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A Venerable Wine Estate in Umbria

Orvieto, Italy

We meet the Bottai family, who has produced Orvieto Classico wine on their estate for six generations. Their wine is aged in a 2,500-year-old cellar, carved by Etruscans for the same purpose. The family’s pride in their work, wine, and heritage is inspiring.

Complete Video Script

The countryside of Umbria and Tuscany is velvety green in the spring. Fertile fields are set off by venerable estates and Cyprus tree-lined windy lanes.

Before moving on to our next hill town, we're stopping by the Tenuta le Vellete vineyard to sample the most famous product of the region — the Orvieto Classico wine.

The Bottai family is happy to show thirsty and prospective customers around their estate.

Corrado: So, this is our farm that belongs to our family since six generations, and on our feats we have a lot of history coming from the Etruscan times.
Rick: I can imagine.
Corrado: A good area for making wine because of the volcanic soil just in front of the view of the beautiful town of Orvieto. And if you like, I can take you to the vines to show you.
Rick: I would like that.
Corrado: So this is our soil, a volcanic soil, very rich in minerals, on which our vines grow and produce our Orvieto Classico wine. So this is a little bunch –
Rick: Yeah.
Corrado: — that would be ripe in September. It starts now to grow, and we'll pick it in six months.
Rick: And in how many years until that is drunk and enjoyed as wine?
Corrado: We'll drink this wine in 18 months, and we'll go on drinking this wine for two more years.
Rick: So how long have people been making wine right here?
Corrado: People have been making wine here since the Etruscan times. Twenty centuries.

And the family house has a history nearly as rich as the vineyard.

Cecilia: You know, Rick, this house is very old. The very central block was a control tower that was built in 1000. Then, when the tower got destroyed, the monks from [inaudible] took the place, they renovated it and made it a monastery. And my family, in fact, bought this property in the middle of the 1800s, and they re-renovated the whole building according to the style of that period. And so the frescos you have now, they are dated 1800-something.
Rick: So this is all Romantic from the 19th century?
Cecilia: Yeah, absolutely. This is the piano room, and my great-grandmother loved to play the piano. And this is a piano that Franz Liszt used to play.
Rick: Franz Liszt played this piano?
Cecilia: Franz Liszt played this piano several times.
Rick: I've got to try it. Can I try it?
Cecilia: Please.
Rick: Oh, my goodness.
Cecilia: My pleasure to listen to you.
Rick: (Plays piano) Hmm. It's not Franz Liszt, but he might enjoy that.
Cecilia: So come on Rick, I take you to our secret place, the secret cellar. The little door and the cellar where the Etruscans used to store their wines. And this is 500 meters long and was started to be carved 500 BC by the Etruscans.
Rick: So this is all dug out of tufa stone?
Cecilia: Yes, and this is perfect for aging the wines, and the Etruscan people knew that. And tufa has the perfect conditions to age the wines in terms of humidity and temperature. And modern wine makers are trying to duplicate the same conditions, and this bottle of wine is more than 30 years old.
Rick: More than 30 — ? Is it still good to drink?
Cecilia: It is absolutely wonderful to drink.

I've been bringing my tour groups to the home of Cecilia and Corrado Bottai since their parents were running the place. When I see the new generation taking over and Cecilia pouring the family's wine into my glass, I feel the pride the Bottai's have in sharing the fruit of their heritage and hard work with a visitor from so far away.