Carlotta’s Adventures In Wonderland
Carlotta is a summer intern for Basignani Winery. Just off the plane from Italy, Carlotta is quickly adjusting to American winery life. Read about her adventures here!
September 23rd, 2014 – Enjoy Every Moment
Here I am, starting to pack my stuff and getting ready to leave in a couple of days, if one can ever be ‘ready’ for such a thing as saying goodbye! I thought I would write this new page of my blog as a recap/epilogue of my staying here, but I’m not ready for it, either: I just can’t get used to the idea of having to leave the people, the places and even the things that have meant so much to me and have truly become part of my life and of…myself.
I’ve got few more days here at the winery and to say goodbye now seems so very unreal to me; I want to enjoy every moment which is left, I’m not done yet and it’s not the time to call all my days and experiences here at the winery ‘loving memories’, yet.
Well, then: I’ve been quite busy lately… I guess everyone would expect me to write about the Maryland Wine Festival, my last incredibile working experience with the winery but much as I enjoyed it, it’s too predictable! I thought I could write about the Orioles’game I went to see at the “Oriole Park at Camden Yards”, another incredibile experience I will never forget…..
Well, nothing of the kind, as I’ve decided I’ll write about something different and quite ‘domestic’: an unexpected and surprisingly nice evening I went to last week.
Lynne’s niece Carrie and her sister-in-law Holly (I won’t even try to explain the kinship ‘cause Lynne’s extended family is huge, seriously) organized this night at the winery, and it had to be a “different” one, too: they set the tasting room for a painting – and drinking night. Carrie is a middle-school art teacher and for that night she was our very special art teacher… and by “our” I mean mine and other 13 women’s!
After a great buffet with cheeses and vegetables and dips and wine (of course!), we, the students, placed ourselves behind the counters, everyone facing the centre of the room from the different painting stations. Everything was already ready: brushes, colors, water.
Carrie re-did the painting (a nice view of a wood in the fall: trees, orange leaves, and a blue sky) explaining what she was doing step by step..and we did our best to copy what she was doing!
In five years of high school, my average grade in art classes was 5 out of 10, where 6 is the pass mark, if you get what I mean.
Well, my painting is definitely not something I would hang on the wall in my house (Carrie kept saying that it was good but she’s the sweetest person I’ve ever met so I’m pretty sure she would have said so anyway!) but it’s not that bad… and well, I’d never thought that could ever happen but I loved painting and I had so much fun!
And you know what ? My Dad saw it in a picture I sent him and wants it nicely framed for his home.Quite gratifying for my self-esteem but my Dad’s also very sweet and…unreliable, as he has an unvarying very high opinion of any performance of his children’s.
Anyway, what truly matters is that I’m really glad Lynne pressed me to go to that night: it proved to be one of those countless precious moments of cheerfulness and relax here at the winery which have made me feel at home and one of this very special family and which I’ll miss so badly.
Ciao for now!
September 8th, 2014 – A Fruitful, Great Trip
Just few days have passed since my last blog entry but it’s very hard to choose what to talk about, anyway, because my time here at the Winery is usually very busy and varied..and being variety the spice of life, that’s why I’m enjoying being here so much!
I could talk about last Monday at Hersyey Park and the Chocolate World, an amazing day spent on rides with Bert and Lynne and Marisa and her kids (who were, at times, the most “mature” ones among all of us), eating chocolate and enjoying ourselves thoroughly. I could talk of that very night, when we went to the Troëgs brewery and had a great dinner and the best beer I’ve ever had (to my taste, of course): a dark, strong lager beer I really loved! I could talk about the last movie night here at the Winery, a crazy night in the pizza area, a night ended with a glass of ‘Lorenzino’ and a delicious white pizza with mushrooms. I could talk about me finding out about all the wild animals living in the country around the winery… and not wanting to walk around by myself anymore (whoever has asserted that knowledge is happiness should think about it again)! I could talk about a party I went to last Saturday: an evening spent around the fire talking, laughing, roasting marshmellows and eating s’mores! There are so many things I’d love to talk about, and so many things I will want to talk about in the next days…but I’ve got just few days left to spend here at the winery as my internship is inevitably coming to an end (and I’m starting to feel a bit ‘ bipolar’, wavering between the sadness of leaving and having to go back home and the joy of going back home).
Anyway, I’m going a little back in time –not too much- and I’m going to talk about my trip to west Maryland with Griff. Griff is Lynne and Bert’s son-in-law, Marisa’s husband, the winery marketing director and a thoughtful, cheerful friend to me. That day he had to make a delivery in Cumberland, west Maryland and asked me to go with him. A good chance to see new places, meet new people and learn more, indeed! Quite a long drive from the winery to there,too, but I really enjoyed every moment of it: going up the mountains, in a region I’d never seen before, talking freely with Griff about everything that crossed our minds. I loved the way he explained to me things about all the places we were approaching, helping me to picture to myself a kind of map…We reached Cumberland in about two hours and a half and we entered this adorable Italian restaurant, made “our” delivery and started a tasting. I’d never seen Griff ‘going into action’ before and it was a real pleasure to hear him talking about every Basignani wine with both clear passion and expertise: from the Chardonnay, to the three different Cabernets to the sweet wines. The owner of the restaurant was a really easy-going guy and a ‘generous’ one, too: as he didn’t want to “drink” alone, I had to taste the wine with him (and –sorry, Mum!- I didn’t mind doing it at all)! We all talked about Italy and Italian wines (most of the time I was just listening also because I’m always very curious to know other people’s opinions about my country) and we tasted one of his favourite wines, too… a few days have passed and I don’t remember exactly everything we talked about but it was really a very agreeable hour. And then he sent us to a liquor shop nearby and we did a tasting there, too. And well, let’s just say it was a fruitful, great trip! And it turned even better on our way back thanks to our Five Guys’ burgers… So good! I think I’ve never eaten a burger that fast… And I definitely agree with the journalist that wrote Five Guys is hamburger heaven! A pagan one, to be sure, but still a very pleasant place where to be.
Ciao for now!
August 29th, 2014 – Spirito Italiano
The Basignani family clearly has Italian origins…Both Lynne and Bert have either parents or relatives who arrived in the US fom Italy. And they really care and feel an attachment to their origins and have the chance (and the desire!) to keep these ties somehow alive. They also visit Italy every year in the spring and stay at their beautiful villa in Tuscany, on the coast, for a while (which means I get to see them every year…and that makes of spring my favourite season!).
I can see and feel them being Italian in many ways but I would say it becomes particularly evident when we talk about food: that’s when their Italian “spirit” mostly comes out and shows.
It’s not just their love for good food, it’s not just their love for cooking (and trust me, Lynne is an amazing cook: you can read and try some of her recipes in her blog)… it’s real culture , where food becomes a moment of aggregation for their friends and family around the dining table; it’s the care for food; it’s always trying to get back to the authentic flavours that the ingredients you buy at the store have lost (the other day I saw chips ‘cappuccino flavoured’ at the store… … seriously?!)
You know, I think what Bert and Lynne also share of the Italian cuisine is its simplicity: most of our delicious regional dishes only have four to eight ingredients. What matters, in fact, is the quality of these ingredients rather than their quantity.
Every morning when I wake up and have breakfast I can see Bert from the kitchen window, bent over his garden for hours: he grows basil, parsley, rosemary, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, watermelons and many other things… and I can see his care and love and actually ‘taste’ them every day when I eat his vegetables.
And every Sunday the Italian sprit reaches its peak at ‘Sunday Family Dinner’, when the whole family, children and grandchildren, show up and talk, laugh, eat, drink all together!
Food (and wine, of course!), its taste, its meaning being with people I love makes me feel at home, among the scents and flavours and feelings I know well and I could not live without.
As Oscar Wilde used to say “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations”… well, after every dinner here, with the Basignani family, I’m truly at peace with my life.
Ciao for now!
August 8th, 2014 – An Ordinary Day at the Winery
My alarm clock usually goes off around 7:30am…but I’m a master of delayed alarms and put off good intentions and o I always end up by getting out of my bed an hour later, around 8:30am (sometimes nine…). I’ll skip the “bath, dressing and breakfast” part because I guess it’s not particularly interesting for my writing…and definitely not captivating!
Luckily, the ordinary day I’m going to talk about was August 5th and was a pretty exciting day!
This morning Marisa (Bert and Lynne’s eldest daughter and…the ‘big’ sister I’ve always wanted to have!!) and I went “somewhere” in Baltimore: this city is so big I can never figure out where I am. I was very excited as the occasion was a business meeting at the Mouth Party Caramel factory: we had to choose three matches – caramel to wine – for an upcoming party at Mouth Party Caramel…someone, sometimes, has to do “ hard” work!
We tasted these caramels I had never tasted before: original, sea salt, chocolate, coconut, old bay and many others such as the “OMG” (which is literally OMG!)… and, of course, had to choose the right pairing with Basignani’s wines. It was quite easy to find the first two pairs but the third one took some time…and I have to say that drinking wine at 10 am is not that easy, not for me, at least! But I managed and was quite proud of myself (I’m not sure my Mum would be so proud of this new talent of mine, though). And we finally picked the perfect combinations or, at least, the perfect combinations for our taste! We were shown around the factory, met the staff and saw the machines and then we left with our huge bag of caramels!
I must say my morning was interesting, instructive…and delicious too!
After a quick lunch (I had already had enough caramels!) I just spent the rest of the day at my computer, trying to figure out how Microsoft Access works (I’m not really good at computers and technology) and how to make a database we could use in the tasting room..and then I started writing this blog page …
And after that, I’ll relax! I’ve got a lot of time for myself here at the winery, and in this free time I’m learning many things about American culture (and not necessarily just wine culture) in the most pleasant way: meeting people, visiting different places and reading…so, as I’ve nothing more to say about this useful ‘ordinary’ day here, I’m going back to my “Outlander” book… You see, I’ve become just like one of you!!
ciao for now!
July 31st, 2014 – L’ARTE DELLA PIZZA
Movie nights are definitely one of the main events of the summer here at the winery.
In just few minutes a big screen is set in the middle of a field. People start showing up around 6, someone bringing their own food and settling down for a picnic in order to get the best spot in front of the screen, some ready to enjoy their popcorn, the wine and the movie. But most of the people know the right ingredients for a really great movie night here: wine, movie, popcorn and…pizza!
Bert and Lynne built their brick oven back in 2006 (maybe!) and since then they’ve perfected their “pizza – making art”.
And I’ve been recently introduced to all their secrets and turned into a “pizza girl” (a beginner).
The preparation behind the movie nights’ pizzas starts the day before, on Thursday night. And, as for me, I got involved in it on Thursday, the 11th of July, the day before my first movie night.
Well, after dinner Lynne and I had to make dough for at least 150 pizzas…and yes, we did it using a mixer but weighing flour, yeast, water and salt, keeping an eye on the dough so that it has the right consistence (24 times from 9 to 11 pm) was quite exhausting…definitley exhausting!
Anyway, on Friday morning we had to weigh and split the whole dough and prepare the perfect portion for each pizza.
Real hard work, though, starts at half past 5: cleaning the pizza making area, washing basil, cutting mushrooms, preparing tomato sauce and pepperoni and…wearing our aprons, of course!
With all the assignments divided among the different groups, each group starting every 30 minutes, the whole “pizzamakingmachine” was definitely a success: Kristin had to spread out the dough and then it was our turn with the toppings: tomato sauce, garlic, parmesan cheese, basil, oregano, salt, cheese and mushrooms or pepperoni or both! And, finally, Bert came in, baking with no intermission.
After the first couple of pizzas, this work goes on automatically…but I’m pretty sure sometimes I put salt twice or forgot something…but as no one complained, I can say I’m satisfied with my pizzas! And I did add my personal accidental “Italian touch” on them, arranging mushrooms just in the middle of the pizza, as on my favourite pizza in Parma…truth is, I didn’t even notice until someone did and laughed!
Best part of the movie night? When the movie starts, no one asks for pizza anymore and we, the pizza girls and Bert, can make our own pizzas. And while tasting the fresh mozzarella, with a glass full of Cabernet (yes, I love dry red wines!), watching the movie and, finally, feeling the breeze instead of the oven’s heath, you feel you do deserve it and just enjoy the rest of the night at the winery.
Getting ready for next movie night on Friday…
Ciao for now!
July 27th, 2014 – Observing, Learning, Promising
I’d really love to keep writing about nature and animals and storms (we don’t have storms like these in Italy and that’s why they’re so fascinating to me and I would talk about them for hours – I actually did with my poor, bored boyfriend) but I’d better change subject and talk about the people here.
First of all, I must say this is not the first time I’ve been here: I spent a month and a half at the Basignani Winery 5 years ago, Summer 2009.
Well, meanwhile things have changed a lot! When I entered the tasting room last Saturday (or maybe the Saturday before) I was really impressed: a wider and more comfortable space, nicely furnished, many memorabilia from Italy either on the walls or hanging around. It wasn’t the little, a bit “claustrophobic” room I remembered anymore.
In this tasting room, several people from the staff alternate for the tastings (the groupon thing, with cheese and wine pairing is so cool!) and, of course, I’ve been observing them. I’m not sure whether observing is the right word: I mean, I do not observe them to judge them or as if they were an attraction! I do observe trying to learn as much as I can from each one of them. But I have to say they kind of fascinate me… their way of interacting with the customers is so different form the “Italian way” I’m used to. Everyone in here (of course I’m generalizing) is definitely above our Italian standard of intimacy…and I like it! Probably this way of interacting wouldn’t work in Parma…well, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t: we’re too high-toned’ and we usually conform to what we consider to be a more professional and detached realationship.
But in here, it’s just normal! I love the way everyone greets you and is friendly to you and asks questions and actually creates a real relationship and takes care of your experience in the tasting room before caring about selling! Which, of course, is important…but your experience comes first!
There’s someone who is more discreet, who tries to be more professional, then the expert who knows everything about the wines and the winery, and then the exuberant one, who laughs and does her utmost behind her counter.
And there I am, observing, trying to help preparing cases of wine, and learning from all of them…probably looking a little disturbing as I am standing there, smiling shyly from a step behind, not talking…and, in fact, a guy told me “you don’t have to be shy, I won’t bite you!”
..but hey, writing when I want to, saying what I want to, dictionary on my lap, is much easier than talking! I’m a perfectionist and unless I’m a hundred percent sure that my grammar is quite right, that I’ve picked the right word and that my pronunciation is good enough , I’m not going to talk to a customer…and the whole thing takes me more minutes than those a customer would usually be willing to wait…! I’ll work on that, I promise…
Ciao for now!
July 17th, 2014 – The Basignani Winery
Now that I’ve introduced myself, I can’t think of a better way to start but talking about this place: the Basignani Winery.
I’m not a writer, but here, sitting in the ‘Piazza’, no one around, just me and a few squirrels and the sound of cicadas and the songs of tens of birds… I feel like writing about this place, this Wonderland, trying to share its pure and simple beauty.
Even bugs in here look right and I don’t mind the little beetle walking on my laptop right now (and trust me, that’s amazing because usually I’m really scared stiff by any kind of insect…!)
The other day a deer walked by the house and she could feel we were there but somehow trusted us and started nibbling grass. Then her “husband” joined her followed by three little fawns -they looked like they’d just come out of a Disney movie: they rushed to their mom seeking their dinner. And there she was, standing few meters away, looking at us while nursing her babies.And there we were, the amazed and grateful public of that moment.
And there are chipmunks, the funniest little creatures I’ve ever seen (my favorite cartoon when I was a kid was Alvin and the Chipmunks so I was thrilled at the chance of meeting a real one!), and rabbits and groundhogs (or something similar)…
Of course, it’s not just because of all these animals that this place is a little corner of earthly paradise… but it’s not something I can write down on a blank page.
It’s something that has to be felt…walking up the hill, getting lost among the vines, feeling the soft breeze and waiting for the evening to come down, when everything is enlighted by a myriad of fireflyes..
If I were a poet, I would write an ode to this place, if I were a painter, I would paint every shade of the vines’ green, if I were a photographer, I would fix every light in my pictures…but i’ts just me and my pc and all I can do is to relish this Wonderland, to try and write down what I can see and hear…and to feel happy!
And yep, I did find my title (a shorter one): Carlotta’s adventures in Wonderland. Ciao for now!
July 8th, 2014 – An Introduction
So, I’ve been reading every “how to write a blog” guide I’ve found on the internet and still I’m honestly perplexed at my ability/inability to write a blog: I’ve always been terrible at grammar, the longest thing I’ve ever written in American is a 15- line essay for a text at high school (which means more than 6 years ago)…plus, I’ve never been a good writer, not even in my own language! …and this doesn’t really help when you’re “asked” to write a blog. But here I am, writing… I guess I should start introducing myself: I’m Carlotta, I’m 26 and I’m Italian. I’ve just graduated in “Public Relations and advertising” and, starting next January, I’m attending a Master in “food and wine communication”… which makes sense as I live inParma, the Italian “Food Valley”. And, well, that’s why I’m here , ready to spend the whole summer at the Basignani Winery and learn as much as I can from everyone.
I read I ought to set a topic for this blog but I’m not sure what it should be…I’m not going to talk about wines: I know I’m staying at the winery for three months and I got the’ enlightnment’ to start writing watching Lynne (the owner) talking to some customers about the winery and all the wines (she really looked like a goddess to me!)…but let’s be honest, everything I might learn and report is already explained in a much better way by wikipedia or every other web site that talks about wine…!
I won’t talk about communication, even if it is (or at least, I hope it will be) my “field” because my knowledge is not that wide and also because it might bore soon.
I think I’ll simply tell about my staying here: “life in an American winery seen through the eyes of an Italian observer” (I’ll definitely think about a shorter title)
I have to confess that the Basignani family and mine have been friends for about 60 years…so being here feels like being at home…but from now on I’ll try to be a neutral observer. Maybe an enthusiastic observer but that’s just the way I am!
Anyway, I’ve been “observing” since I got here last Wednesday night but I’ll start my report on “life in an American winery ” in my next post… so, as a friend of mine used to say, ciao for now!