Picture yourself driving through the Tuscan countryside. The windows are rolled all the way down and you can feel the Italian breeze caressing your hair. The gold-streaked sun melts behind the rolling Tuscan hills. You’re en route to a vineyard dinner where you’ll spend the evening listening to live music and eating delicious food. Your ears filled with the intermingled sounds of the tinkling of glasses, laughter, and chirping crickets. The hum of conversation is rippling out into the valley below. Upon your arrival, you walk up a fragrant lavender-lined path toward a group of glamorous guests. The wine and freshly made pici pasta are beautifully set up at a long table, decorated with florals that seem to burst across the landscape.
I think this is the kind of Italian daydream we can all get behind. A scene straight out of La Dolce Vita, where the food makes you want to write poetry and the wines dance on your lips. A moment in time when you feel that no detail has been spared to create a luxurious party you’ll remember for years to come.
A Family Affair
This dream becomes a reality at Querceto di Castellina. This family-owned-and-operated winery is located in the heart of the Chianti region in Tuscany. The property has been in the Di Battista family since 1945 when Florentine-born Guido Masini, acquired the historical estate and surrounding land. As with many businesses in Italy, the evolution of this winery has occurred slowly and with care. Soon, the 200-acre property was under the dual management of Guido and his daughter Laura.
Laura restored the 15th-century structures on the estate and transformed them into an Agriturismo. One of the first to open in the late 1980s. Along with vacation apartments for guests. At the same time, she focused on improving the vineyards. The past decade has seen Querceto di Castellina roll out a whole host of new events. Chief among them, vineyard dinners conceived by Laura’s daughter-in-law, Mary Shea. Adding a touch of magic to the estate and putting it back on the map. Mary Shea was born to be a hostess. Originally from the East Coast, Mary worked in advertising and creative marketing design before moving to Italy. In il bel paese she works to create memorable experiences that encourage gathering and shared conversation.
Each year, Querceto in Castellina hosts vineyard dinners once a month from June to September. These events have become popular for bringing travelers, ex-pats, foodies, and aesthetes together. Around the table, everyone can share good wine and local food in a beautiful ambiance. The winery currently collaborates with Albergaccio di Castellina, another local, family-run business to create the most delectable, to-die-for menus. The local restaurant offers bespoke catering and presents a variety of delicious Tuscan specialties–as sophisticated as they are simple. These include soft ravioli filled with pigeon (yes, the bird is actually a Tuscan specialty). Along with thinly sliced strips of mouth-watering chianina steak, served with an elaborate eggplant parmesan sauce with fresh tomatoes.
The menu is unique to the evening and changes with each dinner. Substitutes are available for vegetarians, gluten-free, and any other special requests. Of course, the wine pairings are a highlight of the meals. Querceto di Castellina wines are served with each course. The waiters graciously circle each table to offer refills to guests as the conversation swells from a low hum to an exhilarating buzz.
Over the years, the vineyard dinners have created new friendships, and given local artisans a chance to showcase their work. They have also allowed Mary the opportunity to connect and expand local communities and tourists through interactive events. “It gives me so much energy to create these dinners and collaboration is the best part. I want everything to be incredibly creative and elevated while still honoring Tuscany’s traditions,” she says. The pop-ups have become less about promoting the winery and more about supporting the creatives and partners they work with, including musicians, florists, and caterers.
Mary continues to invent new ways to host her dear guests and new friends. Last spring, her “Pizza, Alpaca and Vino” afternoon was a sold-out hit and saw a Neapolitan pizzaiolo serve artisanal pies while alpacas from a local farm roamed around the property alongside its guests. “An alpaca is a great conversation starter,” explains Mary. “The playful atmosphere breaks down barriers and gives people an easy way to start interacting with each other.”
Stay at Querceto
Querceto also offers guests the chance to stay overnight (or for a week) to enjoy all the activities the property has to offer. You’ll be able to wake up in a plush bed, drenched in Tuscan sunlight, in a spacious farmhouse bedroom. And treated to a homemade continental breakfast. Sip a steamy freshly made cappuccino as you take in the view over the estate’s sweeping acres. A hike through the vines followed by a dip in the swimming pool and an afternoon glass of the delectable “Livia” white wine (a perfectly balanced blend between Viognier and Roussanne) can melt into endless evenings, stargazing and eating simple, satisfying food al fresco. Laura (the namesake of one of their most delicious red wines) also offers cooking classes to visitors. She teaches the simple yet skillful methods of recreating a Tuscan table at home, anywhere in the world.
Visit Querceto di Castellina’s website to learn about the vineyard dinners taking place in summer 2022. Follow @quercetodicastellina on Instagram for virtual wine events and online community building. I personally cannot wait to get some pictures snapped with alpacas next year (with a glass of Querceto di Castellina wine in hand, of course).