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This visit at Altura took place in November, 2011.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Alex Finberg.
The only way to get to the island of
"Today really took it out of you. Literally!"
Finally, we got to
"To take strong action against environmental and social decay by preserving an outstanding wine heritage. This means joining together to foster pride in the island's inhabitants, to create a future that is lively and well lived, not an inhuman shell dried up by a tourist village economy."
Francesco cares about
He then met and fell in love with a young woman named Gabriella, who came for a summer vacation and never left. They ran the restaurant together until 1999, when an opportunity to buy an old house with abandoned vineyards on the south side of the island presented itself.
"When I showed up to the appointment, the owner said: 'Let me show you the house.' I told him I wanted to see the vineyards! He was shocked, and told me I was the first person who'd ever asked him that! It wasn't too hard to seal the deal..."
Francesco, who jokingly refers to himself as a "fat old man.", is now 60 and a staple in
At 550 meters elevation, it's
The town is still inhabited, and Arcobalena is located in the center of it.
Walking through the narrow alleys and up the winding, twisting staircases, I couldn't help but feel that I'd been here before. A past life perhaps?
Then it hit me! I'd never been here before but I'd seen it in film! This castle town could be non other than the setting for one of the climactic final scenes of the 1985 classic Gymkata.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of Gymkata, please brush up on the film's surprisingly detailed wikipedia page. The final test of "The Game" is to go through the "Village of the Crazies", where after a valiant gymnastics-infused martial arts display against the villagers, John Cabot is finally surrounded. Fortunately, there just so happens to be a rock in the middle of the village that looks and functions exactly like a Pommel Horse, which Johnny uses to his advantage by pommel-horse-karate-kicking his enemies into submission before escaping.
Though I'd convinced myself otherwise, it turns out that Gymkata was actually shot in Yugoslavia. Oops.
Francesco had brought us here for an
For those too lazy to use Google Translate, the sign says: "Alive Wine and Kitchen".
It was at this point that I declared:
"This shit is crazy."
It suddenly hit me that I was about to taste wine made in a
In the cellar, Francesco let us taste the 2010 white and red, the latter still in
The 2011's were also very promising, although the
The unexpected treat of the tasting was Arcobalena's house wine, a
Francesco closed up shop and we were off to Arcobalena for dinner.
Francesco's son Mattia is the chef there, and his specialty are his cured anchovies. He's developed quite a reputation for them in Italy, and is hoping to expand his production so he can sell them to restaurants across the country. I sincerely hope so: in a very quotable moment, Josefa said:
"These are the anchovies that converted me to liking anchovies."
And at our Montesecondo visit, Silvio said:
"Man, those are some of the best anchovies I've ever had in my life!"
Silvio LOVES anchovies, and apparently gets antisocial when good ones are around because he can't focus on anything else.
It was a great meal full of fresh fish and complimented by an Altura
"They actually make each other taste better."
We left well fed and ready to visit the vines in the morning.
When we woke up, it was official: though it had rained a little bit the day before, our good weather streak was over. The village was gray, windy and rainy, but Alex and I still wanted to explore the castle town a little bit.
Francesco then picked us up and it was off to the vines.
Before I go any further, I really need to stress that no pictures can aptly do this site justice. You just have to be there to understand how special it is: the
Isolated on the south side of the island, the only way to access the vines is to take a small dirt road that can only be navigated with four wheel drive. The rain and wind was picking up but Alex was still able to get some great shots.
When the Carfagnas took over the 4
The oldest vines are 60 to 70 years and
There is no choice but to do everything by hand (not that Francesco would do it any other way), and the harvesters have to carry the grapes from the bottom to the top of the hill before loading them onto a four wheel drive truck.
Our ferry back to the mainland was at 10:30, so we hurried back to the Port. I made sure to buy some motion sickness medicine.
But when we got there, we were informed that the sea was even rougher than on arrival!
We were told that if the conditions are like this in the morning, they most likely won't get any better later in the day. We were marooned!
Francesco fell in love with the word and ended up using it at least 50 times during the rest of the day. He was also delighted because now we had no choice than to have lunch at the lighthouse. He pulled out the big guns with this local fish.
Around one hour and 34 minutes into lunch, Francesco's buddy Pietro swung by for a glass.
Pietro is an important guy on the island and you have him to thank if you've ever drank a bottle of Altura anywhere other than
Gabriella also showed me this AWESOME ad she'd just received in the mail for graphically designed stainless steel tanks.
Looking good, Marilyn!
Two hours after lunch we returned to Arcobalena for dinner. We somehow managed to eat all five courses, although Kevin and Josefa had half portions of everything.
The plan was to grab the 6:30am ferry because at this time the sea is at its calmest. Kevin tried to gracefully bow out from the table, but we weren't allowed to leave before Francesco could sing us a little tune on the piano. The instrument was out of tune but it didn't really matter, since he stole the show with his singing.That guy can wail!
All of a sudden one of his friends got on the drums, then some other guy was playing guitar and they had a full band going! Francesco kept impressing us with his serious tuneage, and Gabriella broke out into an interpretive dance. It was a great way to be cast off, and after many thanks we finally got back to our rooms for a little shut eye.
We woke up to a cold, windy morning, but nothing as bad as the eve. We gathered our stuff, drove to the port and I took a Dimenidrinato. We pulled up to the ferry, and the woman at the ticket booth to tell us the last thing we wanted to hear: the sea was still too rough! We'd have to wait and see if we could take the 9:30.
After three hours semi-passed out in the car, I woke up to a mob of people storming the ticket booth! The ferry was leaving, and people wanted out. After all, there was a two day back-up of people trying to leave! Kevin fended off an angry German family and made sure we got our tickets. A rainbow lit the sky and we were on our way!