During our correspondence, Valentina from the villa told us about this castle nearby, just over the hill. I didn’t think very much of it at first but it came up again when I was doing my research for Tuscany, and Paula also read about it separately and sent me a note. So I e-mailed about doing a tour of the castle and booked it, thinking it would be a short, easy morning outing. On our first night Valentina gave us a brief history of Villa di Masseto, the Guadagni family, and told us how we’d learn more about the Pazzi conspiracy if we went to this castle. When she said she’d gone on the tour herself and thought it was well done, I was sold. On Tuesday September 4, about half of our group went over to Castello Del Trebbio for a visit.
We were met by Alberto, with whom I’d arranged the tour and was guiding us that morning. He was an articulate and engaging man, who was obviously passionate about the wine, the olive oil, and his work as the tourism and hospitality manager. He has a personal connection to the castle in that his cousin is married to the current owner, Anna. Alberto spent a few hours with us, giving us a fantastic history lesson as well as an informative wine and extra virgin olive oil tasting.
Alberto told us that Castello Del Trebbio was built as a fortress in 1184 by the Pazzi family. He asked if we knew what the word “pazzi” meant in Italian. Christiane, the linguist among us, answered “crazy.” We wondered out loud whether the meaning of the word was derived from the Pazzi family who became famous for their audacious plot to kill Giuliano and Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1478. This unbelievable murder scheme even included the Pope (Pope Sixtus IV) and was carried out at the cathedral in Florence. This castle was the very place where this “crazy” idea was hatched and discussed. We got to go into the conspiracy room in the castle and see the Pazzi family coat of arms as well.
The current owners, the Baj-Macario family, bought the castle in 1968 and restored it to its present condition. They still live in the castle so we didn’t take photos of the living quarters, but the rooms were big and drafty. I’ve visited Florence in the winter time when it’s pretty cold. I could only imagine what it’s like to live up in the hills with only those fire places in the castle. They have no other means of heating the place! Burrrrr… The story of the current owners’ family was also an interesting one, involving a young Austrian woman marrying an Italian man she met on a train, who buys her this castle as a gift. But it was Alberto’s manner of delivery and his perfect comedic timing that made the tour that much more fun.
After we learned about the castle and its history, the tour moved down to the cellar for a lesson on the Chianti wines made with Sangiovese grapes and what really makes extra virgin olive oil special. I walked away having completely changed my previous thoughts of Chianti being a cheap table wine. I now also know that olives need to be harvested and pressed immediately (within 24 hours if possible), younger is better when it comes to extra virgin olive oil (look for press dates such as November 2011 on the bottle, November being harvest season in Italy), acidity level is paramount (lower the better, 0.8% or lower for it to be considered extra virgin), olive oil/extra virgin olive oil is not very well regulated (and difficult to regulate), and extra virgin simply means “untouched” (doesn’t mean first harvest, cold pressed, etc).
Finally, we went outside to the courtyard for our tasting. I wasn’t a big fan of the white but the Chianti was good. We also had a bit of vin santo, served with crunchy biscotti we could dip and munch, dip and munch, and sip of course. yum yum yum.
We didn’t stay to have lunch at their restaurant, which Valentina later told us was quite good. But my party left having purchased and shipped several cases of their Chianti and Super Tuscan, and bottles of extra virgin olive oil. I didn’t know at the time, but the next day I was the lucky recipient of a special magnum bottle of Chianti from Castello Del Trebbio that my kind friends gave me as a birthday present.
Was I having the best week ever? Yes!
Alberto recommended this book, April Blood, to learn more about the Pazzi conspiracy.