On our arrival day in Umbria, a day later than the first wave of Eph emigration, we were greeted by warm sunshine and crisp blue skies, the perfect welcome back to our adopted home. Lunch at our friend Simone’s new restaurant in Bevgana completed the day’s perfection. The same blue skies and perfect temperatures greeted our friends the Anthonys when they arrived in Rome the following day, bound for Torgiano to join our group for lunch and a winery tour at Terre Margaritelli, a medium sized, mission-driven winery bent on proving that it is possible to produce excellent wines in the Torgiano D.O.C., even if your name is not Lungarotti.
When traveling abroad by rental car, a GPS is probably a good investment, as the Anthony’s discovered, their two and a half hour drive from the Rome airport that morning morphing into a five plus hour adventure that took them a wide right turn away from the Val d’Umbria nearly skidding into neighboring le Marche. Fortunately radio contact was made with them after their course correction and our friend/neighbor/host Jennifer McIlvaine (whose husband Federico manages Terre Margaritelli) was able to talk them back into Umbria and into a safe, soft landing at the winery just moments after the rest of our group arrived. Talk about needing a drink.
Terre Margaritelli is a fascinating winery and our hosts Federico and Jennifer are just the fascinating people to manage and promote it. Jennifer, an American expat who moved to Italy some years ago with her Foligno-born husband whom she met in America, is an accomplished chef, having run her own restaurant in Foligno for a number of years. Today she operates a first rate culinary tour operation based in our home town of Cannara. We (and our guests) have been fortunate enough to cook with Jennifer and to be introduced by her to many of the area’s top culinary providers.
Our visit to Terre Margaritelli was everything a visit to a winery should be. An intimate and informative peek under the hood of one of man’s great feats of alchemy – the art of turning perfectly good grapes into a magical elixir that makes the liquids trapped within make you feel better, makes food around you taste better and makes you look better and more attractive to the opposite (or same) sex. Federico explained to us that while there are many paths a winemaker can choose the Margaritelli family had chosen to make their grapes into wine organically, following a more taxing path from field to bottle but one that results in a wine that is more recognizable on the tongue as authentic, tasting of place. And one that is in balance with nature, a wine and style of winemaking that is sustainable. Sustainability, such a big new idea back home nowadays, is being practiced fervently across the peninsula.
We enjoyed our time visiting the cantina but the real fun began outside, around a picnic table under a vast canopy, facing the rolling hills of the Torgiano D.O.C. zone. The fall sun warmed the landscape and endless fields of grapes, with their reddish fall hues shimmering in the distance warmed it some more. Our group, most of whom had arrived only a few days earlier and some who had just flown in that morning, luxuriated in this splendor as Jennifer manned a homemade brazier cooking freshly butchered meats over coals. Federico introduced us to one wine and then another, repeating over and over again as dishes were presented, consumed and replaced. Sustainability and the cycles of nature in evidence on a table-sized scale just as it is practiced in Terre Margaritelli’s fields and cantina.
Moments like these, repeated over and over, almost daily in our Italy are the glue that creates the bonds not just of friendship but of true lasting connection. It is not just what keeps us coming back to Italy, but it is the secret ingredient that gets inside the hearts and souls of our friends and guests that makes them addicts of Italy too. And on this average day in an unremarkable remarkable corner of Umbria it was clear to us that we had welcomed a few new members to our fraternity.
Bill and Suzy