My surname is certainly not Italian. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine so that my grandfather could work in the steel plants of Western Pennsylvania. My dad then enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and subsequently served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and then the occupation forces in Austria after V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, 1945.
One night during the Summer of 1944, after the Germans were driven from Tuscany, my father and a buddy had commandeered a motorcycle and were bounding over the countryside looking for a place to obtain some red wine. (That’s my Dad in the photo above, in the Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking Florence, with his Army motorcycle). Seeing some lights over a hill, they stumbled upon the village of Torre a Castello. My mother, Fedora Gigli, who lived in a nearby village, was attending a celebratory liberation dance with 7 of her female cousins. Once the two suntanned American soldiers walked in in full uniform, it was love at first sight.
After V-E day, my father had permission to be discharged from the Army instead of going to the Pacific, where the war still raged. My father reenlisted once the colonel confirmed that he could remain in Italy and complete the bureaucratic maneuvers necessary to obtain permission to marry an Italian citizen. So I guess one could say that my very being began with a search for red wine!
Once the permission was obtained, my parents were married in the village of Serre di Rapolano, approximately 25 km east of Siena. The entire village turned out for the wedding on November 29, 1945 (second photo above, that is 7-year old cousin Giulio as ringbearer). My mother's friends were jealous, marrying an American (even if he was a plumber and the son of poor Ukrainian immigrants) was akin to marrying a Rockefeller. Through the black market my father was able to obtain gasoline for the vehicles, food for the wedding, wine and ingredients for the wedding cake. He was able to procure funds to pay the priest, church and band. A wedding dress (impossible to find in Italy during the war) was obtained and shipped from my dad's sister Stella, living on the farm in Pennsylvania.
My mother emigrated to Western Pennsylvania, while every other maternal relative that I have remained in the area around Siena. When we could afford it while growing up, my family, which included 5 boys, would vacation in Italy. My brothers and I became fluent in Italian since my mother would speak it at home. We all became enamoured with Italian food and lifestyle. From childhood, I always dreamed of being able to have a place in Italy that could produce olive oil and wine.
In 2006, after searching for a suitable place for years, my cousin Giulio discovered that Podere Collalto was for sale, approximately 6 miles from his own vineyard and farm, in the town of Trequanda.
"Podere" means “farm” in Italian, while "Collalto" means “high hill”. The place seemed to be perfect for us, it had enough land for a vineyard and already had over 300 olive trees. The land is in the Chianti DOCG region. We figured that it should be able to produce an excellent wine. There is fantastic sunlight in the summer and the very dry months of July, August and September allow the grapes to develop with concentrated sugars and tart acidity. The vineyard was planted in early 2008. In addition, the altitude of 515 meters means that there is nearly always a summer breeze which dries out the vineyard after rainstorms and cool nights to allow the grapes to rest. The soil in the region appears to be perfect for olives and grapes, rocky and not overly fertile. The Italians feel that like people, olive trees and vines do better in the long run if they have to suffer and struggle somewhat as they develop.