Q & A with Arianna Cini and Alessio Di Genova, Km Zero Tours, Mercatale Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy
Accommodation and slow travel specialist in the Chianti Classico region. Tours are available in Italian, English, and French languages.
ARIANNA, PLEASE GIVE US A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO CASA MONTROGOLI.
Montrogoli is our beautiful historic home in Tuscany. It is an ancient “Casa Colonica” dating back to the thirteenth century! It has been lovingly and respectfully restored by my father who is an expert and passionate Tuscan architect. The site is on a hilltop surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. The structure was originally a control tower used in ongoing battles between Florence and Siena. It became a guest house during the Middle Ages, a place for pilgrims to stop and rest and to change horses. Later still, it served as a farmhouse for peasants who worked the land for noble families. My father purchased the property in 1986.
WHICH TOWNS ARE YOU CLOSE TO?
We are closest to a small town called Greve in Chianti – that is just 10 minutes away by car. Florence is only 30 minutes by car, and Siena is 45 minutes away. Pisa, Lucca and Arezzo are all within one hour’s drive.
WHAT IS YOUR ‘SLOW TRAVEL’ PHILOSOPHY?
Our name is Km Zero – that literally means “no distance.” So a “Km Zero” product means the “conscious choice to buy and to consume a given product as close as possible to the source.” We support the “farm to table” movement which emphasizes fresh and organically grown locally sourced food. This allows for seasonality and biodiversity as well as strengthening the link between humans and the land. Other advantages include the promotion of regional food and wine cultures and a healthier diet. The movement stands in opposition to the standardization of food products and large-scale distribution.
Podere Le Fornaci is a goat farm and organic dairy operation not far from us. The owners purchased this 30-hectare property some 15 years ago, restored the two old farmhouses that came with it, and brought in 25 original goats. Now they have more than 100! Milking is done twice a day. The raw milk gets made into cheese that is sold directly to local restaurants and organic food markets. Depending on the time of the year, our guests may visit this farm, participate in the goat milking process, and sample several different kinds of goat cheese!
Yes, I completed a 3-year professional course of study at the AIS (Italian Sommelier Association) in Bologna where I also graduated from the department of Agriculture. But in my view, training continues every time you uncork a bottle of wine. I believe this is the best way to further your skills to properly smell and taste a given wine. Each perfume, each special note, expresses a specific type of wine, the properties of the soil, and the cultivator.
WHEN DOES GRAPE HARVESTING COMMENCE?
In the past, the grape harvest was usually done in October, but due to the recent global warming and to the climate changes, the grape harvest now begins in late August/early September for the white grapes, and in late September/early October for the red grapes.
The olive harvest usually begins right after the grape harvest - weather permitting. That means usually from the middle of October until the middle of November. So the fall is a busy and productive time around here!
WHAT ORGANIC METHODS ARE USED TO FERTILIZE THE LAND?
In small vegetable gardens like ours, people rely on composting. We scatter and mix the compost with the other soil in the winter. As for the vineyards and olive groves, it is increasingly common to use the fava beans that are sown in the fall and cut in the end of April, once flourished. The fava bean is a natural nitrogen fixer; nitrogen in the soil is essential for healthy plant life.
The “Super Tuscan” wines are a very recent trend if we compare them with the centuries old wine history of Tuscany. Summarily, we can define them as "Tuscan red wines not rated with the DOCG certification.” These are full bodied red wines which are a blend of our Tuscan Sangiovese grape with international grape varieties such as Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. These wines have met with great success in foreign markets, the United States in particular. That’s the 1-minute overview; I am happy to provide a more detailed history to those who are interested.
Yes, most certainly. To fully appreciate Italian cuisine, it is helpful to learn more about food and wine pairings. In short: when you match a traditional recipe with a wine that comes from the same region, you create a magnificent affinity of scents and flavors.
WHAT IS A SAMPLE LUNCH IN YOUR KITCHEN?
It goes by season. During the winter months, we cook a traditional hearty Tuscan soup known as “ribollita." We use a black kale along with other vegetables, beans, rustic bread, and fresh olive oil. During the spring, we make ravioli dishes using fresh ricotta cheese and asparagus. Summers are hot and dry and the best time to enjoy a refreshing “panzanella” (bread salad).
DOES IT EVER GET COLD AT NIGHT? SHOULD TRAVELERS PACK A SWEATER?
During the summer months it remains warm into the evening. It is most pleasant to sit outside in the garden, gaze up at the stars, and enjoy a nice glass of wine. But from the fall through the spring seasons, we do recommend that you bring along a sweatshirt and jacket as well as comfortable clothes and hiking shoes since our programs are enriched with beautiful walks and hikes into nature.
ANY CLOSING THOUGHTS TO SHARE?
When you immerse yourself in the “slow pace” life for even just a few days, you connect more freely with your inner self and with others. Eating healthy foods, taking inspiring walks, smelling fresh air and viewing nature is restorative for body and soul. You also learn to see things from a different perspective. We encourage everyone to take a break from the hurried modern city life and join us for the “slow” holiday experience in Tuscany.
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