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Margherita the bartender - note- I never saw one other woman bartender in all of Italia. Go Margherita!
Chef Giuseppe Argentino and the view from our window
Kristina taking in the view
The old world elegance of a sitting room in Tuscany!
harvesting Sangiovese grapes
Francesco, the cheese maker of all cheese makers and the vineyard at Casale di Valle
Lorena, the matriarch of the family, & Francesco getting ready to make some cheese

As our trip came to a close, our lovely guides and DaVinci wines really pulled out all of the stops. They broke out the big guns. We met Andrea, a DaVinci winemaker, and he walked us through harvest on the property of the Casale. We each picked buckets full of the sweetest, juiciest grapes I've ever tasted. If I was a full-time grape picker, I don't think I'd make much money -- I was too busy stuffing my face like a chipmunk with an endless string of the sun-kissed fruits. I couldn't help it! The grapes were maddeningly sweet. Our morning was stupendous - the air so fresh and clean, the views, as I've already described but bear mentioning again -- they really just broke my heart all over again. To be in the countryside in Italy is to feel the presence of humans and the Earth working together to create edible products of the highest quality. Never an emphasis on quantity, always a push to make the best. Such a beautiful lesson.

After a morning of being outside and storing grapes in my cheeks, as full as a squirrel with acorns for the coming winter, we carried onto Grotta Giusti, a natural cave spa and hotel. Here we donned white tunics and towels for our hair and hit the multiple, natural caves -- appropriately named heaven, purgatory and hell. Each level got progressively warmer as we descended through the natural sauna. It was crazy and I got hot so quickly, I found myself at the bar rather soon . . . And what an old-world fabulous place to daydream....

Finally, we wound up a never-ending mountain to a clearing of olive trees and a few small homes. We met Francesco, a cheese maker, who gave a detailed lesson on how to make fresh cheese with salt. He and his family make a variety of cheeses from the milk of 15 cows who wander completely free in their 50 or so acres of trees and hillside. This small scale operation gave way to the finest cheeses, many of which were dusted with chili flakes and black pepper -- my two favorite condiments, I was overjoyed! What an experience!

Wine grapes, people watching in a classy old spa and nibbles of grassy, herbaceous cheese -- what could be better?! NOT A THING.  

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