But the queen of alt-Valentine was definitely my sister Brenda.
As I write this, the snow is coming down hard, and it’s been bitterly cold for days. Theoretically, I’m as far from a sun-warmed field of Sicilian ginestra as it is possible to be. But I’m not, because this week the ginestra came to me.
In October, I visited Melissa and Fabio at Feudo Montoni, high in the center of Sicily. Approaching our meeting place, I knew just three things about Montoni: 1) I loved their fragrant, expressive Grillo 2) It was impossible for a straniera to find on her own, thus the meeting place in a nearby village. 3) I was supposed to taste through the wines and then stay for lunch. Also, I was trying to time the visit to avoid making the 250 km return trip in the dark-I prefer to avoid the autostrada’s high speed tunnels at night, let alone the washed-out succession of ruts that frequently masquerade as ‘roads’ in the interior.
Well. They were right about the impossibility of finding Montoni; on my own, I would have been lost for days. I was right about the Grillo, but I was truly mesmerized by their Nero d’Avola, Cataratto, and Passito.
And lunch….I left Montoni about seven hours later, having fallen in love with everything about both the place and the family so intrinsic to it. So yes, I made that drive back to my Airbnb in the dark, partially on a road with fields being burned, post-harvest, on either side. And guess what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Montoni is a magical place, the oldest known winery in Sicily.The wines are exquisite, every single one of them. (And I almost NEVER say that, because usually, it isn’t true.) But best of all is the family: Fabio, carrying on his family’s legacy in this idyllic spot. And Melissa, who left behind family and career in NY for the man she loves and the place she calls, ‘Montoni, my home.’
We walked the vineyards, including the pre-phylloxera Vrucara vineyard, with vines like mid-size trees. We visited a cave of the prehistoric Siculi people, where Fabio explained that yes, they had carved ‘furniture’ from the rock. We ate a stupendous lunch, attended by Vruci, their incredibly patient German Shepherd, who Melissa teased by dropping bits of salami all around him and making him wait for permission to eat them. We drank heart-stoppingly lovely wines, including the still-fermenting 2019 Grillo. And we drove through their upper fields, looking down from on high, with the wind whipping our hair and the fragrant ripe ginestra tumbling through the open windows. Heaven.
Once home from Sicily, I brought in more Montoni wines, harassing the distributor and importer to get the items they did not already have in stock. Every once in a while, I’ll crack a bottle for myself and remember the magic of Montoni. In truth, this is the best part of my job: to meet incredible, passionate people and then continue those friendships through the beverage we both love so much.
On Friday, a package arrived at the store. The contents left Cassie and me both momentarily speechless. Fabio and Melissa had packed the essence of Montoni into a box and sent it to us. Wine-of course-but also their own olive oil, cloudy and vibrantly green. Their own Aceto Balsamico. Their own dried chickpeas and lentils. Melissa’s handmade pasta, and her own sugos, salsas, and marmellatas, each labelled by hand. And at the bottom of the box, a bundle of dried ginestra and this note: ‘We hope to meet you again in the New Year. Until then, it is our pleasure to share with you some fruits of our land’.
A gift of such generosity must in turn be shared. We have decided to hold a tasting of the Montoni wines on Saturday, April 4, and accompany them with some of Montoni’s other fruits. Please put it on your calendars. Until then, I have the haunting beauty of the ginestra.