Ken and I went to the MW Symposium back in May in Florence, and one of the nights they actually broke up the 450 delegates into several small groups to travel to individual wineries in the Tuscan hillside for a more intimate dinner. Well, our group was randomly grouped with the Castello d’Albola winery. I am a fan of their wines and was excited to visit them. But there was a downside, we had an early morning session the next day for the Symposium in Florence, and Castello D’Albola is a long trip from Florence, all the way in the south of Chianti.
The bus ride up there was filled with comments such as, “How long is it going to take to get there?” “Don’t we have a seminar back in Florence at 9am tomorrow?” and whispering to one’s spouse “Oh, I am sure it will be worth it.” All the while, not really being that sure that it would be worth it!
There were a few Masters of Wine in the group (Steve Smith MW, leading the way) and Paul Pontallier, the Managing Director of Château Margaux (I actually yelled out, “It’s Paul Pontallier” when he came on our allocated van..both pictured with Ken and myself above), a couple other candidates, and other friends of the Institute. Most of us were already exhausted, not looking forward to getting back after midnight to our hotels.
Well, I must say, Castello d’Albola was a beautiful winery on a breathtaking piece of land. They welcomed us with open arms, giving us the most heartfelt hospitality, showing us the property, the winery, and certain areas that only the owners have experienced.
By the end of the evening, everyone was moved by this special event, and even though most of us were strangers, we were sharing personal experiences like we were old friends. This sentiment was best expressed by Steve Smith MW in a speech toward the wee hours of the night. He talked about our undesired long journey, but how that special evening was more than worth it… (even with a back vintage randomly chosen that was the year he was “conceived”, since it was the year before his date of birth), and he spoke about how he would always remember that night. As I looked around the dinner table at the time, seeing many of us with a beautiful happy smile, (I must admit I had tears of joy in my eyes – if you cannot tell by the picture above), I knew that dinner was a rare event.
We ended the night in their ancient kitchen that was several hundreds years old, drinking grappa, nobody wanting to leave… We did not arrive back to our hotels until past 2am, and no one cared… it was one of those nights that all the money in the world could not buy. It was simply one of those nights when asked the question as an MW candidate, “Why do you want to become a Master of Wine?” That night is the reason why.