Alex and I were invited to have lunch at the home of Sergio and Elisabetta of Sono Montenidoli. We are greeted outside by Sergio with a refreshing rosato with fried zucchini blossom flowers. OMG! Delicious! We couldn’t stop eating these addicting little treats. The views and the old olive oil urns that have become a part of the landscape immediately had their effect on me, and I began to relax. Sergio, a quiet and contemplative man (makes my Joe look like a Jack Russell in comparison), gives us a tour of the facility. In the winery, I see a nice balance of Old and New world techniques. I ask Sergio if he helps with the winemaking. He replies, “No, I am Elisabetta’s left arm.” “Not the right?” I ask. He explained that Elisabetta does everything and he is the rock. Of course, he did not say it like that, he is much too humble. I can feel the spell of this beautiful place begin to work its magic
We walk back to their home (built in the 13th century by the Templar Knights) and see Elisabetta looking out from the dining room window above. With great enthusiasm, she says (do you best Italian accent here), “Angelina, it is so good to meet you!” That’s it, I’m a goner, I am completely under her spell now. I am in a fog. It was like the soul of the land just greeted me with her voice. It gave me goosebumps.
Up in the dining room, they keep their shutters open all of the time because of the 5 swallow nesting there. While we are eating, we are treated to the glory of these beautiful birds. (For those of you thinking, “ooh, that seems unhygienic,” just go with the whole romance of the setting. It was fine.) Over the next few hours, we feast on a multi-course meal paired with their wines and also learn about Elisabetta. Elisabetta is not only a phenomenal winemaker, but is also amazing on many levels. I am getting dizzy from her passion and skill
First course: Dressed sardines, seafood frito misto and a crudité
Wine: Vernaccia Tradizionale 2005
Second course: Fish in parchment with herbs
Wine: Vernaccia Fiore 2005 and Il Templare 1999
Thirds course: Braised Oxtail
Wine: Il Garrulo 2005(served slightly chilled)
Wine: Sono Montenidoli 1995
Fourth course: Salad
Fifth course: Gelato with a caramel of sorts on top, a pastry that had noodles in it and some type of baked fruit compote (plums?)
Sixth course: Fruit
All of the food and wines are excellent. Over lunch, we discuss Elisabetta’s philosophies and the land. Since the mid-60s, Elisabetta and Sergio have owned their 375 hectares (about 926 acres), of which many acres are forest and about 57 acres are vineyards. They have planted about half with Vernaccia and the other half with Sangiovese, with some Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Malvasia thrown in. They were biodynamic from the beginning, far before it was a trend. Elisabetta says, “I am the ‘SSM’ of wine. I am, first, a servant to the land. Second, I am a servant to servants (workers) of the land and I am a servant to Montenidoli”. The idea of this “SSM” is her holy trilogy. She is truly inspired by the land and her house built by the Templar Knights. When she sees her employees in the morning, she doesn’t say, “This is what needs to be done today,” instead she asks, “What needs to be done today?” She continues describing her philosophy, “All my energy goes into teaching the employees of what the land is. I am the land. You have to be pure.” The intensity and passion with which she speaks comes through not only in her voice, but also in her eyes. I feel as is if the land and her soul were one.
I ask her about wine trends and, of course, Robert Parker. She says she feels sorry for Parker. “To have only ONE way to taste, drink and enjoy wine is sad. To only enjoy one style is more than unfortunate.” She believes wines come to life and when opening a bottle, she will ask, “With what shall I eat with you?” She loves the whole concept and theory of food and wine pairings and I believe you can see this in her style of winemaking. You can definitely drink them alone, but with food, the party has begun. And saving the best quote for last: “The wine world is full of pedophiles. Everyone drinks their wine too young!” That’s it, the spell is complete. Not only does she have talent, a palate, and wisdom, but wit and a sense of humor to boot.
While touring her land with her the next day (she really needs to be in an ad for Land Rover), we see the two very different soils: the deep red, iron-filled soil which is perfect for Sangiovese, and midway up the hills, it is highly calcareous, the perfect terrain for great white wines. We also glimpse yet another project of Elisabetta’s; she has just built a building for the elderly people of San Gimignano. Stop it already…she makes time to give back too??!!
I suddenly feel like with even my busy life, it is as if I’m standing still next to this phenomenal person. Elisabetta is a winemaker, a cook, a mother, a wife, a business person, a caretaker of the land and its people and gives back. My daughter and I will never forget meeting her and letting us steal a few hours from her busy life to learn what a truly passion filled and devoted person can do. She is an inspiration as well as a life force. Every time I sip her wines I can taste the land and her inspiration
Cheers to Elisabetta for sweeping me away and putting me under her spell.
Angela Camacho, a certified sommelier and author of a best selling wine tool, The Wine Wheel®, shares her obsession with wine and food.