Tag Archives Tuscany

As many of us celebrate this Memorial Day by chilling out with friends or family, I think it is a good idea for us all to take a moment to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.  Not far from Podere Erica is the Florence American Cemetery.  It is a beautiful, peaceful, well-maintained spot which you can see from this photo.  During the Winter when there are fewer trees in leaf,  I can see it on my right as I travel down the FI-SI to go to Podere Erica.  I always admire the beauty and say a little thank you.

On this Memorial Day, May 29, 2017 there will be a ceremony.  It is free and open to the public.  A special time to visit the cemetery, but, of course you can visit any time during their opening hours.

You can visit the cemetery daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25 and January 1. It is open on host country holidays. When the cemetery is open to the public, a staff member is on duty in the visitor building to answer questions and escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.  More than 4,000 military fallen are buried on this 70 acre site of American soil in Italy.  Most of them died in the battles after the June 1944 capture of Rome.  Families had the choice of having their loved one buried at the Florence American Cemetery or sent home for internment in the U.S.

Each grave is marked by a headstone of white marble and is engraved with the decendent’s full name, rank, date of death, unit and state of entry into military service.  Those of Jewish faith have tapered marble shafts surmounted by a Star of David.  For those who could not be identified their headstone reflects the words:  “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.”

Past the graves on a broad terrace stands the memorial marked by a tall pylon surmounted by a large sculptured figure.  Here you will find the Tablets of the Missing upon which are inscribed 1,409 names of those missing in action.  There is also a chapel of marble and mosaic.  Besides escorting family to gravesite locations, and guided tour of the site, the ABMC office there offers other services like providing a photograph or lithograph of a headstone.  All of their services are listed on their website.  https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/florence-american-cemetery#.WScizMaZNMN  At this website you will also find many lovely photos of the cemetery as well as an option to search their database for burial and memorialization information on 200,000+ Americans honored at their 14 permanent American military cemeteries on foreign soil.

Florence American Cemetery is located on the west side of Via Cassia, south of Florence, just off the FI-SI.

 

 

 

 

In this case, “The Man” is Marco Giordano, our winemaker.  And his passion is making wonderful biodynamic wines from our biodynamic vineyard and using biodynamic practices in the cantina.

Photo courtesty of Travlinmad.com

The grapes we produce at Podere Erica are grown not only organically but also according to many biodynamic standards.  We are often asked just what do you mean by biodynamic?  And why is it important?

Long ago, all farming was organic.  Good farmers knew that the health of the crops depended on the health of their soil.  As industrial farming grew, nutrients were stripped from the earth.  Chemicals had to be added to “restore” the soil and now such farming is the biggest contributor to green-house gas emissions.  But this does not have to be so.  If managed correctly – organically – the soil would be a filter that could remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.   Marco is not only an “enologo,” but also a custodian of the soil.  He grows the grapes in a natural manner that does not require chemicals, either as fertilizer or pest control.

After the grape harvest, he sows seeds of 20 different kinds of plants that not only give color to our vineyard in the spring, but also prevent unwanted weeds to grow and when they are mulched give healthy nutrients (such as nitrogen) to the soil.  This set of plants promote the biodiversity of the ecosystem of the vineyard and contribute, along with other organic practices to promote the fertility of the land.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

In late spring these flowering plants are mulched into the soil and organic fertilization occurs.  For the next step to “fertilize” the soil, Marco obtains from a special source a unique biodynamic compost which is made in a heap into which the six compost preparations are inserted. It is then covered with straw, old hay, or earth and “aged.”  Marco mixes this with water to make a solution that he sprays in the vineyard in late Spring.  This preparation is also a powerful aid against stress and increases plant resistance to diseases.

Yet another biodynamic process is to bring “good” insects into the vineyard to combat the “bad” insects.  Who doesn’t love the ladybug?  All of these efforts create grapes of the best quality, true to the Tuscan soil from which they grow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASangiovese Grapes at Podere Erica

These biodynamic practices eliminate the need to add pesticides and chemicals to the soil or the plants, making it healthier for us all and our environment.  In the cantina he uses the minimum amount of sulfites (a preservative) and no other chemicals.  The photo below shows all of the chemicals others add in their wine making.  The sulfite level in our red wines is 60 mg/liter and the legal limit in Italy is 190 mg/liter, higher in USA (350 mg/l).  We think that when you know what we are doing in the vineyard and in the cantina, you will have a better understanding of why environmental stewardship matters to us all, not to mention a healthier wine for you to drink.  We’d love to share the “fruits” of Marco’s passion, so if you are in Italy, make an appointment for a vineyard tour and wine tasting by the man himself.  If you can’t come to Italy, we can ship wine to you.  Just send me an email at jan@PodereErica.com and I will send you the details.

List of additives to wine-making from Conventional Wines to Natural Wines

Until my next blog – cin cin (cheers)

Italy has a variety of climate systems. We may think of Italy as having a warm, sunny Mediterranean climate, but in the winter it is a different story.  Between the north and south there can be a considerable difference in temperature, especially during the winter.  The coldest month is January, with temperatures as low as 15°F in the outskirts of Milan and 35.6 °F to the south in Palermo. Yes, it does get cold in Italy!

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Snow in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy

 

At Podere Erica, the work never stops, no matter how cold it may be. We have even gotten snow in some years.  Below is a photo of the podere in January of 2012.

Even when it is cold, Marco is busy.  There is always maintenance to be done so that the podere is beautiful and perfect when our first guests arrive in May.  In this cold month of January, he has to prune the grape visnowy poderenes and is continually controling the winemaking.  Besides being concerned about the wine, he also prunes the fruit trees which have now begun making lots of fruit under his care.  Our guests are welcome to pick the fresh fruit right off the tree!  He also clears the forest so that we can easily hike there and enjoy its beauty.  Wood cutting is also on the calendar so that we have plenty of wood for those cozy fires in the living room or great pizzas from the wood-burning oven.

Here in San Francisco (where we are finally getting the rain we desperately need) it has been in the 50’s, but I am still yearning for a bowl of steaming hot, comforting soup. This month I have been experimenting with some recipes for hearty Italian soups and would like to share the recipes with you.

While the family was vacationing in the mountains after Christmas, I made Tuscan Sausage and White Bean Soup and Tuscan Minestrone. Both were filled with yummy and healthy vegetables.  Everyone loved them, even the grandkids!  Give them a try.

When I returned home to San Francisco, my mom and I made Italian Wedding Soup for the first time. The name of this soup is actually a misnomer.  It originated here in the States within the Italian-American community.  The old folks called it “minestra maritata” in Italian, which is a reference to the fact that green vegetables and meats go well together, as in a marriage.  Hence, the source for the “mistranslation” of “soup married” to Italian Wedding Soup.  So, it has nothing to do with what might be served at a wedding, however, it is still a delicious, and light yet hearty soup.  We think ours turned out pretty great.  Click here if you want to try it.

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                           A snow-covered street in downtown Florence – a rare occurrence.

Autumn at Podere Erica in Chianti

This November, if you take a drive in the Tuscan countryside, you’ll see people spreading netting under the olive trees and climbing up into them to strip away the ripe olives with gloved hands and hand rakes.  And they will be delighted to be doing so, because last year there was no harvest!  No new oil!  A disaster!

As mentioned in a recent New York Times article, “Last year’s harvest was severely damaged by extreme heat, torrential rains and hailstorms, as well as a devastating fruit fly infestation. But even worse, a few regions to the south, in Puglia, olive trees have suffered a catastrophic bacterial infection that has wiped out at least one million trees. It’s been a disastrous year. Some experts predict many olive farms will go out of business; others foresee skyrocketing prices. One thing is clear: We can’t take olive oil for granted.” And in Italy, olive oil is a way of life! It is served at every meal and when it is Olio Nuovo (new oil), it is cherished.

Harvesting the olives at Podere Erica
Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Chianti Harvesting the olives at Podere Erica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have just harvested our olives at Podere Erica and although it was not an abundant crop, it looks fantastic. Here it is coming directly from the press. Green goodness!

The real extra virgin olive oil at Podere Erica in Chianti.

Black & Green olives close up

This mixture of ripe (black) and unripe (green) olives were immediately taken to our local frantoio, or olive press. This is done at room temperature. The olives are never heated. There are no chemical treatments of any kind. Otherwise the oil won’t be extra virgin.

Here are our olives loaded up for the trip to the frantoio for pressing.

Olives on their way to be pressed at Podere Erica

Tuscan olive oil is considered the prince of olive oil (especially by the Tuscans!). It has a grassy, sometimes peppery taste that is quite addictive. Harvesting the olives while most are still green contributes to this spicy taste. Don’t worry if the oil is opaque, because olio nuovo usually is, and expect there to be some sediment.

What to do with olive oil, other than dress a salad?

The simplest thing is “fettunta”. You will need a loaf of Italian bread, slice it, toast it, and rub it with a peeled slice of garlic. Then drizzle it with your “new olive oil”, season with salt, and serve. Paired with a glass of Chianti, you’ve got a great appetizer. Even better, top with white cannelli beans that have been simmered with sage and rosemary. Click here for our recipe for Crostini con Fagioli.

In addition, Italians drizzle it over hearty soups, especially minestrone, pasta e fagioli or ribolitta or wherever the flavor of the oil complements the dish. During the summer, they drizzle it over pappa al pomodoro or to season pinzimonio (a platter of mixed raw vegetables).

How to preserve your golden goodness:

Even the best olive oil will go bad quickly if it’s not properly stored. So,
• Don’t expose it to light or heat
• Don’t keep it in a clear glass bottle
• Don’t keep it in a half-empty bottle
• Do keep it cool
• Do keep it in the dark
• Do keep it in a dark bottle
• Do decant a large bottle into smaller ones and use them one at a time.

In the News today

I was shocked to read today about a scandal in the Italian olive oil industry.  Written in the British newspaper, the Telegraph, they announced this week that of 20 brands tested in the laboratory by specialists from the Italian customs agency, nine were found to be lower quality oil, even going so far as to add green food coloring to achieve the appropriate green color of extra virgin olive oil. The producers caught up in the investigation include big names such as Bertolli.

So, buyer beware.  It is best to buy from small producers who are proud of their olive oil.  It may be more expensive, but you know that it is the real thing!

Would you like to Take an Olive Harvest Tour in Italy?
Every November a friend of ours organizes a great tour in Tuscany. Based at our Podere Erica, he offers a hands-on harvesting experience with a trip to the frantoio as well as great cooking classes and tours of the area. In the past, his tour has included a cooking class, wine tasting and dinner at Antinori’s famous Osteria di Passignano, pizza making class, wine tastings, tours of Volterra, San Gimignano, Siena, Florence and Montalcino. Contact David at a Cooks Tour for more information.

One of the things I look forward to all year long is the Vendemmia at our Tuscan farm, Podere Erica. And I am not the only one!  In Tuscany the month of September is devoted to the precious Grape.  In a region where this crop is of such importance, it is only natural that there are many events celebrating the grape and grape harvest (vendemmia).  You can find events in Greve, Rufina, Panzano and Impruneta.  Click here to find out more.

This year there was a lot to celebrate. The weather cooperated to produce a fantastic crop.  Take a look at the grape cluster below – lusciously full.  And there were so many that you could stand in one spot and practically fill a container.  We picked 15,000 pounds of grapes that sunny morning in September.

Just Picked Grapes at Podere Erica  Sangiovese Grapes at Podere Erica

The picking crew included our friends who live in Florence, family from Calabria, and friends who traveled from Barcelona. Even I got out of the kitchen long enough to pick some grapes! (more…)

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