Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Full House: Three Kings and Two Queens


After 18 hours of traveling and incredible Italian train station coffee, I found myself with an hour to kill in Grosseto, a small hub station town at which I made my 4th and final transfer on my way to Montalcino.  I was heading to the only true home of the world famous, highly praised, fine Brunello wine as well as...

my home for the next 7 days.  Although I convinced myself that my knowledge of Spanish would help me communicate with Italians, I wasn't surprised to learn that sign language turned out to be my most reliable language.  Luckily, Dale Carnegie had taught me to use hand gestures when speaking, so I was up for the challenge.

While waiting for the train, I figured I would venture out in search of some food, some fresh produce perhaps?  It took me about two and a half minutes even in this tiny Italian village. Recognizing frutta e verdura as well as the frutta e verdura pouring out of the storefront, I jumped on the opportunity to try the world famous Italian produce.  I couldn't quite figure out the international sign for "locally grown," but I think the carrots were from somewhere close by and I gathered that the oranges were from Calabria down south.  Not so close, but not South Africa either.

With carrot and orange in hand, I finally made it to Montalcino where I was driven 20 minutes straight uphill in the pitch black to Casa Raia, the biodynamic, organic, vineyard I was working on.  Although I couldn't see anything that night, I did get to wake up to this...

It took some time to get over, but once I realized I hadn't been sent up to heaven, I began my introduction to the crew and a day of working and learning; what a professor I had.  Meet Pierre-Jean, or PJ, for those of us that butcher french names, and his family:

Here are the two queens of Casa Raia, Ludmilla the lovely, elegant, owner/dreammaker of Casa Raia and Kalyna, the beautiful chef/mother, wife and inspiration of Casa Raia's label. 

The other two kings:  First we have Elijah (pronounced Eliyah) the TRIlingual 3 year old son of Kalyna and PJ and Noah, a man who knows what he wants.

And last but certainly not least, Guaya, the watchful guardian of Casa Raia. 

A city boy, from the south of France, PJ and his wife Kalyna, learned all they know right here in the historic hills of Montalcino.  PJ gave me a tour of the property and outlined the work that needed to be done as the winter faded and signs of spring began to sprout.  

I couldn't have come at a better time.  The Brunello wine, which has to sit in Oak for at least four years, was harvested in 2006 and was finally ready to be bottled and enjoyed.  Inside the cellar, PJ showed me the beautiful oak barrels that have been housing the wine in waiting.

A good wine cellar needs to be as clean as possible and anytime wine needs to be moved, everything needs to be thoroughly cleaned so as to not effect the environment.  Wine needs a very controlled climate because any change in humidity or swing in temperature can drastically effect quality and taste.  I feel his pain, if I waited 5 years to taste my handcrafted wine, I'd want to avoid any hiccups at all costs.

There was a lot to learn and only so much time, but it's always important to savor every moment.  From the bustling, neurotic streets of Midtown Manhattan, to the calm and dreamlike hills of Montalcino, I knew I was in for a change in perspective.


  1. Oh yea!! It looks like you are having a wonderful time. I personally think the grass truly is greener on the other side. I love that region of Italy-- and yes--- the coffee in the train station is wonderful, isn't it? I'm glad you posted a blog-- I was curious to see how things were going!

  2. love the blog! :) it's always awesome to find fellow foodies and travelers. chance meeting in siena was perfect