Dale Hollow Goes to Italy
“In vino veritas” = In wine there is truth.
The proverb above is one of the best known wine proverbs in the world. It is Latin in origin tracing back to the Roman times, and the Italians still claim it as their own to this day. However, during a recent visit to Italy, we found a lesser known wine proverb that is absolutely delightful:
“Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca” = One can’t have a full barrel and a drunk wife.
The best way we can describe Katy’s month-long trip to Italy from March-April 2019 is an Italian Wine Voyage. Essentially a modern day Marco Polo in reverse, a discovery mission of the wines unique to Italy and searching like a diligent student to find them.
The idea of this trip was born though cousin Sioux (of the Blueberry Inn across from the winery). She has a more than slight passion for Italian culture, especially wine. When she heard about the Italian Wine Ambassador Program sponsored by “Vinitaly” in Verona, she encouraged Katy to apply.
Like most things Katy sets her mind to, she applied and was accepted. This is no small feat in itself: this is a program filled with applicants from around the world who are sommeliers and importers, folks who have lived and breathed Italian wine for years or even decades. A few had lived in Italy or at the very least, visited producers on various occasions across multiple regions. Katy was the one of the few attending this as a wine producer and definitely the only one from the Midwest. It’s no exaggeration to say that the majority of people (instructors, producers, classmates) didn’t even realize you could grow grapes in the middle of the United States.
What is this program? Take nearly 2,000 years or so of grape growing and wine making, 650 +grape varietals, 20 wine regions with dozens of sub regions each with it’s own intricate regulations, soil types, topography, and geology; and cram all this knowledge into a studying and sipping week-long extravaganza. The mission, as Katy chose to accept, was as follows:
1) Rigorous studying for the months leading up to the trip
2) Intense immersion into Italian wine regions for two weeks leading up to “Vinitaly”
The best place to start is with a simple map of the wine regions to track her journey. Coincidentally, Katy and Sioux traveled around using a more detailed version of this and relied on it more than a regular map. They highly recommend this approach:
Starting in Rome, Katy essentially went everywhere important north of the Eternal City. The bold words are wine regions and in parenthesis are the places within the region she visited:
Lazio (Rome, Tarquinia)
Tuscany (Chianti, Florence)
Emilia-Romagna (Ravenna, Balogna)
Lombardy (Lake Como, Valtellina)
Veneto (Verona, Venice, Soave, Valpolicella)
Marche (Metallica area)
To prepare for the trip and academy, from November 2018 - March 2019, Katy hit the books:
A quick introduction should be made to Katy’s “Italian family”. Before anyone gets too excited, with the middle photo taken from their time in Lake Como, the man in the first pic is NOT George Clooney. Easy to make that mistake, but that’s actually Rich, Sioux’s work cohort and Katy’s “Italy Dad”:
You might ask what made Katy uniquely qualified to take on this task. I mean, she doesn’t know a bit of Italian and prior to this course, we shared a very basic, nearly primitive knowledge of Italian wine. But, if you have ever witnessed her study anything she is passionate about or watched the art of her blending and tasting our own wines, you would understand. Without that insider knowledge, here are a few glimpses of what it looks like in action: she asks questions- thorough and probing ones. She would ask producers all matters of things using Italian words and phrases and grape names and production techniques I’ve never heard of; I don’t think the servers had either in retrospect. Heck, she would whip out the trusty marked up map and talk topography and soils, even discussing different types of oak from around the world like a 5’1’’ Paul Bunyun with a Kentucky accent. On multiple occasions visiting wineries following the course, the person serving us actually asked if Katy was a sommelier. One such memorable moment was at Antinori Winery in Chianti, where she guessed the grape and alcohol % by tasting it and the server was mystified.
Now, onto the journey; or as the Italians say, andiamo!
During the first two weeks of the trip, Katy and Sioux embarked on full-scale Italian wine culture immersion (they called this portion of the trip “research”), complete with multiple wine regions, tasting sessions, and a few guided vineyard and winery tours from a master sommelier. First thing you will notice is that older Italian dudes really liked drinking wine with Katy. Second, these fellas are just like you read about- tall, dark, handsome, able to cook and properly appreciate wine, drive scooters, and probably even sing.
One of my personal favorites sums up this portion of the trip best: just your run-of-the-mill wine and food pairing at a vineyard with a Master Sommelier (Marco, far left) and winery owner with the Tyrrhenian Sea in the far background.
Katy then attended the Italian Wine Ambassador course where she learned to taste and identify Italian wines, pairing, growing techniques, and vineyard management. This required swirling, sniffing, sipping and rigorous note taking of 400+ wines from all over Italy. Of course, she made some friends along the way.
The “Vinitaly” experience was capped off with a world-class wine tasting event with around 100 of the top Italian wine producers in picturesque Verona, hosted by Wine Spectator. For us, it was pretty amazing to see both “Wine Specator” and “Dale Hollow” on the same ticket.
Finally, I arrived for the final portion of the trip… Somebody had to make sure she was learning worthwhile stuff. “Quality Control” if you will, it’s a tough job but someone had to do it.
Naturally, we have developed a deep love and appreciation of Italian wine and while we don’t know for sure right now where this passion will lead, we can assure you that Italian wine is a much bigger part of our lives. We are still seeking out unique varieties, some of which Katy and Sioux discovered, and figuring out ways to get them to Missouri. We are fortunate to live in a time where we have access to all of the best wines in the world. Yes, we have a heavy bias toward local wine, especially from the Midwest, but we also love and appreciate stuff from Italy, France, and California, along with Washington Cabernet, unoaked French Chardonnays, Chilean Carmenere , Argentinian Malbec, and Australian Syrah.
So, aside from all that, what does all of this have to do with Dale Hollow Winery in Stover, Missouri? The most obvious answer is everything, but this takes a little explanation. In the U.S., wine has been made for a few hundred years. In Italy- a couple thousand. Through that experience, they have discovered that different grapes and regions require different vineyard and wine production techniques to yield the best version of the grape to wine transformation. Blending is yet another layer, not to mention the food culture which is its own subject altogether. Pairing wine in Italy is more about experience than excess. Wine is present at most meals and Italians young and old simply know that a meal without wine isn’t a complete meal.
THIS is our dream for American wine culture. It is impossible to replicate exactly, and we wouldn’t want to because frankly, mid-Missouri isn’t Italy, and we have our own culture and identity. As they Italians say, “you can’t have a full barrel and a drunk wife” (the equivalent of you can’t have your cake and eat it too). But the idea of drinking the wine made in a certain area paired with food from the same location is incredibly natural and inspiring. It’s why we feature local meats and cheeses in the winery and encourage people to sit and enjoy them in view of our vineyards paired with wine made from the very grapes being grown nearby.
Katy had the unique opportunity to learn from Italian wine makers who have been doing this for generations. So, on the surface she brought home vineyard management techniques, fermentation and blending strategies, and wine knowledge sealed into her memory forever. If you dig further (pardon the vintner pun) to the deepest roots of the trip, we experienced the people, the food, and the laughter; the feeling and experience of wine and food culture that is needed all over America.
Visit your local wineries, ask your grocery store or favorite restaurant to carry local wines. Search out farmer’s markets for local food. On occasion, mix it up and enjoy another culture; find a couple Italian wines and cook an Italy-inspired meal to pair them with. Finally, invite friends and family over for a delightful home-cooked meal enjoyed slowly with much laughter.
This is the truth at the bottom of every bottle of wine, the essence of “In Vino Veritas”.
Sioux warned us that Katy wouldn’t be the same after Italy…and she was absolutely right.
It has challenged how we approach the vineyard and production techniques, how we blend, and most importantly, how we want to share it with people.