Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Conference in Siena, Italy – July 17- 19, 2008

The wine conference lasted 3 fun-filled days. Leave it to the Italians to plan the best conference yet. It was held in the ancient hospital (which is now a museum) across from the Duomo, and the sessions were very information. Lunch, which included wine each day, was an amazing stand-up affair with luscious cheeses, meats, pastas, and salads. There were several highlights to the conference:

Grand Gala Dinner at the Cloister Piccolomini – a beautiful villa in the Tuscan countryside. Everyone dressed up for this special event, and each professor brought a favorite bottle of wine from their country to share. As we left our chartered bus and entered the grounds of the villa, it looked like a Hollywood set, with waiters in black tuxedos serving appetizers like fried zucchini flowers and hundreds of different wines to taste. The villa was very elegant with white pillars, a formal garden, and great marble terraces. We dined outside with round tables holding 10 people each to accommodate the more than 200 people present.

The food courses were amazing, with each one eclipsing the last. I will never forget the thick warm tomato soup with shaved parmesan served in large wine glasses with long breadsticks. As the evening progressed, and everyone wanted to share their wine, people traipsed between tables, filling glasses, and discussing winemaking. Though half the wines were from Italy, the rest came from around the world including France, Germany, Austria, Spain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other places. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, and we caught the last bus back to Siena and ended up joining a group who celebrated late into the night on the famous square where they have a horse race every year – the Piazza del Campo.

Visit to Montalcino - Another highlight was the field trip to the city of Montalcino, home of the famous Brunellos, which are 100% sangiovese and required to age 5 years before release. We were divided into 3 groups, each visiting a different local winery. My group went to Banfi, and the winery tour was amazing. I was impressed to learn how many awards they have won for positive environmental practices. The tasting room was beautiful – in an old castle on the hill above the winery. The wines we tasted were all very good, but I was disappointed not to be able to taste a Brunello.

Later that evening we attended a dinner concert in the Fortress of Montalcino – an ancient walled castle in the hilltop town of Montalcino. The dinner was light – salad, cold meats, and pasta -- but quite fine with all of the wine. The music was jazz, and we even got in a little dancing. We also had time before dinner to wander around the shops of Montalcino and I purchased a Brunello in the castle enoteca. It is certainly a very charming town, and I would enjoy visiting again – and this time staying overnight.

The next morning was Sunday and everyone said farewell. Janeen headed off to Rome to meet her boyfriend Paul for a week, and I joined the research group of 7 other professors to spend the day traveling first to Pisa by train then by plane to Paris and bus to Reims in the Champagne region of France. Before I left Siena though, I got up early to attend mass in the Duomo. Though the whole thing was in Italian, it was still an exquisite experience -- surrounded by all of the amazing beautiful of the ancient cathedral. What a way to go to church!

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