Our departure time was 09:45. It was a pleasure to sleep in, but we were ready to roll when the time came. The first leg of today's journey was a 45-minute drive to the village of Canelli and the Contratto Winery. (Website: click here)
It was founded by the Contratto family in 1867 and is known as the oldest producer of sparkling wines in Italy. This winery was the personal supplier to the Vatican and many royal houses. The historic cathedral cellars are now designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Currently, it is owned by the Giorgio Rivetti family (also owners of La Spinetta, where we visited yesterday.)
Contratto produces moscato, red and white spumanti, bruts and vermouths here. We had purchased the white vermouth when we met Giorgio at Zazios back home. It is a sipping vermouth rather than a mix (like in a martini).
The white has a smooth, slightly piney, sprucey taste. At home I really enjoy it to top off the night just before bed. Tastes healthy and medicinal-isa. You can buy this and the red version at the downtown Grand Rapids Market in the cheese shop. In addition, they also make still wines, tonics, syrups aperitifs and bitters.
The winery and tasting room are in a large and elegant edifice built in the Italian Liberty-style. There are huge wrought iron gates protecting its entrance. The foyer / gallery displays the history of the winery with documents, wine labels, historic presses, and other wine-making equipment.
The underground cellars have a whole different vibe than La Spinetta. The barrels and bottles are stored in more traditional cave-like atmosphere built into the heart of the hill that protected the town. The caves were excavated through limestone to a depth of 32 meters (104 feet). These underground cellars cover more than 5,000 square meters (or 16,400 square feet).
I think this winery held more bottles than any other we would see. Many rooms had many bottles in varying configurations--boxes on the floor, upside down, v-shaped stands, shelves lining walls from floor to ceiling, wire cages / bins holding hundreds of bottles. Over 1.5 MILLION bottles were on hand at this time. It is truly amazing!
At one point we climbed a 4-feet ladder to peer across a sea of bottles of "champagne." This one area alone was probably 8-feet high, thirty feet wide and 30 to the back wall. One gigantic stack of bottles. I am not exaggerating! This sight actually took my breath away!!
After the tour, our guide Peter (an Australian who's father is a wine producer there) (and a real cutie) led us to the tasting room. It was like a fabulous dining room / library combo, elegantly decked out with subtle lighting and a huge wooden table. We loved the atmosphere and every "taste" served here. Hated to leave this one so soon. Nothing like a few good wines and vermouth for breakfast!
After Contratto we continued to Parma. We were on the toll road most of the way. We stopped at the Autogrill for gas, the Italian version of a rest stop. I went in without high hopes ... but what a surprise! On some of our trips we have rated U.S. rest stops on a one to five rating. This rates a 5+.
There was a fast food area with pizza, hot cured meat sandwiches on warm homemade rolls, roast chicken, cheeses, capresé salad (for me), etc. There was separate a " hot cafeteria" with meats, veggies, and pastas. There was all manner of beverage including a big selection of beers and wines in single serve sizes. There was a huge variety of homemade Italian pastries and chocolates.
The food was delicious and no one was rushing. Some were watching soccer on TV. People near us were laughing and telling stories as though they were eating around their own kitchen tables. After a leisurely lunch, we took a stroll around this mini shopping mall. There were tasteful souvenirs, toys, magazines, sundries, much more. I could have spent a few hours here. We recommended you check one of these out if you are ever driving in Italy, even if you don't need gas.