A Wine Neophyte and the Elevator in Italy
By Cory J. Fosdyck
In 2008, after enduring much of the “Great Recession,” I was desperate for a fresh perspective, a new outlook, some momentum, or even a whiff of positive energy. The craving came from an unexpected source.
A few months earlier, I had met Steve and Joan Carter through BUILD, a volunteer organization in which I served as a mentor. The group was designed by a Leadership Walton class through the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce to match experienced business professionals in the area with those who aspire to lead future generations. I had participated in the nine-month program as a mentee, so I was familiar with how valuable the experience was for a young professional. The Carters had been assigned to a mentee by the BUILD board of directors, and my job was to make the initial contact and introduce both parties to their new partners for the next nine months. The next thing I knew, Steve had convinced me that my new passion in life should be serving local children in need via the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF). Before I could renege on my newfound passion with such convenient excuses as lack of time, too much work, the global recession, or an ignorance of Tuscany and tannins, I had agreed to serve on the DCWAF’s board and was committed to sponsoring the 2009 Wine & Dine in Paradise auction.
As wine enthusiasts, the Carters love to travel and experience the history, culture, and produce of the world’s most famous wine regions. For their 2009 trip, they had booked a beautiful six-bedroom villa in the heart of the Italian wine region known as Tuscany. Located about two hours northwest of Rome, Tuscany is home to the well-known cities of Florence (Firenze), Siena, and Pisa, but it also includes the Chianti region and the wine meccas of Montalcino and Montepulciano. One of the villa bedrooms was available and the Carters graciously invited Hillary and me to join them. Immensely grateful for the offer, we had to decline because of time and budget constraints. However, as I began to analyze our SkyMiles and Merrill Lynch Rewards Points, I realized that we could book the travel arrangements for free! We discussed the time issue and how we could afford to miss ten days of work. In the end, we decided that spending some quality time together was important and that our respective business partners would probably be able to handle things during the six business days we would be gone.
We took off from Atlanta and, almost sixteen hours and two connections later, landed in Florence—as usual, my suitcase was lost in transit. We were not scheduled to meet the Carters at the villa for another two days, so we had some time to ourselves to enjoy one of the most romantic cities in the world. For those who have never been there, the main attractions in Florence are the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), Michelangelo’s David, and the Ponte Vecchio. Construction began on the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in 1296, and its Gothic design included a pink, green, and white marble exterior topped by the world’s largest masonry dome. Michelangelo’s David, located in the Accademia Gallery, is a seventeen-foot nude marble sculpture of the Biblical king. It is truly inspiring to see and has come to symbolize “culture” across the globe. The only bridge in Florence that Hitler spared during World War II was the Ponte Vecchio, which crosses the Arno River. It is famous for the shops that line its sides. The shops were initially occupied by butchers, but they were converted to jewelry shops in 1593 when the Medici family finally got fed up with the smell. The food, wine, scenery, and time we spent together in Florence were indescribable, but this was only the beginning. My suitcase arrived at the hotel just in time for us to pick up the rental car and drive three hours to the Carters’ villa near Pienza.
Hertz was out of GPS systems and the 2009 Fiat 500 we rented looked cute, but it would have trembled at the sight of a golf cart. We could barely fit one of the suitcases inside the hatchback. Only after we moved the already cramped front seats forward did the other suitcase fit into the “backseat.” After finally loading up, we made our way toward Highway A1 south, en route to Rome, passing through one of Florence’s medieval city gates with its thirty-foot high wooden doors. The directions to the villa that the property manager had given us were in broken English and included less than exact descriptions of roads and turns, but getting lost on country roads in Tuscany is a wonderful experience for couples and should be included. Thanks to some helpful locals who could somewhat understand Hillary’s Spanish, we finally found the villa, which was located at the base of the ancient Renaissance town of Pienza. As we pulled up to the centuries-old stone structure, the sun slipped behind the rolling hills and illuminated Pienza like the Emerald City of Oz. We were so blessed to have had that opportunity to enjoy such a beautiful scene.
Over the next several days, we toured Tuscan cities with the Carters and their other guests. We were introduced to the local handmade pasta, pici, and the local cheese, pecorino. Our wine education included tours of vineyards near Montepulciano and the medieval town of Montalcino. The primary grape grown in Tuscany is the Sangiovese, used in making Chianti, Vino Nobile, and Brunello. Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most popular and expensive wines, and was awarded the first DOCG designation, which ensures quality and protects the region. We toured the medieval fortress, which includes the fantastic wine shop Enoteca La Fortezza, founded in 1980, which offers a vast selection of Brunello di Montalcino.
One of our day trips included a drive to Siena, where we had a lunch in the historic city square, Piazza del Campo. For more than 700 years, twice each year—on July 2 and August 16—the perimeter of this cobblestone piazza has been covered with a thick layer of dirt to host “Il Palio,” a bareback horse race that pits the city’s various districts (contrade) against one another. The city’s energy was contagious and the narrow streets were filled with people and traditional decorations celebrating the colors and mascot of each contrada. Hillary and I squeezed into the piazza’s center and were close enough to the railing to feel the breeze as each horse galloped past. With its multicentennial history, this race generated more anticipation than the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby combined. The rivalry between districts makes a Florida versus Alabama football game seem trivial.
After touring Siena, we had dinner in Pienza at a small home that has been converted into a four-table mom-and-pop restaurant. For the first hour, we were the only patrons until a family of four walked in. Before leaving, Joan struck up a conversation with the other couple and their two young children, inviting them over to the villa the next night for a cooking class. This was just one example of Joan and Steve exercising their mantra of “sending the elevator back down.”
The next night, the couple and their children arrived at the villa and participated in the cooking class, in which we hand rolled pici, mixed the ingredients for tiramisu, and enjoyed a bottle of Brunello alongside the truffle-infused pecorino. The couple was overwhelmed by the Carters’ hospitality and generosity, and once again, I was amazed by another example of their desire to serve others and to use their unique opportunities to bless complete strangers. The more interaction Hillary and I had with the Carters, the more we realized how many opportunities are out there to send the elevator back down and make a positive impact on others. The trick, I realized, was to make servitude one of our priorities and always keep our antennae up to recognize opportunities as they present themselves.
Our trip to Tuscany last summer was certainly memorable. It afforded Hillary and me the opportunity to spend time together and work on our relationship, which unfortunately at times takes a backseat to our hectic schedules. Staying in Tuscany provided us an education on wine and the history of its production. Most importantly, being in Italy’s wine country with the Carters introduced us to the idea of being continuously aware of opportunities to affect others and pay it forward on a daily basis. The trip was such an undeserved blessing that we felt compelled and committed to making an impact on others’ lives at every opportunity and to honoring the mandate of “Sending the Elevator Back Down.”
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Cory and Hillary Fosdyck are originally from Macomb, Illinois and now live in Miramar Beach. Cory is an active member of the DCWAF, Walton Area Chamber, Destin Toastmasters, BUILD Council, Sandestin Lions Club, and Shoreline Church.