Poetry, exotic wine and Bolgheri castle

Continuing our wine research takes us to the area of Bolgheri, sometimes described as the  ‘snobby area’ of Tuscan wine production since it has imported grape varieties from Bordeaux, France – cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Quite a change from the other famous Tuscan wines produced from San Giovese grapes – Brunello, Chianti, Vino Nobile.Bolgheri avenue of cypress

 

 

 

It’s a great day as we drive along the Tuscan coastline and surprisingly through ‘La California’ , not quite the California I was expecting, but an indicator that the turn off for Bolgheri is close by. It cannot be missed as it is flanked by over 2500 cypress trees for the entire 5km that lead to the enchanting hamlet of the Castle of Bolgheri. Rendered famous in the poem of Giosuè Carducci.

Bolgheri castleThe origins of Bolgheri Castle date back to 1500. Since then, it has been the property of the Counts of Gherardesca family. In the second half of the 1700s, restoration work and improvements were made to the building, and the cellars were built. In 1895, the castle’s façade was modified, with the construction of the tower and merlons as we still see them today. Bolgheri Castle and its surrounding lands were transferred by hereditary succession to the current family of the Counts Zileri Dal Verme.”

The grounds of the Castle boast wine and handcraft shops and cute Enoteca’s for a light snack or restaurants tucked inside the cool ancient walls offering welcome relief from the heat of the day.

Every nook and cranny has been tastefully refurbished to accommodate the flow of tourists, yet retain the contours of the Castle buildings and cellars.

Wine is everywhere and we head off to explore some of the local wineries and learn about the local production. Our first two attempts to visit were greeted with a rather cool reception and polite refusal at the gate intercom, either because they no longer open for public visits or only by prior appointment. We persist and fortunately find some very welcoming family run wineries keen to explain the development of Bolgheri wines.

Sassicaia winesIn the 1920s the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta dreamt of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine and for him, as for all the aristocracy of the time, the ideal was Bordeaux. His great grandfather had experimented with these grape varieties in the Piedmont area and seeing the similarity of terrain in the area of Bolgheri Mario planted cabernet sauvignon and merlot on his property –Tenuto di San Guido. In 1930 he married Clarice della Gherardesca consolidating his wealth and interest in top quality horse breeding. Initially critics were not enthusiastic about the wine, being more accustomed to the lighter local wines, and  the vineyard did not release any wine commercially until 1968 – Bolgheri Sassicaia. Now the Sassicaia is ‘The’ wine of Bolgheri together with Bolgheri DOC where the grape varieties are not mentioned on the labels as the Terroir: the grape-growing conditions of the area, are considered more important.

As described by local experts : ‘The wines from this area are incredibly compact, dark and ruby red in color, which suggests great ageing potential. The heady bouquets are reminiscent of ripe berries, with hints of Mediterranean maquis (the main vegetation along the Mediterranean coastline) and spicy oak. They are characterized by their powerful structure, elegant poise and smooth, rounded natures. A sweetness of fruit on the palate is backed by layers of velvety tannins, a lively, fresh acidity and a long, lingering finish.’Bogheri winery

The area has other villages of interest like Castagneto Carducci, as well as a great stretch of sandy beaches, so something for everyone.Bolgheri souvenir

 

We finished the day with a glass of wine back in the square at Bolgheri noting some  words of wisdom on a shopping bag:

” We are all mortal until our first kiss and second glass of wine”


 

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Shooting the rapids on the Arno – Florence

Rafting on the Arno riverA couple of hours late afternoon ‘soft’ Rafting the Arno River in Florence sounded super inviting with the heatwave we have been experiencing. Combined with the fact that it would be an historical tour of the old Mills and Wool factories that had thrived for centuries on its shores, made it even more enticing. The organisers were keen to reassure clients that it would be ‘soft’, nothing strenuous and little chance we would finish in the River, although a second pair of shoes could be handy! I had visions of shooting the rapids over the weir breaks and quite hoping for an adrenaline rush of ‘hard rafting’ and ready for the big splash.

T-Rafting organized the event and we were lucky to have both guides , Enrico and Sebastian – expert rafters, kayakers, and lifeguards with an impressive list of skills from rescue technicians to teachers of freshwater ecology and river restoration. So we were in for a real treat.

A brief explanation of what was in store and life jackets for us all as well as the waterproof bin for all our personal things so nothing could get wet. I was already getting excited….Down to the riverside and into the rubber dingy, paddles for everyone and we were ready. “Let’s try to synchronise paddles….go…go…go” was the instruction and while there were only 6 of us I could see we would not be winning any medals for our coordination. Fortunately Sebastian steered our way out of trouble as we may have gone round in circles and never left home base!?!

Rafting on footAs we drew closer to our first ‘rapid’  and old Mill I began to understand the meaning of  ‘soft‘, as in the current heatwave and drought, the level of the River is far too low to cruise across the weir breaks. “Everybody out!” My dream was crushed and my feet wet!

Still we could at least climb the steps up to the Old converted Mill, now a sweet Bed & Breakfast, and realise the importance of the Mills and later the Medieval Wool factories – Le Gualchiere, strategically placed along the Arno’s banks.

The Arno had been essential for transporting goods, like wood from Casentino to build the Cathedral and Palaces, with navigation possible, at least in the winter months, all the way to Pisa and Livorno. Enrico delighted in relating the old latin expression still used in Florence ‘a ufo’ meaning free/gratis as A.U.F.O ( ad usum Florentinae  Operae) was stamped onto the beams to be used in the Church as they were allowed through ‘duty free’!

I love these quaint tales and connections to historic details which over time get lost and no one really remembers the origins.

Trusty Guides working hard

Our trusty guides worked hard hauling the dinghy across the various weirs and then it was back to rowing, one.. two…three…. each to our own beat but at least we went forward! We passed more mills and wool factories now converted to hotels or divided into apartments or more unfortunately abandoned.

 

Wool was traded from all over Europe to be ‘worked‘ in Florence in the medieval factories harnessing the hydraulic energy of the river. The most prized being English wool for its long fibres that were cleaned and combed, entwined and then pressed with the enormous wooden hammers powered by the river, belting this woollen fabric to make it tough, waterproof  and sought after by the wealthy far and wide. A tough smelly job, the continual noisy banging, and damp and dirty amid lime and urine used for cleaning and vegetal products for colouring.

I was so fascinated by the Wool fabrication that on hearing there was to be a theatrical performance at one of the largest Wool factories, ‘Le Gualchiere di Remole’ my name was first on the list for a ticket. A video in Italian here gives an idea of the process.

Medieval Wool factoryBuilt in the 14th century, now unfortunately abandoned and in ruins after centuries of production of these fabulous ‘blanket-style’ mantels. The ghosts of the Gualchiere recounted their lives, their loves, their hopes and dreams, and their sufferings as  workers in the factory. The terrible floods – 1333, 1547, 1740…..Ghost of the wool factory

My vision of the Arno River and Rafting in Florence had certainly changed after these experiences, while my appetite for ‘real rapids’ remain and Enrico and Sebastian have left me with an open invite for one of their many rafting experiences on www.t-rafting.com. 

Check them out: White water Red wine rafting, Sieve Bridges and Tortelli Rafting, Florence Ponte Vecchio Rafting with an aperitif at sunset,….. to name just a few!

 

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