Italian Honeymoon: Part 3 or 4 “Castello di Roncade”

Italian Honeymoon: Part 3 or 4 “Castello di Roncade”

I hope that people who have read my blog before start off with the question, “Part 3 or 4? Where is part 1?” and they start going through old posts to see if they have missed something. That would be cool!

But you haven’t missed anything. I just felt inspired to write on this day, the 22nd of June, 2019 because it is raining in Treviso, and we had such a surreal and incredible experience yesterday that I do not want to forget the details.

Castello di Roncade

We have been staying in the Italian city of Treviso, just 20 kilometers or so from Venice, for a week now. It has been a wonderful experience. I will write about our trips to Venice later, and the city of Treviso itself will, of course, have some stories to tell. But this post is about another place in Italy, the town of Roncade.

My lovely wife (feels amazing to say that), Rita and I wanted to get out of the city and see some of the Italian countryside. She researched online and found a winery in a town where the local bus goes, so we could get there without too much trouble. She showed me photos, and it looked amazing. An Italian castle that is now a vineyard and winery? Wine tasting and tour for 10 euros? Sounds great! Castello di Roncade, here we come!

Traveling by bus in a new place is always an interesting experience. We had used the train a couple times before, and that had become familiar and really easy to use. But when we got to the bus station, there was no office, and the schedule was really confusing. Buses seemed to just come and go randomly. Google said the bus left at 3:20 p.m., but we couldn’t find bus 27A anywhere. Luckily, locals are pretty cool, and Rita speaks some Italian, so we were pointed in the right direction. I bought tickets at a confusing machine that lied to me about being in English… but it all worked out.

The bus ride made me happy that I had not rented a car. The streets of northern Italy wind and wend this way and that with endless traffic circles and terribly narrow spaces… there were speed bumps on the main road that the bus was on. The bus driver seemed to think the bus was some kind of race car as he threw us into the corners and accelerated on the straights. It was a fun ride!

We were dropped off in the center of a small town called Roncade, and we could see a tall steeple nearby that was a landmark guiding us to the castle itself. We had booked a 5 p.m. tour via email. I mentioned that we were in town from Latvia and would love an English tour of the vineyard, and the response was lovely. We were a bit early, so we had a coffee Americano, and then walked around the town.

We came to the entrance of the castle. It was surrounded by tall walls with two towers on either side. It was one of those fairytale-looking castle entrances that I used to draw when I was a kid. Next to the castle, we saw the tall steeple and a church. We enjoy going to old churches, especially in the heat of an Italian afternoon, but this one was not open. So we entered the castle gates and decided to explore the grounds on our own.

Dungeons & Dragons Geeky Moment

Magical Cedar Tree

For those of you that have never played Dungeons & Dragons, the next part of this post won’t make much sense, but I just have to share this feeling. Growing up in Nebraska, I never saw a real castle, but I designed many and I played Dungeons & Dragons quite a bit, always imagining magical places with secret doors and so on. I have mentioned many times that Latvia is a magical land, and here in Italy, I have seen a few magical places as well. Inside the walls of the castle (which we later found out were just for show and not really castle defense walls) was a glorious garden of roses, many other types of flowers, statues of Croatian soldiers who served the Medieval Venetians, and four large trees that were planted in perfect symmetry over 250 years ago. Two of them were giant cedar trees with branches low to the ground. The other two were magnolias, and the one I got close to was so thick and leafy that I literally had to pry my way through to reach the trunk. Entering the branches of this tree felt like a D&D adventure, and I know how geeky that sounds. It was as if I had found a secret entrance to some magical world, in the green, shady, hazy light of the afternoon, I just felt at peace.

 

 

Inner Magic of magnolia

The Tour

Okay, that is over. The fun part begins. After exploring the grounds, we went to the main shop for the beginning of our tour. We met our guide, a kind young man with stylish glasses named Giulio. I don’t think he was ready for the onslaught of questions that we had, but we were very curious to find out everything we could. The basic story fo the palace is that it was built by a very wealthy Venetian back in the 1600s. They were not allowed to build actual castles because Venice was a republic and castles were a symbol of monarchies, but all the rich people wanted their country villas to be grand and amazing. So this Venetian aristocrat named Girolamo Giustinian built this castle on the ruins of a real Medieval castle, and it looks pretty much the same way today after extensive renovation by the current family owners, the Ciani Bassetti family.

The original 3 hectares of vineyard behind the castle have been torn up and replanted, so we didn’t get to see the picturesque Italian vineyards we were looking for. The family also has 150 hectares of grapes outside of the town, and another factory where the wine is actually produced.

We saw the old chapel dedicated to St. Anna, mother of Mary. Two original busts of Girolamo and his wife remain. They didn’t look very happy, and it turns out that the palace was built so that he would have one side, and she would have the other.

The tour ended in the cellar where we saw wine barrels made of oak ranging from 300 liters to 3300 liters. It was beautiful, fascinating, and impressive, and after all that we were thirsty and ready to taste the wine.

 

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The Tasting

When we got to the tasting room, a table had been prepared for us with two glasses, a spittoon, water jug, some crackers and a plate of cheese and meat. It was quite lovely. The only other people there were some Chinese tourists who had just finished their tour as well.

Our first taste was their own sparkling wine called Isabella. It is w deliciously dry sparkling white wine named for the current owner’s granddaughter. As we began our tasting, an older gentleman sauntered up to the table and introduced himself. I missed the introduction, but Rita proudly announced that this was the baron himself, the owner of the vineyard, Barone Vincenzo Ciani Bassetti. 

He asked for a glass, and joined us. He explained that his aunt was a famous Latvian artist named Vija Spekke. Her father had been the Latvian ambassador to Italy back in the day. The whole connection was a little confusing, but he seemed enamored with us. He told us both how beautiful we were, and kept complimenting Rita. It was charming.

I was asked about my family history, “What do you do, etc.” I felt a bit sorry for our tour guide who patiently tried to serve us our tasting while the owner talked with us. By the end, the distribution manager or sales manager, Diego, joined us, and the five of us had a nice conversation about where the wines were sold, and which of the Baltic states Latvia was and, of course, how wonderful the wines were.

We had a taste of the 2012 vintage Villa Giustinian, which is their “flagship” wine. I had a little conversation with Diego about the difference between this red and the other we had, the Raboso Dell’Arnasa (named for a nearby river). I felt I was getting the hang of the wine-tasting thing by discussing its “complex notes” and “woodiness.” It was a delightful conversation. Then, the Baron told them to break out a bottle of the 2009. Apparently this was a much better year. So we had a tasting of this incredible red wine. I must admit that I am not an educated wine drinker, so I felt that this was a bit of a pearls before swine moment, but it was still a wonderful experience. The 2009 was smoother and more delicate than the 2012 we had. I loved the wide fullness of the Raboso Dell’Arnasa, but after tasting the aged vintage wines, I could really tell the difference.

In the end, he gave us a family discount on wine, and they ship worldwide, so we ordered a variety of bottles. The wine here is about half the price you would expect to pay for decent wine in Riga, so it really was okay. We ended our incredible conversation with a shot of grappa and the traditional Italian hug and kisses on the cheek. He also threw in a wine apron, which I happily wore as I cooked Rita an “authentic” Italian supper.

I left with a box of bottles and a feeling of being totally overwhelmed by the glorious world we live in. Who knew that in coming to Italy, we would make some connection with Latvia and have this incredibly special time by complete and total random chance? On the flight to Venice, Rita and I had a short conversation about serendipity. I feel like I need to change my middle name to “serendipity” because someone or something is clearly guiding my life to good things.

 

Side Note:

I feel like I am cheating a bit by sharing this before I have written about the other experiences we have had in Italy. I have been blessed to have come to Latvia to find true love. I will write about the wedding and all of that in the days to come, I promise! Keep in touch!

After we left, we saw chickens wandering on the grounds. It was surreal. Then the streets of Roncade were closed for some charity walk, and hundreds of people walked by in their pink shirts.

When we got back to Treviso, the streets there were also closed for walkers. Sometimes I feel like I have no idea what is going on, and that is… okay. We are all family!

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