One of the great things about chucking your work-a-day life in North America and moving to Italy to start a tourism business is that you get to meet a whole new set of awesome people including some with whom you form business relationships and friendships.
For my wife Lisa and I, there are too many to mention in one blog, but we want to take the time to single out the Guardiani family of the Guardiani-Farchione Wine and Olive Oil Agency. It’s a small, family-run agency on the rise whose products are considered some of the best in Europe, and we are proud to call them friends and partners.
For more than 200 years, the family has created wonderful products in their cantina located in the basement of their historic home in Tocco da Casauria, about five kilometres from our place, Villa d’Abruzzo, in Torre de’Passeri.
Today, the business is run by Paolo Guardiani and his wife Stefania Ricci with the help of their two children Maria Claudia and Giampaolo. It’s an understatement to say they have been huge supporters of Amazing Abruzzo Tours since before we opened officially in May 2016.
It all started early in the morning of Jan. 4, 2016 and I was in a panic. We had hosted a family of six the night before as a sort of test run of the villa. In our correspondence, I believed they’d told me they didn’t want to do any activities like a pasta making class or a winery visit that day, so I scheduled nothing.
Then when they arrived on Jan. 3, 2016, they said they were looking forward to the cooking class and winery visit the next morning. After changing my underwear, we hastily arranged for Cesidia, a lady we barely knew at the time, to do a pasta making class. While that was going on, I zoomed to the two closest wineries to see if we could arrange a quick tour and tasting.
Christmas lasts from Dec. 25th to Jan. 6th in Italy. The wineries were closed. I googled wineries close by. Went to two more – closed. I called Lisa and told her to stall the cooking class. More google and I raced to an address in Tocco da Casauria – a big residential building right in the middle of town. My heart sunk because at the time I didn’t know that the oldest cantinas (the places they make the wines) are in people’s basements. The name was on the door though, so I rang the buzzer, and the door was opened by a man.
I really didn’t speak Italian at the time and I later found out that the guy I was talking to was the winery’s labourer from Macedonia. He was watching the place while the owners were away, and he spoke almost no Italian either. Still, I made it clear that in about an hour I was showing up with six people for a tour and tasting. He said no the owners weren’t there. I walked by him to the tasting room, and it was perfect. I said where’s the cantina. He pointed downstairs, and I raced down. It was spectacular. By this time another guy was there who, I found out later, was the Stefania’s brother who didn’t work at the winery and who knew nothing about wine.
I said please, please, please, just cut up some bread and cheese and open a few bottles. After saying no a few more times, they gave in to my desperation and agreed.
Forty-five minutes later, the guests arrived, Lisa did the translation, and the tour and tasting went off great. The guests even bought a bunch of bottles and some of the world-class olive oil the Guardiani-Farchione’s make.
A week later, I got a call from Stefania and Paolo saying that they had been in Rome for Christmas, and, if we were planning to bring more people, it would be nice of us to give a bit more notice. I tried to explain the situation I had been in, and they invited us to come and speak to them.
At that meeting, they took us on a proper tour of the cantina and did a great tasting of all their wines, all of which are excellent. The cantina and tour were exactly what we were looking for – a small, family run business in a sea of industrial wine producers, and they themselves were lovely.
They agreed to host our guests each week for cantina tours and wine, olive oil, cheese and cured meat tasting, and we adopted their wines as our house wines and their oil for our kitchen. Most wineries charge at least 10 euro per head for a basic tasting with some as high as 25 euro. How much did they want? Nothing, but they asked if we could try to help them break into the notoriously hard Canadian government run liquor stores? We said yes.
In the first year, we brought a total of about 200 people 26 groups to the cantina and we made zero progress on getting their wines into Canada. Last year we brought more than 350 people there in 33 groups, and we are happy to say that half way through the season, we were able to introduce the Guardianis to Sylvan Audette and his brother Jocelyn, a couple of awesome guys and newly minted wine importers to Quebec and Ontario.
The Audettes have slogged through the red tape in Quebec and Ontario, and now they are taking orders for private deliveries through their website - http://www.olkades.com. You just go there, pick your language, select the SAQ or LCBO under the “Our wines/Nos Vins,” pick some Guardiani-Farchione wines, pay a deposit and in a couple months, the wines are delivered to your local liquor store where you pay the balance.
It’s a little more expensive than buying the plonk off the shelves, but it’s well worth it. Their robust, unoaked Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red is delicious. The crisp Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is sings in your mouth. The Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rose tastes better than any other rose I’ve ever had. And the Pecorino d’Abruzzo white is as rich and flavourful as a white wine can be.
I have no qualms about urging those of you who live in Quebec or Ontario to go to Olkades website and order a case or two or 10. You will not be disappointed.
It’s also the least I can do for the Guardiani family. They have been very gracious to us, and I wish them great success in the Ontario and Quebec wine markets. They deserve it.