The moment I stepped foot in the backyard of Il Fontanaro, I knew I was going to quite enjoy myself. Maybe it was Bob humming along as he cut the lawn, or maybe it was the pool beyond the hedges the overlooked the green gum-drop dotted hills around, or maybe it was the hammock swaying in the breeze (after all, hammocks make everything better). Maybe it was the drive through the valley that did it, or the old brown dogs that greeted us after passing by the family vegetable garden. Even under the grey washed sky it was a beautiful place set in the valley above Paciano, Umbria, and there was much to gawk at.
It could have also been Alina asking if I wanted a glass of wine on arrival. It’s possible.
Oh, and meet Bob, well as I named him…
Welcome to Il Fontanaro Olive and Grape Estate, almost 100 acres of protected wood and land crawling with vineyards or sprouting with olive trees perched in the rolling hillside of Umbria, Italy. After arriving late night to our villa Campodalto where we would be staying during a 10-day blogger tour, day two introduced us to our base of operations in the area where super secret blogger pow-wows would happen. Or, in reality, where we would meet up for lunch or dinner and go over plans for the day and experience what the estate has to offer with its award winning wine and olive oils.
But before we delve into some of the experiences over 4 days around the estate (and my wine glass count which may or may not top 100) I want to share some of my first impressions in photos as I noted above, which are some of the details that made Il Fontanaro such a special place.
Everybody loves dogs. That is the only reason they are on here to get oohs and ahhs out of you. No, I’m kidding, Fontanaro brings out the big guns in first impressions with the welcome committee consisting of these two. I can’t tell you how many photos us bloggers took of them.
Hammock hung from an olive tree overlooking the hillside. Enough said.
Care for a swim in the secret garden?
All around Il Fontanaro life and color was bursting everywhere you looked. Beside the large family garden in the front of the property where the family gets the majority of ingredients they cook with, all over were lilac and flowers and even artichoke growing. By the way, the crazy awesome purple flower above is what an artichoke in bloom looks like! If you already knew that, go away. I didn’t, and it was exciting for me. Don’t crush my enjoyment.
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Award winning at that!)
One of the days on the estate, we had the opportunity and pleasure of getting a tour of the olive orchard and mill where they make the award winning olive oils. We were led through the orchard and told of the history of the farm, the process of growing and maintaining the olive trees, and the process at which they produce the extra virgin olive oil. Our guide, the one and only true Mamma Lucia, told us of how the estate only had a small portion of olive trees growing on it, and now they produce some 2,000 liters of it annually.
Momma Lucia explains how the olives are harvested, carefully of course, and how the trees are decades old and they have used no chemicals at all on the farm.
Olives in growth, just beginning to pop their little green heads out into the world.
Our other guide, Ciccio, always followed us about the estate and knew of the best places to relax.
Some of the bees in the bee hives just below the olive trees. Not only to they produce olive oils, but also 300kg this year of organic raw honey.
The valley splitting open, revealing the rolling hills of Umbria and the town below. Quite a view from the mill.
Mamma Lucia takes a moment to show us photos of the estate and of baby Alina so we could embarrass her later by telling her how cute she was. Apparently, all throughout their childhood, the kids of the household were always eager to help with whatever they were producing.
Some of the machinery involved in the olive oil pressing.
While on the olive oil tour, we had a chance to take shots, of olive oil of course, to see if we could guess the cheap store bought brand versus their organic oil. Instantly I could see the difference; the store bought was a transparent golden color, whereas their olive oil was a thicker consistency and was slightly green. Alina told us how to sip the oil specifically, and doing so I could feel the oil triple down my throat and burn all the way to my stomach. Not in a painful way, but almost like I would sip a fine whiskey.
“I use it for everything. If I feel sick, or have a stomach ache, I take a spoonful of olive oil.”
Now that is something the United States won’t back — organic natural medicine? That would probably be deemed blasphemous. Yet, I believed it, and when she explained all of the benefits of olive oil, and the nutrients and vitamins in organically produced olive oil, it was something I would definitely be using back home.
Wine Tastings (and my new found love for it.)
Another part of the experience at Il Fontanaro is the wine tastings of their own wine produced from a small vineyard on the property. I can definitely say I love my wine, with their brand being called by the exact same name of My Wine, and no doubt there is reasoning behind it because I never wanted to give it up.
Alina, during the wine tasting, went through the history of wine in the region and the main types produced there, with Il Fontanaro’s stock being exclusive to the guests who stay there.
I remember asking Alina at one point a question that completely baffled me, “Why is it that I haven’t gotten a hangover yet?” I inquired. Truth be told, I get headaches from wine even if I only have two glasses, let alone the first day when I had upwards of ten. Exaggerating that claim or not, she filled me in on the blunt reason behind my lack of hangover, and with her thick Italian accent she retorted, “Because you aren’t drinking shit wine like America.”
We all laughed, but it is potentially true, given her explanation that organic wines from Umbria and Tuscany wouldn’t have preservatives in them, and more importantly, sulfates that cause headaches in wines. With a gulp of My Wine, I nodded and felt enlightened.
After the clanking of glasses and sipping of more wine, we were taken into the kitchen where we were to learn how to make authentic Italian pasta from scratch. To my relief, it didn’t appear that I was the only one lacking experience in this field as Alina instructed us each step of the way. And usually delegating the hand-cramping task of making the dough and folding and massaging it to the “strong men”. I think the girls just wanted to sit back and sip wine and laugh at our attempt at cooking.
Pasta Making (I learn how to cook! Kind of.)
Soon, the floor began forming a volcano…well, we formed it into a volcano to stir ever-so gently pesto into it to create the pesto ribbon pasta.
In Umbria, everything has got to be hearty. Raguout means hunks of meat chucked into a pan and simmered together in glorious carnivorous synchronization of flavor. The kinda’ food that will keep you warm during the cold winters there. I’m sure the red wine helps too.
Just as our dough was settling, we were taught two ways to slice them into pasta: Momma’s and Alina’s. There was a reason why both were never in the kitchen at the same time, since Alina refused to use a hand-crank pasta slicer whereas Momma Lucia snuck us out back to show us how.
Here around the table daily, us bloggers sat and talked and ate and drank and laughed, all in the good company of Fontanaro Estate’s family. Everything they do on that farm and around the other guesthouses they own is done with a long-lasting passion you can see in their eyes and hear in the enthusiasm in their voices. Though we were visiting for four days, four was not enough since I wanted to stay and actually help with a harvest. At some point I will. Or, mainly sleep in that hammock out back. But it was the perfect location to launch our amazing blog tour from, and a place that helped us all get familiar with the roots of tradition in the Umbria region and history of an ancient art like olive oil.
*Special thanks to Linnea of This Is Your Time and Alina of Slow Living Vacations for inviting me on this blog tour, and Il Fontanaro for hosting us. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.