a long set of internal stairs. From the Castello tower, the vineyards, hills and villas seemed to stretch forever. The colors were startlingly beautiful – yellows, oranges, greens, browns and reds. Everyone took their pictures along the crenellated tower ramparts overlooking the amazing vistas beyond.
After the tower, we were led into the Castello basement, past many very dusty stored bottles of vintage wines and many large metal containers of the Castello‘s extra virgin olive oil.
There also was an old chapel on the Castello property, from the 12th Century. One of the guides told us that the Nazis hid their tanks here, next to the chapel, under the massive old oaks, to be invisible to planes flying overhead.
Following the Castello refreshments and tour, we piled back into the touring vans and headed for Roberto’s own vineyard and home for lunch. When we arrived there, past the lush rolling hills covered in grapevines, Roberto showed us example plants of each of the varieties of grapes he was growing in his vineyard. There were half a dozen or so.
We then went inside Roberto’s lovely home and were led to a beautiful dining room, which had a ceiling of brick groin vaults, converted from a former stable. He and his staff had laid out a beautiful spread for us at the dining table, complete with gorgeous table cloths and candlesticks.
The spread was sumptuous and elegant, featuring local cheeses, wine from the vineyard and homemade crusty bread. We feasted on the bread and cheese with the vineyard’s own extra virgin olive oil for dipping, homemade basil pesto for eating on the bread. A wonderful lunch was then served of homemade pasta with homemade basil pesto. Our host, Roberto, personally grated a generous portion of local truffles onto each of our plates of pasta and pesto!
We had a fantastic lemon tarte for dessert, along with a caramel gelato. Superb! Roberto’s staff sold wine by the cases or by the bottle after dinner. Most everyone bought a case and had it shipped to their homes. I bought 2 bottles to give as gifts in Europe.
From our host, Roberto, on Airbnb Experiences: “I live in the hills surrounding Florence, and every day I go into the fields to work my grapevines and make Chianti wine and extra virgin olive oil. I also love riding my motorcycle.I run this experience with the help of my friends and co-hosts Leo, Anita and a few others, since my English is not perfect.”