Friday, September 24, 2010

The Essence of Tuscany... La Vendemmia in Bicicletta!

La Vendemmia. The harvest crush is in full swing. For the past month I have been ecstatically guiding single and multi-day bike tours during this most magical time of year, the season of the grape harvest. Tuscan viticulture has reached its most critical moment as the landscape explodes with abundant new life, giving birth to its precious, plump, pregnant purple fruit, which is now being picked, fermented, and transported throughout the narrow country lanes where my clients and I are pedaling and flying high on the sights, the vistas, the heady aroma of wine fermenting in the air, and the energy ignited by this annual ritual that brings all of Tuscany alive!

What an experience for the cyclist! I cannot imagine a better way of breathing and experiencing the vendemmia. There are endless harvest activities in which to participate and observe while on the road. The entire countryside is alive. Each Chianti town is connected by one pervasive party celebrating the activities of the harvest, creating an evocative electricity in the air! As we ride our bicycles through the mystical Tuscan landcape, we get stuck behind miniature Tonka sized tractors, trucks and tankers transporting newly picked grapes to the wineries and skins to the grappa distilleries. We hunt for vineyards that have not yet been harvested and pull off the road to eat the grapes straight off the vine. What an earthy way to immerse ourselves in this experience while enjoying challenging rides through climbs like Testalepre. Tuscany's hills are not as gentle as they appear from photos.....attention cyclists....they are relentlessly hilly, infinitely picturesque, laden with visions that seem straight out of a dream.

We pass through the heart of Chianti Classico region, enjoying wine festivals in Panzano, Greve, and today we arrived just in time to be entertained by the dramatic festivities, parades, dancing and wine tastings taking place as we passed through Impruneta! We sang and danced in the middle of the piazza along with a few thousand participants. This was one of numerous unexpected spontaneous surprises on this weekend's tour.

Yesterday was the first time that I actually gave the wine and olive oil production tour at the Le Corti Wine Estate, after studying and practicing for a month. A whole new learning experience, helping me to melt deeper and deeper into the fabric of the culture. I have learned so much and feel very fortunate to be able to share the excitement of Tuscany on bike while enjoying the many pleasures of its food, wine and festivities together.

I am a contagious person and get great satisfaction out of watching my fever spread to others who feed on my passion. I feel very thankful to be living out my Italian dream, having found my natural abode, and living now in the culture that has begged me to come live in its arms.

In another week or two, all the grapes will be gone, and the atmosphere will change, as the vines start turing golden and red. But then a new season begins with chestnut festivals and the raccolta of the olives. So many unique faces of Tuscany. Each season has something very special to offer. The cycle goes on, making Tuscany perhaps the most dynamic region of Italy.