October arrives with glorious colors-vineyards glow with astonishing golds and crimsons. The Vendemmia (grape harvest) normally takes place the first two weeks of the month. This joyous ritual has been going on for thousands of years here, with families and friends gathering in teams along rows of vines, snipping off abundant clusters, while gossiping, joking, and feasting after the harvest is done.
Our October guests love the chance to get in on the busy backstage action of wine making. Everywhere we go we meet locals who are working hard and speculating about how the year's vintage will turn out.
Vittorio Innocenti, one of Montefollonico's star wine producers, welcomes us to his winery, where he unloads crates overflowing with grapes from his vineyard and shows us the crushing process. Rather than the I Love Lucy-method of stomping over a barrel, machines crush these days' grapes, and then the juice is pulsed through hoses into big vats. We check on Vittorio's vats daily, inhaling the nose-tingling, yeasty aroma of fermentation. It's a first-hand, sensory experience of fully understanding that wine is a living, ever-changing thing!
Nearby, we visit one of Tuscany's most extraordinary wineries, Tenimenti Andreucci, where our good friend, the molto-bello Flavio, who we featured in our Easter 2010 newsletter, shows us his ingenious state-of-the-art wine making process. We'll taste his award-winning Regale, a blend of grapes this area is famous for: Sangiovese, Cabernet, and Merlot.
Just like all of our farmer neighbors, we also pick and crush Sangiovese grapes from our own vineyard for our personal yearly consumption of wine. Our Tuscan neighbors often help us pick our grapes.
Contadini (farmers) often sell some of their wine as vino sfuso (loose wine), that's siphoned straight from vats, creating a scene that looks like a wine gas station. We sometimes take our own bottles to our favorite neighbors to taste and drink their wine at home as our vino di tavola (table wine). Vino sfuso is incredibly affordable (€1.25 a liter), and incredibly delicious, with a fruity flavor that perfectly complements meals.
Along with wine, October brings Tuscany's liquid gold-the first olive oil of the year. The raccolta (olive harvest), begins in late October, when we see farmers on ladders, picking and dropping olives onto ivory nets they've set beneath the silver-leaved trees. Olio nuovo (new oil), freshly pressed from the first ripe fruits, has a grassy-peppery flavor-bringing revelations to our taste buds.
Chestnut and walnut trees thrive this time of year, bringing richness to our desserts. Figs ripen and our chef/teacher Dania at La Chiusa restaurant cooks them up in a scrumptious tart, covered with spun sugar.
October is also the season of porcini-mania. Like magic, the most Tuscan of all mushrooms appear in the forests that surround us. Italians named this fungi variety porcini (little pigs), to describe their meaty texture and nutty flavor. Not that they're so little-as you'll see in this photo, around here they can grow as big as Patty's head! We love them simply grilled, sautéed, or shaved raw in a salad-another autumn specialty of Chef Dania's.
Tartufi (truffles) are the star fungi of our area. These warty, misshapen tubers, that grow underground, have a sharp, enticing, earthy aroma. Most of what's found by the hunters and their trained dogs are black truffles, but there are also white truffles found nearby, prized by gourmands, that sell for astronomical prices. At Daria Cappelli's Osteria La Porta featured in our Summer 2010 Newsletter, she often indulges us serving tartufi shaved over pastas and carpaccio and added to sauces, creating flavors that make us swoon!
While many natives will talk your ear off about wine and olive oil, mushroom and truffle hunting is a quieter, sneaky business. We see cars parked at the edge of the forests, hunters lurking about with their straw baskets. They typically tell us, (obviously lying), that they've "found nothing", wanting to keep their secret fungi spots hidden from competitors.
When we first moved to our podere (farm house), Patty got a surprise one morning when she saw a villager and his dog nosing around our patio. She went outside to discover that the dog had dug up a couple of handfuls of black truffles. We'd been wondering why certain stones on our patio were loose, and now the mystery was solved. The villager had thought the house was still abandoned, as it had been for many years. Embarrassed to be caught, he offered to give Patty what his dog had dug up. Patty countered with kindness. She made an offer to split the find 50-50, and happily the villager obliged.
Along with all the hard work that goes with October harvesting and hunting, Tuscans celebrate what the land has given them. In the nearby town of San Giovanni d'Asso, famous for white truffles, is Italy's first Museo del Tartufo (truffle museum), and an annual Olio Primo festival. Every weekend in October brings on a different sagra (food festival)--from the Chestnut Sagra in Cortona to the Pumpkin Sagra in Castell'Azzara. You may even wish to go to Perugia, home of Baci Chocolates, in our neighboring region of Umbria. Perugia hosts the mid-October Eurochocolate Festival, with one million visitors flooding in from all over the world to celebrate the world's most beloved sweet.
October gives us mostly warm, sunny days. As evening approaches, we gasp over gorgeous sunsets. When night falls and temperatures drop, we light our fireplaces. It's a cozy, abundant time of year. We'd love to share it with you, so come on over in October!
Click here for a short video about Vendemmia in Montefollonico.