Halfway between Florence and Rome, the hilltop town of Orvieto is a well-known stop for tour buses traveling through Italy. But it was the quiet Umbrian countryside beyond Orvieto that we were after; a 2 day oasis away from the busy city life. And a newly renovated farmhouse on a local working vineyard!
We arrived mid-afternoon after a leisurely 2 hour drive from Florence. (You can make it much quicker, but we were enjoying the views through Tuscany and Umbria). We were greeted by the owner and winemaker, Piero, along with Tony, the cat, and Peggy, a short-haired pup. Both were rather friendly, and Evelyn was instantly smitten with the two four-legged fur babies.
The Pigeon House
Piero showed us around our guest house, also known as the “pigeon house”, because the 3-story barn was once used to raise pigeons (yes, eating pigeon is a pretty common thing in Europe! And quite tasty too, we had some at a fancy restaurant in Paris a few years back).
Upon entering the main floor, my attention immediately went towards the materials and decor chosen to create the space. The farmhouse blended cozy, rustic farmhouse with industrial materials. Bright red window casings and shutters, white linen furniture, a rustic table with terracotta upholstered chairs that matched the burnt orange floor, all against the backdrop of a modern kitchen with thick concrete countertops; you could see that a lot of careful thought was put into its renovation.
There were two bedrooms in the house, one upstairs and one downstairs, each with their own bath. Downstairs, doors led out to a patio with views over the vineyard, especially stellar when the sun rose over the hills.
A Stone’s Throw from Orvieto
Piero gave us all of his recommendations for the nearby small town of Orvieto. “I’m not sure if they’re “the best” to everyone, but this is where we like to go”, he said. He explained the easiest way to get into town, a medieval village that sits on a hilltop and is most easily accessed by a long set of underground escalators that will take you up the mountain from the carpark (yes, seriously). A grocery store at the base of the hill made it easy for us to do our own cooking in the farmhouse, so we decided to keep it low key after a week and a half of busy travel.
It happened to be my birthday the day we checked in, and I really only wanted to do one thing: eat and drink wine. ? Lucky for me, Piero and his wife Ramona gave us a bottle of their Umbria Rosso to drink with our dinner of gnocchi bolognese and Italian staples like bread, salami, cheese, and olives.
Touring the Vineyards
We spent the next morning exploring the town of Orvieto before coming back to the farmhouse to relax. And after a quick nap for Evelyn, Piero met us again to tour the vineyards and do what we figured would be a pretty simple wine tasting. I mean, we couldn’t stay at a vineyard and not drink the wine!
We walked the vineyard and Piero told us a little more about his wine business. He grows 12 different varietals of grape: among them Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Trebianno, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdicchio (the oldest varietal in Italy), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. They sell 90% of their grapes to other area winemakers, while the rest they hand pick and produce under their own small label, Lapone. Piero bought the farmhouse and land back in 2002, starting the vineyard from scratch. He’d learned how to make wine by working on a vineyard for a while, and when he met his wife Ramona, who was from the area and who’s family was in the wine business as well, they set out to start their own winery outside Orvieto.
While relatively unfamiliar in the US, Orvieto is one of the best and oldest wine-growing regions in Italy. It has a climate very similar to that of Napa Valley, and you’ll find many of those same popular Napa grapes (Cabernet, Chardonnay) grown here at Lapone, along with other international and local varietals.
Alongside the vineyards, a single barn holds everything involved in Piero’s winemaking process. The fermentation tanks, steel drums and oak barrels, the bottling and labeling machines, and the racks where the wines rest: it’s all right here.
Tasting the Wines
We headed into Piero and Ramona’s house next, where more Italian meats and cheeses awaited us. They opened a bottle of each of their 5 latest harvest’s wines, and we tasted them one by one. Each wine was quite unique and memorable. The Chardonnay came in two varieties: the exact same grape stored in one batch in oak barrels or another in steel. The immensely different taste was astounding. The Pinot Grigio was quite nice as well. Allowed a short initial contact with the skins, the wine had a copper color to it that I’d never seen before. The Verdicchio was particularly boozy (15% alcohol, Piero tells us), but still every bit as good. And the Umbria Rosso (a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) was perhaps the smoothest, easiest wine I’ve drank in quite a long time (and by the way, retails for just 10 Euros!)
As we tasted the wines, we worried that Evelyn might not be patient enough to allow us to enjoy them all fully. But not long after we started to pull out the cartoons for backup, Peggy the pup returned, and Evelyn was once again obssessed with having a dog around. Sweet Ramona found her a ball to play fetch with and Evelyn just could not stop laughing. We drank some more and before I realized it, Ramona and Evelyn were off in the sitting room coloring pictures together.
Then another car pulled up: a group of 4 Americans stopping by on the way from Florence to Rome, just like us, had found the place on Yelp! and stopped for a tasting. Normally Piero and Ramona only do intimate tastings with reservations required, but Piero was not about to turn away his impromptu guests. “Do you get people that just show up for a tasting often?” Matt asked. “No, never!” said Piero with a laugh. But he happily directed them to his back patio where he opened up 5 more bottles of wine!
And we didn’t mind at all. We were enjoying the view from Piero and Ramona’s sitting room, in a bit of disbelief that we were now basically sitting in their private living room with wine glasses that never emptied, sliced meats and cheeses that just kept coming, and entertainment for our toddler to boot. And every bit of it was so genuine: they loved hosting their guests and epitomized that classic Italian hospitality you only hear about in the movies!
At the risk of feeling like lushes, we joined the new group on the patio and continued our conversation into the early evening. Our new friends eventually headed on their way to Rome (just as blown away by the hospitality they’d experienced as we were), and by 7 PM it was time for us to return to our pigeon house. ☺️
We parted from our vineyard farmhouse the next morning, but I will never forget the amazing experience we had there. If you visit Italy, I beg you, please, please, if nothing else: spend a few days in the Italian countryside. You’ll encounter a true welcome that will make you fall even more in love with the already beautiful country.
PS. If you wish to try any of Piero and Ramona’s wines, they do ship internationally and I can assure you they are all fantastic! We’ve already put in our first order, and am sure we’ll be lifelong customers! You can find their latest wines here.
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