Thursday 30 March
This long-planned trip to VinItaly fell between my brother Andrew’s death (5 March) and his funeral (11 April) and provided me with welcome moments of distraction from grief and sadness.
Today would have been the first of a three day train strike so we had planned to travel to Orpington the previous day, from where Laura had kindly offered to drive us to Gatwick airport.
Instead, the unions suspended the strikes to consult on a more generous pay offer so we had a seamless journey by train, only to arrive very very early, and to news of a three hour delay. The french air controllers in Nice (from where our 16.55 plane was flying) are on strike. Hey ho.
We left around 19.20, and after a long slow queue through passports at Catullo, we reached Verona’s Firenze hotel on the Viale Porta Nova at around 22.00. The rather crumpled night receptionist issued us with beers and we headed for bed. I felt shattered after doing very little all day but read. I finished Salley Walters’ Instances of Number 3 while David watched the football.
Friday 31 March
The fifth floor room delivered exactly 100 steps each way. The rest of the day’s steps were performed in gentle passegiate as David majored on shopping (Falconiere) before a pre-booked lunch at Botteca Vini, more strolling and a late afternoon zizz before setting off for Veronetta and the familiar Du Schei for supper (which we learned had changed hands since our last visit, and the reasonable Montevertine bottles had disappeared. We turned down the remaining €120 version)
Saturday 1 April
Two nights in Verona proper enabled a 08.30 depart from car park West by the station for Summa, held at Magré as guests of the Roderer family. Even better organised than five years ago (yes 2018!) we travelled by bus with Inis and James from Decanter, and a young american called Olivia (who talked a lot.) We left, of course, at 08.45…. On arrival in the pretty Sud-Tyrol village we enjoyed a very gracious Roderer tasting with father and son, and later met the complete Sassotonda tribe – Carla and Francesca Benini and Eduardo Ventimiglia. The food, cooked in front of us, was delicious! Hot fresh apple fritters!
The landscape is very striking as the dolomite mountains rise from the Adige valley, the west slopes catching the bright morning sun, the eastern slopes shining golden in the evening. The bus seemed to glide along the superior north-south motorway between Verona, Rovereto and on past Trento. A great way to travel.
Despite returning promptly at 20.00 we had a frustrating hour failing to attract a taxi, and resorted to a Sushi takeaway before walking with our luggage to the station to catch the 20.43 to Peschiera, arriving in the hotel Garden at precisely 22.00, welcomed here by a friendly and efficient receptionist.
Sunday 2 April
The 07.58 (at €3.60 each way) was on time; the navetta, many now starting off from the station forecourt was bearable and the gate (Teorodico) surprisingly accommodating; we were in Pad 10 by 09.00 and briefly met La Ghibellina, and made an appointment with Vietti for this afternoon.
10.00 Adriano : wonderful granddaughter of Aldo, daughter of Vittorio (who died last year at 58) spent 90+ minutes talking through their wines
12.00 tasting of Sardinian wines and breads : Cananou (ganacha) sparkler; Torbato (pear drops!) Perfumed, fresh and speaking of the sea; Vermentino (so rich, such a mouthful) but both whites very confected; and Carignano di Sardinia which at 15% was very full on and lovely. The breads were a revelation and the two speakers did a fantastic and cheerful job
We managed to track Stefano Chiarlo down in Pad 7, surrounded by keen customers and clients before a meeting at 14.00 Piazzo Armando with Simone back in Pad 10, followed by a chaotic session with Silvia Bargalia in Pad 9. The high spot of the afternoon was 90 minutes with the very able wine maker Eugenio Palumbo at Vietti back in Pad 10, tasting with him while admiring Gianni’s labels, still in use. Walter Massa arrived as if summoned as we talked about Vietti’s excursions in Colle Tortonese, and once encouraged to speak italian he stayed, sending his assistant to fetch 2013 Timorasso. Fascinating!
We walked back to the station for the 18.43, a huge and busy hourly service between Verona and Milan, and set off for Al Ponte for supper, where the food and proprietor were as we remembered (good value and intense, respectively) but the two young men waiting on lacked both efficiency and style.
Monday 3 April
David headed for Verona to a 09.00 appointment at a presentation in Italian by Prof Scienza but I had already decided to take the day off and stay by Lake Garda, for some emotional space and genuine relaxation. Just as well; after a poor night’s sleep (Andrew’s final days pre-occupied me whenever there was head space) I had developed a frequent yawn which with repeated sighing are classic signs of general stress and grief, as well as over-frequent use of the loo – a sure sign of tiredness.
I could barely bother to have breakfast or a shower but levered myself out of the hotel around 11.30 to walk along the western promenade, circumnavigating the moat first, and the large open piazza in front of the church and the old now restored barracks.
La Tartuga, used by us last year for an aperitif, provided me with coffee and a loo, and the morning was sunny and spring-like. I’d also sent a whatsapp to family and a few friends, remarking that A’s death had flattened me, which attracted rapid attention which made me feel better connected.
I read a few chapters of a slim Cesar Pavese novel sitting facing north over the calm lake to the encircling misty mountains beyond, and began to rally. Lunch was delightful at a very ordinary café where tutto è fatto a casa; the best contorni so far (at least five varieties including capanata) and gnocchi with gorgonzola – €17 all in…
A short siesta and emails followed, plus an hour or so researching alcoholism, which helped me understand Andrew’s predicament and responses better (eg his denial and failure to help himself) but made me wish my manner with him had been kinder; I know my actions were. I also wished I had understood sooner that he would die; somewhere I assumed he would dry out and recover as he had before, disregarding his accumulating exhaustion, his abused organs and especially his age.
Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5 April
David had booked a series of appointments, mainly with producers we had already met, but from whom a little more info was needed; also an occasional catch up with old friends, eg Andrea Contucci from Montepulciano, who is always a delightful host. For me the other high point of the Fiera was the Iconic Women presentation which featured eight very impressive women producers, shown below.
We ate very well at the hotel on Tuesday, along with a couple from a wine shop in Helmsley, here for VinItaly, and again at Il Chiostro on Wednesday night. A taxi conveyed to the airport the next morning, began a really efficient smooth journey as far Clapham Junction, where we learned the down trains were cancelled. It took three more hours and two very crowded trains before we reached Andover, to be greeted by gathering storm clouds chasing us home. We made it just as the downpour took hold.