The First Time I Experienced Italy
The first time I traveled to Italy, my wife and I read all the books, magazines and websites we could get our hands on to research and plan for the cities, museums, and sites to visit. We had a memorable vacation but it wasn’t until years later on my second visit that the Italian experiences came to life for me.
The sun had yet to rise as a small car took us through the countryside past grape vines as far as the eye can see. On our way to the “vendemmia” (grape harvest) we traversed the maze like back roads with no signs or distinguishing features from one vineyard to another, I would have been hard pressed to find my way out.
Workers had already arrived and were unloading buckets and tools. I was fascinated and curious but did not want to get in the way of them doing a job that I was so lucky to be a part of. Without ceremony I was handed shears and a bucket and taught how to cut the grapes off the vines. Vincenzo, the farmer whose grapes we were picking and Antimo’s (my Italian friend) dad showed us our row, and off to work we began.
The sun had begun to peek over the countryside as we moved down the narrow rows harvesting large clusters of grapes and tossing them into buckets. Antimo’s mom, Anna, made sure we stopped to taste the grapes. These Primitivo grapes (known as Zinfandel in other parts of the world) were the most sweet and intensely grape-flavored grape I had tasted in my life.
Each full bucket was replaced with an empty one and it was obvious that I was much slower than the farmers and workers. I was not going to pass up the opportunity to take photos and videos, take in the sights and sounds, as well as eat more of these spectacularly yummy grapes. They were here to work, this was another day in their lives that I was so happy to experience and be a part of. Tomorrow there would be a another harvest, and yet another as the farmers and workers help each other out until all the grapes have been picked.
After we finished our share of work (not that we really could have called it work) an amazing breakfast was waiting for us on a rustic table right in middle of the vines. An array of local Italian meats, cheeses, fruits, biscotti, coffee and grape juice (you can guess where this came from) were the perfect pairing to our wine harvesting experience.
The first time I visited Italy I was a tourist, and this time I was a traveler. Through experiential travel, I got my hands dirty and learned what it was like to be an Italian for just a short period of time. This cherished memory was so much more vibrant because sight, sound, smell, touch and taste were all a very active parts of my experience in the countryside.
For more information on Italian food and wine we encourage you to check out our Guide to Italy.