Italian Vineyard Destination
by Terry Sullivan
From Wine Trail Traveler Newsletter, March 2008
Under a Tuscan Sun paints a romantic view of Italian vineyards in Tuscany. So how pleasant is it to stay at a Tuscan vineyard estate? We had the opportunity to spend two weeks at Mormoraia about seven kilometers from San Gimignano, a walled city often referred to as the medieval Manhattan. The approach to the winery tasting room and check-in office winds past vineyards guarded by a perimeter of olive trees. In this part of Tuscany, rows upon rows of Sangiovese and Vernaccia grapes catch the sun’s rays.
In late October only the unharvested grapes still cling to the vines. The seventy-five acres of vineyards spread out amongst rolling hills. We spent several hours during our two-week stay strolling through the vines. Walking through the vineyards presents the opportunity to taste the grapes left after harvest. We discovered on our first trek a few rows of table grapes. These were larger than most wine grapes and were sweet and juicy. We also observed the gradual change in leaf color from green to yellow in most cases. Several rows did turn a bright red-orange to add contrast to the rows of yellow.
The present owners purchased Mormoraia in 1980 and the transformation to a modern winery began. Previously the site was a convent. There were several buildings including the convent, stables and church. The convent was converted into apartments. In an old photograph at the office, we observed wine tanks in two of the rooms of the convent. Wine had been made on this property for centuries.
We rented a two-bedroom apartment on the first floor. The design of the apartment was in the Tuscan style highlighting brick and stone floors, walls and ceilings with gentle arches. The apartment provided plenty of room to spread out. The kitchen was one of the smallest rooms. There was enough space for two people to cook if good at dancing around each other. A large table, chairs and buffet encompass the dining room area. From the dining room a living room area had two sofas for lounging, reading and watching television.
The master bedroom was large and opened out to a small grassy area surrounding the apartments. You could observe the towers from San Gimignano in the distance. Views of the hill and valley covered in grapevines and olive groves provided contrast to the landscape. A table and chairs were set up just outside the bedroom door. Even on a late October afternoon the weather was pleasantly warm enough to relax outdoors and enjoy a bottle of Vernaccia. Another bedroom, with two twin beds located off the dining room area, provided accommodations for family. Each bedroom had its own bathroom.
The 180-degree view from our apartment provided many vistas that changed over time. We were rewarded one morning when we observed a dense fog that covered the hills and valleys. Only the towers of San Gimignano pierced through the fog and looked like the far away masts of ships on the sea.
The agri-tourism movement in the Tuscan countryside is popular. There are many farms, vineyards, olive groves and wineries that offer lodging in villas, farmhouses, apartments and hotel-like rooms. We were able to roll out of bed and walk a short distance to the vineyard. Most agri-tourism sites are close to charming towns where you can walk the streets and take part in a culture at a slower pace than to what you may be accustomed. We spent several days and evenings driving the seven kilometers to San Gimignano. Walking the curving ancient streets led to new experiences at every turn. There were many restaurants to choose from, and almost as many museums. Some believe the best gelato in Italy is found in San Gimignano.
Driving the countryside roads can be a pleasurable experience. Only one car passed us as we drove from Mormoraia to the town of Certaldo. We parked the car and explored the town on foot. A short uphill walk led us to the medieval buildings where the town’s rulers once lived. A bit of a further drive from Mormoraia was the town Monteriggioni. This was another walled town, small enough to walk between the town’s two portals in a few minutes. Peacefulness surrounds this town and we enjoyed an Italian meal outside, catching some of autumn’s last warm rays. From our base at Mormoraia we visited several wineries in the Chianti Classico and Chianti Coli Senesi regions of Tuscany.
The Tuscan countryside is charming and the views are magnificent. Plan to spend as much time as possible and explore the region’s many wineries, towns and agri-tourism sites.