September 9, 2017 – We started our walk to Tuscany in a Bottle, where our Tuscany wine tour would start, a bit earlier than necessary because I knew I would want to stop and take some crowd-less photos. We were asked to be at the store by 8:30 am so we left our Airbnb at 7:30 am.
It doesn’t matter what city you’re in, waking up early gives you the opportunity to see the city you’re visiting without the massive crowds or fear of pickpockets. It’s almost like being in a parallel universe. Same city, different experience.
We made it to the Ponte Vecchio and had it all to ourselves. No, the shops weren’t open, but being on that beautiful, historic bridge all alone was incredible.
We continued to the wine shop and made it with time to spare. Eric gets so annoyed with me because I always need to be ridiculously early to everything. I hate being late and it gives me too much anxiety to be right on time, so I will always and forever be early.
We waited around until we saw someone open the shop. Yeah, I know, the shop wasn’t even open yet. Give me a break, I just like being first.
We walked into the shop where we were warmly greeted by Bernardo who offered us some coffee. then we waited for the other 6 people that would be joining us on our tour that day.
A few minutes after we arrived, the others slowly started trickling in 2 by 2 until our 8 person group was complete.
Bernardo introduced himself and then we made our way to the van so we could begin our journey to Chianti.
It was early and we were all still strangers, so the ride to the first winery was very quiet. Bernardo broke the ice by having each of us introduce ourselves, say where we were from, and what we did for a living. In addition to Eric and I, we had Grace and Natalie from Leeds, England, Justin and Olivia from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Peyton and Chase from Ontario, Canada. Peyton and Chase told us they had just gotten engaged and no one knew but us. We were all a little shocked. No one in this world knew they were engaged except for them and this van full of winos in Tuscany. This day just got interesting! They were planning on telling their family after they had their photo shoot in Venice. Extravagant? Yes, the rest of us peasants in the group thought so too.
We pulled up to the first winery of the day: Corzano e Paterno. This was such a beautiful place with rows and rows of vineyards as far as the eye could see. We got out of the van and got a quick lesson on the different wine regions in northern Italy. These wine regions are ancient and many of the vineyards have been run by the same families for centuries.
Corzano e Paterno has a vast and interesting history. It’s all on their website if you’re interested. You can also stay at this lovely place!
We moved from our wine region lesson to the vineyard itself. We were exploring Tuscany during the grape harvest so we actually got to try the grapes straight off the vine. I thought they might taste bitter or just not good since they were wine-producing grapes, but they were amazing and sweet! Almost like blueberries.
Next, it was on to learn about Tuscany wine production. We toured their facilities and learned about their process from vine to bottle. Surprisingly, their process was not as automated as many of the wineries are in the US. Bernardo showed us a giant vat of freshly pressed wine that was waiting to be separated from the skins and put into barrels. He told us the vats have to be punched down every so often. He asked if anyone wanted to try pushing it down with their hands. Eric volunteered of course!
We didn’t think about the fact that he would now be covered in wine and grape scraps, but luckily Bernardo had a plan. He sent him to see one of the winemakers who promptly hosed down his arm until he was like new again. I’m having flashbacks to Willy Wonka, except there are vats of wine instead of chocolate.
Next, we saw the wine storage areas and then finally bottling.
Then we were brought to the tasting room. This winery was straight out of Eat, Pray, Love. From the setting to the winery staff; they were all just lovely, welcoming, and pretty.
This was such a perfect tasting. Bernardo walked us through all the wines one by one. We got to have local cheeses, honey, bread, and olive oil along with the wine. Everything we had was made at the winery which was so cool. We even got a lesson on olive oil and the proper way to taste it. Did you know there’s a proper way to taste olive oil? Neither did I.
Afterward, we got to just pass the bottles around and drink whatever we wanted. Best breakfast of the trip! This tasting ended around 11:30 am.
Our group was now very well acquainted and we were having a blast. We seriously couldn’t have picked better strangers to share a day in Tuscany with!
Bernardo came around and told us it was time to head to Greve in Chianti, another town in Tuscany, to meet the “Crazy Butcher”. We were sad to leave Corzano e Paterno, but excited to meet this butcher!
Bernardo took us right to the front door of butcher shop where he let us out and said, “Just go enjoy yourselves, I’ll be there soon!” We were all a little confused and timid at first. But as soon as we got to the entrance there was a guy with glass cups stacked high and a bottle of wine ready to fill glasses for us.
We were all handed generous glasses of wine and told to go inside and have some food. The Crazy Butcher, whose real name is Dario Cecchini, is known for his generosity as well as being a genius butcher. Famous chefs from around the world send their protégés to him to learn all about how to properly butcher and prepare different meats. He’s that good. He also LOVES Metallica and has their music constantly blasting in his shop. So I’m sure you can imagine this was quite the experience so far.
Bernardo warned us that Dario was very handsy, so if we asked for a picture to beware. He wasn’t kidding. Eric and I asked for a picture and Dario was thrilled! He motioned for us to come up to his area behind the counter and he put his arms around us, pinched our sides, and said “CARNE!” (the Italian word for meat) with a really deep Italian accent. Yeah, we got groped by a famous Italian butcher. All in the experience!
You can watch Dario’s episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix now!
It was time for our “light lunch” so Bernardo corralled us all and brought us across the street to Dario’s restaurant. Our group was a bit shocked because we had our own private room. We were all under the impression that we would just be getting some sort of meat and cheese tray and a little more wine. Nope. We were in for a 3-course lunch complete with 3 cuts of meat fresh from Dario’s shop.
Our wonderful lunch wouldn’t be complete without a shot of grappa! Of course, it was Dario’s special grappa. Grappa is an Italian digestif typically taken as a shot after a meal. After the wine is produced, the Italians won’t let the grape skins go to waste. They are fermented to create grappa which is usually 30 to 60 percent alcohol by volume. There was a bottle just sitting by the meat out for anyone to enjoy.
This was honestly one of the highlights of our trip. Maybe it’s because we weren’t expecting such a warm welcome or all of that food. It was almost surreal! We made sure to buy some olive oil and seasonings so we could extend our Crazy Butcher experience when we got home.
If you’re planning a trip to Florence and/or Tuscany, be sure to put a visit to the Crazy Butcher on your list. In fact, just do the wine tour that we did! It was one of the most amazing experiences we had in the 3 weeks we were in Europe. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the exact Tuscany wine tour we did: Grape Tours – Super Chianti
One of our group members, Olivia, mentioned that she heard the Chianti Wine Festival was happening on our tour day. Bernardo confirmed this so that became our 3rd stop of the day. This Tuscan wine festival only happens once a year, so we were lucky we got to experience it.
A few of our group members bought the glasses that came with the tastings at each booth. We didn’t just because we only had about 20 minutes, but those that did maximized those minutes and had an awesome souvenir to take home!
It was time for our 4th and final stop of the day: Villa Calcinaia
This winery also has a rich history dating back to 1524. The Capponi family has actually owned this winery the entire time (see? Centuries!). It is now run by Sebastiano Capponi and his brother Niccolo. We were lucky enough to be shown around the property by Sebastiano himself.
We walked around the property listening to Sebastiano tell us all about his family’s history in winemaking. He told us each generation of winemakers puts their own spin on the wine. When Sebastiano took over the winery in 1992, he made organic farming the standard at Villa Calcinaia.
The grounds were so beautiful and many of the buildings are the originals from when the winery was first established.
The end of the tour brought us to a beautiful tasting room. We sat down with Sebastiano and he continued to tell us more about his wines and his winery.
After our tasting, it was sadly time to leave Tuscany. We had the most perfect day and I am dying to go back and just spend some time exploring more of Chianti and the surrounding towns.
We made it back to Florence around 5:30 pm and bid adieu to Bernardo.
We had so much fun with our new found friends we all decided to go grab drinks at a nearby restaurant. The Canadian couple didn’t join us, they left before we could ask. We figured they were just caught up in their engagement… or maybe they just didn’t like us. We wished them well!
The 6 of us, Natalie, Grace, Justin, Olivia, Eric, and I, settled in at some random place for some drinks. All the ladies got Aperol Spritz and the guys got a beer. Aperol Spritz is to Europe as what the Moscow Mule is to the US… it’s everywhere!
We had asked Bernardo for a recommendation for dinner and he told us a couple of places. One restaurant, in particular, he told us would be about as authentic as we could get in Florence, so that’s where we went!
Well it turns out it was so authentic there were zero English speaking people and the menus were 100% in Italian. We were thankful to have our friends with us so we could all be idiot English speaking people together.
The menu was almost incomprehensible. None of us knew what we were ordering. A full liter of house wine was only €4 though; we understood that much at least.
My dish came and apparently I got gnocchi! SCORE! The word “gnocchi” wasn’t anywhere in the title of what I ordered so I really don’t know how I got that lucky. Eric got some weird meat thing and I can’t remember what everyone else ordered.
After our super authentic dinner, we found a bar called Brew Dog (which is a chain apparently) where we just hung out until around 10:00 pm.
We were all so exhausted from the day and Eric and I were headed to Rome in the morning so we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to our Airbnb. Grace and Natalie would be headed to Rome a day after us so we told them we would message them to see about doing dinner there.
Overall the day was perfect and I still can’t believe how lucky we got with our tour group!
Continue reading the Travel Diary here: Day 12: Traveling from Florence to Rome