The opening salvo – Rain to lemons in Italy
CAMPEGINE, RE, Italy – Maybe this should carry the dateline Nocetolo because that’s where I stayed the first two days of my visit to northern Italy but, hey, you’ll have trouble enough finding Campegine on the map, much less Nocetolo, a commune of a half-dozen farmhouses and at least one raucous rooster a few kilometers to the north.
I stopped here, about midway between Milan and Bologna, for two days prior to VinItaly, the immense wine fair in Verona April 6-9. I was staying a La Rocca B-n-B and, following the advice of my generous and gracious hostess Giovana Cavalca, I discovered Il Piccolo Oceano, a restaurant in Campegine specializing in seafood. It’s a popular place, as much for the selection of fresh seafood (the Adriatic Ocean is only 100 or so kilometers to the east) but because it’s also the best to eat place in town.
Spring in this part of Reggio Emilia is wet and cool, reflective of the Mediterannean climate across much of Italy. It’s not quite green but the early blossoms, including apricots and cherries, are ablaze right now. It’s very remindful of western Colorado, ‘cept it rains here on a regular basis.
And speaking of the rain, that’s what it did all Thursday, which I spent slogging around Parma (photo above) visiting the museums where the extensive archaeological history of the region is on display, including a human mummy and a cat mummy.
I was soaked at the end of the day but I learned a new word. It’s “inzuppato,” which means soaked, and the Italian word for soup is “zuppa,” and to me that makes perfect sense.
So Mediterranean is the climate that winemaker Alois Lageder of Magré, a hamlet right at the “pie” in the piemonte of the Italy-Austria Alps, grows lemons, along with his white wines – including Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay – and smattering of Pinot Noir, Lagrein and Merlot.
I dried everything in time to attend Day One of Summa 2014, a wine and food-tasting event hosted by Lageder at his Magré Renaisance-era palace and winemaking facility, Cason Hirshprunn. Don’t think of Guinevere when I say “castle.” This is a castle in the raw, so to speak, with foot-thick walls of native stone and and brick, immense beams doorways built for defense, not elegance.
It truly is a a living museum and one source says the building dates back to 1363, when the name ‘Hirschbrunn’ appeared in the records of the region of Trento.
Last year Summa 2013 attracted around 2,000 visitors during the two-day event and the 20 Euro entrance fee raised about 36,000 Euros for humanitarian projects in Burma, which still is recovering from the 2008 cyclone.
This year there were 150 or so winemakers, the great percentage from Italy and Germany but also some from France, Europe and even one from the U.S. The big draw, or one of them, anyway, was the opportunity to taste a couple of hundred biodynamic wines from progressive winemakers willing to take the chance on what’s good for them, their families, their wines and their land.
There’s a bit of concern on the part of many Italian winemakers because of the decline in wine consumption in Italy. Depending on who you ask and what you read, the reasons range from the weak economy to the fact younger Italians are drinking more birra and soft drinks instead of wine.
According to the Italian winemaking association Assoenologi, Italians were expected to drink 40 liters per person in 2013, down from 45 liters before the financial crisis hit in 2007.
“Wine has become a hedonistic product, which is not part of Italians’ basic diet anymore, leaving it more exposed to short-term fluctuations in economic conditions,” Michele Fino, a professor at the University of Gastronomic Studies in Pollenzo, was quoted in the Huffington Post.
“The recession was like the flu that arrives when one’s defenses are already low,” Fino added.
But Mariano, one of the three brothers owning and operating Il Piccolo Oceano in Campegine (this is how all this began, remember?) blames the country’s restrictive crackdown on DUIs for the drop in wine drinking, especially away from home.
“You can have one, maybe two glasses and that’s it,” he said. “No one buys a bottle because they know there will be a policeman on the way home.”
He shrugged. “In some ways, it’s good,” he acknowledged. He looked around his restaurant, at the crowded tables, where only a few wine bottles were in sight. “But here, I could use the sales.”
(I’m struggling with the WordPress photo file and the ability to size the photos to fit. Maybe it’s because I’m halfway around the world. I’ll add photos when I figure out the problem, me or the system.)