Not In Kansas Anymore
You know that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy cyclones from black and white into technicolor? That is what I feel like whenever I arrive in Tuscany and especially on a sunny autumn day.
The Tuscan countryside is an incredible Oz where roads serpentine the vibrant green hills roll which in turn roll into medieval towns, the slopes are lined with cypress trees and a cascade of rainbow-hued vineyards flow in rivers of oranges, reds and yellows. And when the day is rainy or overcast, the countryside is moody, like a not-as-nice fairytale that beckons you to explore.
Forget autostrade and strade statali, I prefer to cruise the strade provinciali and strade bianche while counting the hill towns that dot the landscape, and stopping at each belvedere to enjoy the very next beautiful view.
Once in a Lullaby
Head southeast from Florence for a 30-minute drive to the edge of Chianti, and you’ve arrived in Grassina. Close your eyes for even a second, and you might miss the small town and you’re back inn a never-ending landscape of farmland and vineyards. This is typical Tuscany.
Somewhere on the drive you’ll come across a sign for Tenute Ruffino – Poggio Casciano, the wine company’s flagship estate and agriresort. Though this isn’t quite the homeland for Ruffino (more on that shortly), Poggio Casciano is the center of the wine company’s nebula of eight estates across Tuscany and northern Italy.
The weekend getaway is a particular kind of travel. It can be an experience, an adventure, a recharge or even a rebirth. It can be themed- art, food, history – or it can just be an escape. But most of it all it needs to be easy. Poggio Casciano fits the category of easy and fun wine escape, thanks to its proximity to Florence, a century of very fun history and its personal and practically private location.
Located on a picture perfect hill surrounded by 200 acres (of which 50 are active vineyards), Poggio Casciano is an “agriresort”, which roughly translates to a wine, food and relax-focused experience – in this case, an unabashed celebration of a centurion story that brought Chianti into pop culture history. And there is something utterly charming about it all.
In essence, the estate is a beautiful multi-structure farm complex. There’s the converted 14th century villa (and former the home of Ruffino’s second owners, the Folonari brothers) whose seven guest rooms are quaintly decorated in Tuscan country chic. And then loggiata – a two-level loggia style building and living library to Ruffino’s history. The ground level has a large banquet (aka tasting) room looking out onto the vineyards where you’ll find vintage bottles, and a trophy of trophies, displaying all the awards and medals Ruffino has accumulated over the century.
On the piano nobile, you’ll find restaurant Locanda Tre Rane, a Tuscan country kitchen in both menu and design, and decorated with reproductions of vintage advertisements from the 1920s and 30s, original Ruffino encyclopedic ledgers and other documents, and vintage bottles including those iconic wicker basket bottles known as fiaschi, or fiasco, in the singular. While underground is the cantina, a spiralling subterranean walk around barriques, and the wine wine vault, an ersatz 19th century secret library from the film Kingsman.
I’ve always said that there are two kind of weekender travelers: the easily satisfied enjoyers, people like myself who just need a good book, a great view and a lot of food, and the kinetic explorers, aka my husband who needs activity and a little history.
On site are bocce court, perfectly pedicured garden maze, and pool, as well as a guest services team which includes very well informed brand ambassadors who organize experiences from vineyard tours and tasting (weaving in the history of Ruffino and Chianti to every story) to bicycle outings, truffle hunting and picnics. This past summer, Poggio Casciano hosted an open air cinema in the vineyards featuring wine-related movies, of course. As you can imagine, the sunsets are great.
No Place Like Home
There’s something about comfort food, or better yet home cooking. It reminds us of who we are, and with a bite or even a sip, we’re transported across the land and sea to family. That’s exactly what the Ruffino brothers were thinking when they founded Ruffino in 1877. The idea was to bring a little bit of home (for Ruffino, it was the Tuscan town of Pontassieve) to every Italian immigrant who uprooted his and her life for a new one somewhere else.
Packaged in the traditional fiasco, charmingly kitsch basket-covered bottles, Ruffino brought home in the form of wine. Fiaschi became visually synonyms with Chianti. And the wine itself became synonymous with Italian wine. In tavernas, restaurants, homes and on the throne, Ruffino became the official supplier to the Savoy family, Italy’s ruling monarchy, and a beloved choice by other nobili.
A lot can happen in a century and today, Ruffino is far more than the charming Chianti bottle. The 21st century line up includes 3 sparkling, 3 white, 10 red, vermouth, amaro and the very particular, limited production AD 1085, made from colorino, an obscure Italian black-skinned grape variety, fermented in amphorae and bottled in magnums. Ruffino continues to make sneak appearances on the big and small screens like Lady and the Tramp, The Devil Wears Prada, Friends (of course, they do love their wine) and Italian-American fave The Sopranos.
The rest is history.
This post was sponsored by Ruffino Wines.