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What Travel Taught Me About Wine

(L)chickens in an Italian vineyard / Photo by Mick Rock Cephas / (R) Barrel room / Getty

Call it beginner’s luck, but the first places I ever visited wineries were in Italy’s Piedmont region and the Napa Valley. I was, on both trips, a twentysomething travel writer whose bank account laughed at the prospect of buying premium bottles from either place, but that’s not the point.

The point is that I experienced two extremes of the winemaking world that have shaped my understanding of it.

In Piedmont, I didn’t visit one of the great Barolo or Barbaresco houses. This trip was meant to display the many tourism offerings in the province of Alessandria— hot springs, castles, truffles and, yes, a little bit of wine.

My group visited a small winery that mostly distributed locally. Our van pulled up at the gate, and the guide hopped out to talk to a gentleman in a pageboy hat.

“He wasn’t sure if we were coming today or tomorrow,” the guide told us as the gate opened. We went straight into the barrel room, its doors wide open, and that deep, astringent aroma of fermentation and grape skins was like a solid object thrust in front of me. I was in love. A cat watched us from between barrels, a dog just outside wagged its tail without bothering to get up. The air, the stone walls, everything was cool and damp.