A two week holiday in Tuscany with friends. Fantastic weather, food and wine. Trips to Arezzo, Lucca and Florence but the highlight for me was a visit to Fattoria La Vialla, an organic, biodynamic farm in Castiglion Fibocchi. I’ve ordered from their wonderful mail order catalogue in the past (available via http://www.lavialla.it/uk/home_uk.php), so was thrilled to discover it was within an hour’s drive of our village base.
A little background info, La Vialla was purchased in 1978 by the Lo Franco family, and is a family run agricultural enterprise that is one of the largest organic-biodynamic farms in the Chianti area. They produce their own award winning wines, olive oils, vinegars, pecorino cheese, handmade pasta, vegetable sauces and biscuits. Tremendous pride is taken in their determination to farm using organic and environmental principles. La Vialla supplies directly to people across Europe using their mail order catalogue.
I persuaded (which wasn’t that hard), four of my friends to accompany me on my visit. We set off early, and after a minor detour via a one-track road that wasn’t exactly designed for our rented car, we find ourselves parking in a shady grove and walking up to the main building. Cats sit blinking in the sun, and bees hum in the rosemary and thyme. White aproned women scurry around bearing flat baskets of bread. Ducking into the shop, we find a cool dark interior scented with aged pecorino and hanging salamis. Wine bottles line the walls, accompanied by the fresh sauces and hand made pastas produced here. I already want to live here.
A smiling blonde English girl named Phoebe takes us on tour , offered Mon to Fri at 10, 11.30 and 3pm in a variety of languages. We start by visiting the production areas for the sauces and pastas. A fabulous combination of high tech machinery housed in old buildings but still operated by hand. We watch as bakers hand roll and shape cantucci biscuits before sampling a delicious Peperonata sauce with fresh baked bread.
We are led to where an ancient wooden mill still produces the fine flour used on site. Phoebe explains how the Lo Franco family are keen to rescue and restore to use old farm machinery. As the farm has expanded, derelict farm buildings have been rescued from oblivion and are being slowly restored for use and holiday rental. We head out again in the blinding sun to see the wood fired oven, manned by a bent backed old man who tells us he starts the heating process at 4am each morning.
Down the hill to a semi subterranean wine cellar. Dark and cool, the barrels stretch into the distance. The air is redolent with the “angel’s share” – the portion (share) of a wine’s volume that is lost to evaporation during aging in oak barrels My four travelling companions become more animated as bottles are uncorked and we are encouraged to taste a pure Sangiovese, an aged Chianti and a Barricato. Rich and heavy with berry flavours, we photograph the labels to aid future orders.
Back out into the sun, we saunter slowly back up the hill for lunch. Seated in a shaded loggia, hung with fragrant drying bunches of herbs, we enjoy a simple but delicious lunch. Aged and fresh pecorino, salamis & braesola accompanied by the estate’s chestnut honey, La Cipollina and La Poverella sauces. Fresh bread and La Viella’s own peppery green gold olive oil and a mixed salad complete the repast. We sample a bottle of chilled La Chiassaie, a vino spumante. Light and refreshing with floral notes, we return to the shop to purchase more for evening consumption. Lunch concludes with short, stingingly hot fresh espressos that jolt us out the stupor engendered by the heat and wine.
A final visit to another cellar, where the vin santo sits in barrels, gently evaporating into the luscious dark amber wine that is perfect for cantucci dipping. Again the air is heavy with the perfume of wine, a heady mix of toffee and alcohol.
We leave. Laden with purchases – wines, whole pecorinos, pastas, sauces. A chorus of ciaos and smiling waves from the staff follows us down the hill. We are exiting Paradise but have the key within our grasp via the mail order catalogues waiting for us at home.