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WSU Viticulture & Enology

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Italy Winery Tour

March 16-29, 2013

I had been to Italy before on a fun anniversary trip and knew I loved the country. There is so much there that is beautiful, old, and charming.  However, experiencing Italy through its wine brought me into contact with a different dimension of the country — steeped in old world charm, yes, but blended with new-world technology, modern architecture and a drive for world-class excellence in wine-producing.  We began our journey in Milan, where we boarded a luxury bus and over the next two weeks, toured 27 wineries, tasting and toasting our way through three major wine regions of Italy — Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto — rolling along the narrow roadways of an Italian countryside landscaped with distant mountains, patchwork vineyards,  and hilltop towns.

Italy is one of those old-world countries that, though it has been producing wine for centuries, only in the last 20 years or so has it leaped to the forefront of the wine world by embracing new technologies and techniques. Families that have been making wine for generations still pass their wine-making traditions along, but the young heirs of the vines are also eagerly engaging the new ways, seeking a balance between the traditions and technology that will yield world-class quality.

Still, most all Italian winemakers, modernized or not, follow a time-honored tradition of ‘listening to the fruit,’ emphasizing the age-old adage:  ‘Wine is made in the vineyard’.  This philosophy is now being embraced by the Wine Coops, as we learned while visiting one of the biggest in the country. Traditionally all grapes were blended together, however, now a coop will have many labels based on the vineyards and the quality of the grapes.

Italy is drenched in red wines, and we tasted some of the best.  From the Barolos and Barbarescos of Piedmont, to the Chiantis and Brunellos of Tuscany, to the Amarones and Valpolicellas of Veneto, we sipped lots of luscious reds poured and paired with wonderful Italian cheeses, prosciuttos, salamis and even chocolates that were offered at the wine-tastings.  We tasted familiar white wines such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but we also tasted white varieties that were new to many of us, such as Cortese, Arneis and Garganega.

Our hosts were as generous as they were gracious, sharing information and happily answering our questions.  I think I can safely speak for the tour participants that we all learned so many interesting things, many returning with new ideas to implement.

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