This January 12th marks the seventh anniversary of this blog. The genesis of this site was not the desire to receive free wine, however, it was the simple aspiration to combine two activities that I find particularly enjoyable: writing and wine appreciation.
Thus, it surpassed any expectations that I had for it a good six years ago when I received the first bottle of wine that I was asked to sample While that first wine was particularly dreadful, more samples started to trickle in. A year or so later, another unexpected occurrence: the kind people of the Lodi Winegrape Commission asked me to come out to Northern California to visit the region.
Since that first “press trip” I have been fortunate to be invited on a few more covering several continents, dozens of countries, and countless wineries. On the eve of my Wool Anniversary, I have been contemplating which trip, or more precisely, which region, has made the greatest impression over the last seven years.
(I know what you are thinking: “Really?? On the seventh anniversary, one is to produce a gift of wool to one’s betrothed?” I had the same reaction. The other choice, copper (here is some lovely electrical wire, honey!), is not much better, but perhaps better than the 6th [Candy or Iron—how to choose? They both clearly say “I love you!”] or the 9th [Willow or Pottery—“Willow”?? What the aitch-eee-double-hockey-sticks is that? Willow?? I am sure there are a ton of options for freaking willow on Amazon].)
While there are certainly many contenders (Chile, Portugal, Provence, and yes, Lodi), without a doubt I have felt the deepest connection with Sicily. As far as I know, I do not have a drop of Italian blood, much less Sicilian (thanks 23 and Me), but the island off the toe of the Italian peninsula has spoken to me since my first visit there two years ago.
This past summer, I was invited to return to what had essentially become my adopted Italian home. This trip would be short, however, only a brief couple of days with perhaps the leading Sicilian producer, Donnafugata.
After my typical sleepless night crossing the Atlantic, I landed in Germany bleary-eyed and agitated, once again contemplating whether sleep deprivation is the cruelest form of torture. After walking what seemed to be the better part of 37 kilometers in the Munich airport, I found the gate for my connecting flight. My attitude completely changed upon seeing my destination on the screen: Palermo.
On my first visit to Sicily, I spent a week on the island, including stints in the charming city of Catania in the east, the verdant area around Mount Etna, and the capital city Palermo on the western side of the iconic isle. I elected to stay on in Palermo for a few extra days and fell hard for the city which seemingly seamlessly combines incredible beauty, stunning architecture, and considerable grit into a bustling, energetic, yet also relaxed whole.
Most, if not all, European cities I have visited have a certain artificial vibe—the monuments and history seem to be separate from the people who live there, and as a tourist or even a visitor, you are removed even sheltered from the denizens of the city.
“Authentic” is applied far too often, but it really is apt when describing Sicily and Palermo; the Palermitani (the inhabitants of Palermo) don’t appear to be slightly annoyed by the foreigners meandering among them, or even seem to contemplate their existence. At the same time, somewhat paradoxically, when a resident of the city realized that I was an outsider, they were welcoming and sincere—not particularly common in my travels.
Thus, I when I boarded the rather tiny (at least in comparison to the behemoth that I rode from Houston to Munich) plane to the Sicilian capital, my lack of sleep stopped having any effect on my state of being, and I became giddy with excitement—in a mere 55 minutes or so, I would be back in Palermo.
We landed in brilliant sunshine, and after I strolled across the tarmac and through customs, I emerged into the airport, scanning the dozen or so name placards. I zeroed in on my last name printed below “Donnafugata” which was held by a man of average height, with closely cropped, slightly gray hair.
After I gave him the familiar “I’m-the-guy-you’re-waiting for” salutation, he introduced himself: Baldo, the Director of public relations at Donnafugata. As we loaded my luggage into the car, he gave me his business card and informed me that we would be heading directly to Marsala, along the coast, and home to the winery.
“We won’t be going to Palermo?”
“No, unfortunately, there simply is not time as we only have you for two days.”
A bit dejected, I got into the car. Before putting Baldo’s card in my pocket, I happened to glance at it:
“Your last name is Palermo?”
I was going to be just fine.