How I wish, as I write this week's "Stretch," that the internet was able to deliver to you not only images but aromas as well... like a digital "scratch-n-sniff" sticker!
Last Sunday, Tom and I participated in an Italian tradition called la polentata
, or polenta party, at Doffo Winery
in our hometown of Temecula, California. The Doffo family hails from Argentina but their roots are Italian and la polentata
is a Doffo holiday tradition for family, friends, and a few lucky, avid wine-club followers like Tom and me.
Our senses were overloaded the moment we arrived: A cool, December California breeze (considered downright 'warm' to many of you!), pretty Fall colors of the waning, recently harvested vineyards bathed in afternoon sunlight, festive Latin music played by a charming duet on keyboard and violin... and of course, those yummy, yeasty, fermenting aromas you can only experience inside a winery combined with savory Italian food cooking somewhere nearby!
We were greeted like old friends by the winery's patriarch, Marcelo Doffo, and then found our way to the long communal table that would soon seat a hundred hungry "friends."
Nestled between the barrel room and the vineyard, the table was minimally dressed with a simple white cloth and a runner of aluminum foil down the middle. The attending accoutrements were equally simple: one luscious bottle of Doffo Zin for every couple, and one wine glass, napkin, and fork for every person.
After taking in a long, deep breath and mentally letting go of the all the "holiday have-to-do's" that were battling for my attention and threatening to steal this moment away from me... we relaxed fully into the experience. Soon, I could have easily mistaken this large, diverse group of Californians for real Italians as I watched the conversations became more enthusiastic and stories become more animated as the music, the anticipation, and the Zin began to work their magic.
And then, with an announcement and holiday toast from Marcelo's son and winery protégé, Damien Doffo, the real festivities began.
We watched with eagerness and progressively salivating mouths as Damien and one of the chefs produced an enormous vat of steaming polenta, visibly straining under the weight of it. Starting at one end of the long table and each walking on one side, they carefully poured out the creamy, light-yellow polenta down the center of the aluminum foil. With pot after pot, they layered the polenta with a hearty, dark red Italian suggo
(sauce), laden with bite-sized Italian sausage and generously sprinkled with freshly-grated parmesan cheese. After handing out bits of crusty bread, refilling our wine glasses, scooting our chairs up to the table, and somehow finding our forks again... it was time to dig in!
I've heard it said that even though Italians talk loudly, vivaciously, and a lot... when good food hits the table, the talking ceases as everyone takes a moment to savor the delicious food on their palates. What good and true Italians we were last Sunday as a hush fell across the group when those first few bites of this Italian comfort food was tasted. But only for a few short moments and then, like someone flipping a light switch back on, the lively conversations picked back up right where they left off.
Midway through our meal, I looked down the length of the table and
thought about the goodness of community and simple pleasures and about the value in just plain "goofing off" guilt-free once in a while even when there is "so much to be done." I vowed to try my level best to remember in the coming days, as I prepare for an early holiday celebration this Saturday with all of Tom's children and grandchildren (14 of us!), the pleasure that can be found in a simple, hearty meal, diverse and interesting conversations, and... a really BIG Zin. I hope as you fly through the whirl of holiday activity in these coming weeks, you will too.
Chao! And Buon Natale!