I took in one last run along the Adige river before saying goodbye to Verona. We checked out of Hotel Verona, threw our luggage on the bus, and headed to Zonin in Gambellara. Gambellara is a town and commune in the province of Vicenza, Veneto, Italy. We pulled up to the enormous gated property and were greeted by Maura in her very stylish ensemble. She took us on a tour of the winery and the museum that housed photos of family icons, original winemaking equipment, and bottles of wine with attached memories. The 2001 Octagon, a Bordeaux blend made in Zonin’s only American-based winery in Barboursville Virginia, was drunk by President Obama at a white house dinner.
The Zonin family has been making wine since the 18th century and in 1921 created their own vineyards. They are seven generations of family and in the 1970s started purchasing vineyard land outside of Veneto. The philosophy was that in order to produce wines of excellence you must own vineyards with the best terroir and the most typical varieties. They own vineyard land throughout northern and southern Italy as well as one in the state of Virginia, in the USA, realizing the dream of the American President Thomas Jefferson who argued that Virginia could be produced world-class wines.
We were led into the mammoth bottling plant where we witnessed the entire packaging operation. The whole process is really quite fascinating. Thousands of bottles, corks, labels, and boxes simultaneously at work. There is something romantic about grape growing and the stories of the vineyard, however, one has to have respect for the incredible undertaking that gets the final product out onto the market. Cheers to the engineers and their genius minds, for having the prowess to design something of this magnitude.
Zonin’s wine shop manager Gabriele guided us through a tasting of these showcased wines and we fell in love with his whimsical charm. Since Zonin makes wine from grapes grown all throughout Italy, we tasted Nero D’Avola, Falaghina, Chianti Classico, Rocca di Montemassi as well as the infamous Amarone and Prosecco of the Veneto region. A newly launched concept is the Prosecco black, grey, and white bottles which are blends of Prosecco’s Glera grape with Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Bianco in their perspective colored bottle. We had pasta with mushrooms, veal with polenta, and cake with chocolate blueberry sauce paired with the wines of various Zonin vineyards. During lunch, we had a delightful conversation with their personnel about the differences and similarities of the sommeliers in the USA versus Europe. I think the general consensus was that our passion for wine puts us in a constant state of learning. The stress of getting to the next level is as petrifying as it is thrilling yet we embrace the obsession. We ended the conversation with a nod of unconditional understanding.
We had a 3-hour drive to Emilia Romagna to visit Drei Dona and we all took advantage of the nap time. Enrico Drei Dona greeted us, profusely apologizing that we had missed the sunset. He quickly herded us toward the vineyard site and overlook of the land. It was beautiful and so was his passion. I had been having a wonderful time up until now but there was something about this place that fit my true perception of Italy. The property has been in the hands of the Drei Donà family since the last century and is mostly dedicated to producing Sangiovese grapes. The names of the wines all come from the names of the horses they breed on the farm. They rent bottling equipment and roll it into their production site at harvest to handle their packaging needs. Enrico graciously walked us through a tasting of the delicate wines made at Drei Dona. The 2006 Superiore Reserve Sangiovese was quite special and clearly at its peak. I took a bottle home for my husband and me to enjoy on October 24th, our first Wedding Anniversary. It was a beautifully balanced, soft bouquet of Italian spices, chocolate-covered cherries, and tobacco. I wish I had a case of this expressive little 10-year-old gem.
It was nearly 10pm and we still had to check in to our hotel and have dinner at Al Vecchio Convento. From this point on everything seemed to fit my perception of Italy. The former convent, now restaurant and lodging, was the epitome of what Italy was in my mind. The main building housed the restaurant and some rooms. The rest of the lodging was spread throughout the intimate community with concrete floors and lacey window treatments. Marisa, owner, and matriarch handles service at Al Vecchio Convento, and in the kitchen, you’ll find the men of the Cameli family: Giovanni with his two sons, Massimiliano and Matteo.
Enrico of Drei Dona was unable to meet us at Al Vecchio for dinner but we were accompanied by his mother and daughter. Marisa’s son and chef prepared some of the most delectable dishes of our trip. He not only cooked our meals but personally served each course himself. I think he wanted to see our reactions to his glorious creations. We luxuriated in grape leaves stuffed with mushrooms, beef tartare, deer, vegetables, truffle-topped cheeses, and desserts paired with the delightful wines of Drei Dona. The conversation flowed and it felt like a holiday with family. Rumor has it the jocularity continued throughout the evening but I turned in after dinner which was already a good 3 hours past my regular bedtime. Our 20-something colleagues were happy to oblige our hosts with late-night cheer. I have to admit I got a kick out of their stories each morning. I used to be able to function on fumes but those days are long gone. This 45-year-old girl was happy to snuggle into bed with sweet dreams of our enchanting Italian experience.