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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Transforming a Barolo Door

Today’s blue door did not start off blue, but brown. I wasn’t too happy with the exterior decorator’s choice of color, so I painted it blue myself

This week’s article is a simple transformation of a theoretically photogenic door. At the time that I saw the door in the small town of Barolo in the Piemonte, I suspected that I could turn that door from a snapshot into a fine-art photo. Let’s see what you think…

The favored wine of the Langhe of the Piemonte is the Barolo wine, which is named after the small Langhe village of non-other-than Barolo. This village is most assuredly photogenic. In future blog articles, you will see other ‘Transformation…’ articles featuring photos taken in Barolo.

Here is the final transformed door, just as I imagined it when I took the photos there in ‘the field’.

Today’s blue door did not start off blue, but brown. I wasn’t too happy with the exterior decorator’s choice of color, so I painted it blue myself…digitally, of course. And, to be sure that I had enough high-quality pixels to use in this transformation, l elected to take three photos that I would then stitch into a panorama.

Here are the three original snapshots that gave me what I needed for this transformation.

After stitching the three photos together into a lethargic panorama, as seen here. Not much to look at, huh…except for a lot of distortion.

The doorways to the left and right were just distractions to the star of this show — that being the multi-paneled door. Now I pulled out the paint brush and changed that dull door into a nice blue, rustic door. Additionally, that metal plate on the brick street needed to go, so I eliminated it. The door to the left and ally to the right also needed to go, so I eliminated both of them. Here is the transformation, thus far.

Oh, about that letter slot. Normally, I eliminate obviously modern paraphernalia like pad locks and letter slots to go along with my desire to give you a timeless Italy. But, this letter slot intrigued me. I like the patina and the fact that it says ‘Lettere’ (that’s Italian for ‘letters’, by the way). So, I decided to leave the letter slot in place, which I’m sure pleases the residents no end.

The last thing left is that disturbing distortion in the stone work of the wall…done. And once again, here is the final, transformed blue door of Barolo.

So, how did I do on the job of transforming that dull, brown door?

I hope you enjoyed today’s image-centric article.

Ciao for now,

Steve

The Results Are In -- Part 17

Me, trying to find an erupting geyser in a blizzard

Trees: Life in the Slow Lane”…that was the gallery show topic of the Vermont PhotoPlace Gallery in their May-June, 2019, showing. The photo that I submitted, and that was accepted for the show, was taken just this winter in Yellowstone National Park.

The photo selected for the showing was taken at the Fountain Paint Pots...

My lovely wife, Ellen, surprised me with a Christmas gift of two weeks photographing in the Yellowstone-Teton area during early February. This took care of one of my bucket-list items.

Two photo tours were arranged by Ellen. The first was spent in northern Yellowstone National Park in search of wolves, among many other species of wildlife. The second tour started in Teton National Park and included a snow-coach ride to Old Faithful. What a joy that was as heavy and continuing snow fell as we seemed to float our way from the town of West Yellowstone to Old Faithful. Along the way, we had ample opportunity to take photos.

The photo selected for the showing was taken at the Fountain Paint Pots between Old Faithful and Madison Junction. I was drawn to the stark contrast of dark trees, golden-colored waters, and white snow.


I know. I know. You are asking yourself (and me through extrasensory means), “Are those colors real?!”. And I answer, “Yes, they are'“. It has something to do with the algae and minerals and mysterious things of nature like that.


The Double Whammy

Recognition for this photo doesn’t stop at the PhotoPlace Gallery.

There is an interesting photo website that is ironically called, “Don’t Take Pictures”. I think the point of the name must be that we should be taking photos instead…maybe? I don’t know.

Anyway, I was contacted by Kat Kiernan, the site host, about using this photo as the Photo of the Day on their website. Of course, I said “Yes”. So they did, as shown here.

 

That’s it for today. I will be back to Italy in my next installment. Meanwhile, if you would like to see photos from my Yellowstone and Teton experience, you can view a sampling just below.

Yes, those last two photos are a beautiful amber-eyed wolf and a grizzly. Yellowstone is a fabulous place — especially in winter.


Until next time when Italy will once again be the topic…don’t drink yellow water!

Ciao for now,

Steve

Eat Here: Donna Selvatica in Neive

Index of Articles

You’ve heard of the term, “A Diamond in the Rough”, which refers to something special surrounded by something not so special. I was going to suggest that for a subtitle for this article, but it just doesn’t work. The Ristorante Donna Selvatica is surely a diamond, but it doesn’t sit in a rough…it sits in a charming hillside town called Neive.

So, let’s say that Donna Selvatica is a diamond on a golden crown, instead.

We happened upon this place within a place after a long afternoon of wining at Michele Chiarlo’s Le Orme vineyards and Calamandrana winery…I know, someone has to do it, so we gave of ourselves for each of you. And, you’re welcome.

The folks of Neive finally had something to be proud of when their last homegrown countess, Countess Maria Vittoria, became Queen of Spain

As just mentioned, we spent the afternoon touring the Michele Chiarlo vineyards, winery, and tasting room (more on that in a future article). It was early evening as we headed west to our lodgings at Villa Gremi. We had not researched, or even thought about, dinner because we were so intrigued with our afternoon activities. So wife Ellen took to Google as we headed west and suddenly shouted out, “Turn right at the next road!”. Being well trained, I turned right at the next road. This road led to heretofore unheard of Neive. Having interpreted the command to, “Park right here!” to mean park right here, I parked. Who says I never listen?!

Walking the cobblestone and brick-paved streets of Neive soon led us to Ristorante Donna Selvatica. As we arrived well before the opening hour of 19:00 (aka 7:00pm), we made a reservation for patio dining and we explored Neive, as described a bit further in this article.

We really liked this restaurant…the location, the view, the ambiance, the service, the wine, the food…everything.

The location is pretty much in the center of Neive, as can be seen in the aerial view a bit further down the page.

 

But the view…magnificent. The rolling, vine-covered hills go on and on, with the small town of Barbaresco sitting mid-distance.

 

This closeup view from our table provides detail of the famous Barbaresco Tower, and an elevator ride to its top continues those magnificent views.

 

For our nightly…daily…frequent…toast, we chose a white wine called Arneis. We had never heard of Arneis until our afternoon tour at Michele Chiarlo, which happens to also produce this crisp, minerally-yet-light wine. The grapes are grown in the Roero area of Piemonte. It is now our favorite white wine of Italy.

Those are in-laws Craig and Leslie Johnson toasting on the patio.

 

The homemade ravioli pasta with mountain butter and 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano is poised and ready to be eaten.

 

Might this be a mix of potato gnocchi pasta on Castelmagno-cheese cream, and sliced Castelmagno cheese with honeydew honey, jams and Langa Bio hazelnuts? Yes, I believe so. It’s like eating a cheese-covered cloud.

 

At this point I was in a food coma of some sort, so I don’t remember exactly what this dish is. But, it appears to be duck fixed a couple of ways — one of which is wrapped in pancetta. I’ll find out exactly what it was next time I’m there.

 

You know how sometimes you don’t have room to order dessert, but they bring you some anyway? I think that’s what this is.

 

If you are a grappa fan, and I’m thinking that one-in-a-hundred of you might be, they have dozens from which to choose.

 

Here you can click to see an actual Italian/English menu from Donna Selvatica >>>

 

But before we depart, I need to tell you what ‘Donna Selvatica’ translates to in English. That would be ‘Wild Woman’. You don’t have to be/take a wild woman to this restaurant; however, Craig and I found that it helps. We love our own wild women!


The Town of Neive

While waiting to eat at Donna Selvatica, we explored to tiny town of Neive.

Like many of the small hill towns of the Piemonte, this one sits on a hill — naturally. The hill upon which it sits is about 4 miles northeast of Alba, which is one of the towns-of-considerable-size in the Piemonte.

Neive is a very small town. This photo shows its extent. Ristorante Donna Selvatica is within the red oval.

 

Today, things are quiet in Neive, but it hasn’t always been that way. Witness the fate of the nice Castle of Neive that used to stand here proud. The Neivesi had a hard time of it in 1274 because both the communes of Alba and Asti wanted that little hill-top town as their own. The Albesi and Astigiani met for battle, and since neither could pull off the heist of the town, it seems that one or both of them destroyed the Castle of Neive in spite. But did they have to take it out on the nice folks of Neive?!

Then, in the next century they were totally embarrassed when Giangaleazzo Visconti’s daughter Valentina married the Duke of Orleans and the town was given up by her father as her dowry. And I thought an envelope with cash and some jewels were customary.

A couple of centuries later Neive went to the House of Savoy, and then to the French for 17 years before being returned to the House of Savoy.  In 1618, Neive became a fief assigned to Count Vittorio Amedeo Dal Pozzo, who assumed the title of First Count of Neive. The folks of Neive finally had something to be proud of when their last homegrown countess, Countess Maria Vittoria became Queen of Spain.

I’m guessing that after all of that, they would just like to be left alone. But go anyway, because in addition to Donna Selvatica there is a particularly nice little shop there.


Fili di Fantasia translated to English is Fantasy Threads.

We were really surprised to find this nice shop of things with threads open at a late hour — and frankly that it existed at all on its itsy-bitsy street.

Wife Ellen and Sis-in-law Leslie were quite pleased with this little shop.

 

And, I was quite pleased with the view from the back balcony.

And yes, purchases were made.


Strolling Neive

We found the brick pavers to be a bit easier on the feet than the cobbles, but either are more charming than the typical asphalt pavement.

The church of Saints Peter and Paul existed in the 12th century, but was rebuilt to its present form in the 18th century. I was fortunate to capture in a gorgeous evening light.

 

The inside of the church is very peaceful with numerous artworks.

 

Here you see a typical home and garden. Note the soil. It is calcareous and is just what the enologist ordered for the growing of grape vines.

One would think its not so great for vegetable gardens, though.

 

Love the Italian roof tiles!

Wish I had them on my villa.

Wish I had a villa.

Wish I was even near a villa!

 

Though these people are not enjoying a meal at Donna Salvatica, they do look to be having a good time.

 

As we closed out our evening in Neive, we were treated to the lights of the surrounding hill-top towns, with Barbaresco prominently featured in the foreground.



 

We fondly remember our afternoon in Neive and our evening dinner at Ristorante Donna Selvatica. If you are in the area, I would recommend that you follow my wife’s advice and, “Turn right at the next road!”…you will not be disappointed…unless you are coming from the other direction, of course.

If we happen to be at Donna Selvatica at the same time one evening, I’ll gladly let you purchase the first bottle of Arneis…I’ll get the second.

Ciao for now,

Steve


Renato Ratti Winery

Index of Articles

‘The King of Wines’: that’s the title bestowed on the Barolo wines of the Langhe region of northern Italy. And Renato Ratti’s Barolo is the culmination of decades of this royal lineage. We experienced the charm of Renato Ratti during the fall of 2018.

The Langhe is a beautiful area of the Piemonte, or ‘foot hills’ (Piedmont in English…and why do we change place names like that, by the way?).

The view like this one from the Renato Ratti winery is breathtaking, and it is typical of the views within the Langhe.

Click any image for a larger view

Our recommendation? Go to the Renato Ratti winery to experience the Barolo wine-making process. Visit their beautiful facility with one of their informed hosts. Then opt for the higher-end wine tasting that will find you sampling several vintage Barolo wines.
 

The Grape

The predominant grape of the Langhe is the Nebbiolo grape, seen here growing on the hillside vineyard of Renato Ratti.

This beautiful grape gives Barolo wines its body and rich color. And by the way, it is also the grape of the Barbaresco wines of the Piemonte, though the Nebbiolo grape for Barbaresco is grown a few miles away in a different micro-climate and in significantly different soils.

 

The Founder

Renato Ratti is the founder of this fine winery. After spending his younger years learning the art of wine making in Brazil, he returned to his native Italy in 1965 to begin his legendary journey in the vinification of Barolo wine. On the hillside immediately above the current winery lies the Abbey of L'Annunziata. It is in this 14th Century abandoned abbey that he created his first vintage of Barolo.

This is the man, himself — Renato Ratti. Doesn’t he look like a man you would have liked to have called ‘a friend’? And not just because of that large bottle of Barolo he is holding!

Renato Ratti came into the wine business with what to me seems like a bit of an edge…he had no family history of wine making…he had no regimented tradition that, though historical, may have been flawed, or non-productive. It’s best said in his own words: “I came to the world of winemaking without a family tradition behind me. I believe that this opening admission is necessary, for being free of any ancestral ties or responsibilities, I was able to face Barolo with neither pride nor prejudice, but with unfettered freedom.” Unfettered freedom…I like that aspect of his learning process.

Sadly, Renato passed away in 1988 at the young age of 54. Fortunately for the wine industry, his son Pietro had recently graduated from nearby Alba's renowned Enological School. Pietro took charge of the company and has guided it into the 21st century, including construction of the modern, new winery in 2002.


The Locale

A visit to Renato Ratti winery is special in many ways — from the greeting, the creative introductory video, the unique gravity-inspired winery, and of course, the tasting of Renato Ratti’s fabulous wines.

The winery sits on a hillside below the town of La Morra, the dominant town of the Barolo wine region.

In the aerial view below, you can see one of the aspects that makes Renato Ratti winery so unique. It is difficult to see the footprint of the winery (bounded in red) because of the vegetation-covered ‘green’ roof. This winery is vertically oriented, rather than being spread out over acres.

The original location of the winery in the 14th-century Abbey of L'Annunziata is bounded in blue.

The fact that the winery sits on the slope of a hillside leads us to the other unique aspect of this winery. The slope of the hillside allows the flow of gravity to work for Renato Ratti, eliminating the need for needlessly agitating the wine through pumping during the vinification process.

Here you can see from the elevator panel that there are a total of 5 floors in the winery.

 

And thick concrete walls hold back the hillside in the subterranean levels of the winery.

 

And the soil that produces the Nebbiolo grape variety? Beautiful! Really?

I must say that, like a baby that only its mother would call beautiful, the soil is beautiful only to a vintner. In this photo from the Renato Ratti winery’s web site, you can see the calcareous soil responsible for the growing of the Nebbiolo grapes that produce such a fine wine — very little organic, lots of mineral. Molto perfetto!


Our Visit

Upon our arrival, we found this modern facility for the production of Barolo wine. Note the green roof. And the beautiful countryside of the Langhe.

 

Barolo is not the only wine vinified by Renato Ratti - here are some of the wines, and a grappa, that are produced by Renato Ratti. Click on an image for a larger view.

Behind this wall of wooden wine boxes sit the staff of Renato Ratti winery, busily filling orders for their wonderful selection of wines.

After being greeted by our beautiful host for the tour, Christine, she directed us to a video that blew our minds!

This video was prepared by Pietro, himself. It is the most creative and informative video we have ever seen that explains the history and origins of a wine production area. If you are at all interested in Italian wine, you will be well rewarded if you click on the video thumbnail to view Pietro’s hand-crafted masterpiece.

Our tour quickly moved to the vinification floors.

As we were in Italy at harvest time, the grape-handling process was in full swing. Here is where grapes are fed into presses for extraction of their juice.

After grapes are destemmed and crushed, they undergo a thermo-controlled fermentation in the steel vats.

Malolactic fermentation in November is then accomplished in oak barrels.

 

An elevator takes us below the fermentation tanks to the aging barrels.

 

Here Craig, Leslie, my wife Ellen and I learned about Renato Ratti’s wine production process from our host, Christine.

 

A soon-to-be-delicious Barolo Marcenasco waits its turn to be bottled after 2 years of aging. But wait…don’t drink it right away…this fine wine can wait for you for over 20 years. We soon learned the benefits of letting the wine age in your home cellar, so read on.

In this deep, dark cellar, we saw bottles awaiting their fill, as well as the Ratti’s own private reserve of bottled wines.


The Tasting

As Craig soon found out, like all of the other aspects of the Renato Ratti winery, the tasting room was gorgeous.

Besides wanting to know how Barolo wine tastes, we also wanted to know how aging of wine affects the enjoyment of red wines. We opted to purchase the Exclusive Tasting. This allowed us to experience the impacts of progressively-aged vintages of the Renato Ratti Barolos.

WARNING: Don’t try to enjoy a vintage wine-tasting experience with a stuffy nose! There is a lot of sniffing required to fully enjoy the experience!

Christine was a wonderful host — she is knowledgeable and willing to answer all of our questions.

[NOTE: The Coravin device that Christine is using allows one to sample wine from a bottle without removing the cork; thus preserving the wine from destruction through oxidation. We have been able to sample 30-year old wine using this excellent device. See a full Coravin description here.]

Seen here are the wines we tasted. Christine gave us an excellent interpretation of each of these wines. We started with the Nebbiolo, as a representation of a young wine that only ages for about one year before release. Then we worked our way across with Barolos from 2014, 2013, 2004 and finally, a 20-year old 1998.

What did we learn from this tasting?

First, we learned that a Barolo, being a full-flavored and full-bodied wine, should be aged in your cellar before being uncorked. It is best to drink between 6 to 12 years after the vintage. As we learned upon tasting each vintage, the flavor comes out as the tannin drops over time. The tannin of the younger Barolo wines will suck the moisture right out of your mouth...your lips kind of get stuck to your teeth. As the tannin drops, the elegant flavor of the wine becomes more evident.

Second, we learned that the color changes significantly over time: moving from the typical garnet red in the younger wines, to a not-off-putting orangy-brown in the later vintages. Don’t take the color change as a flaw…consider it a feature.


The Labels

We were intrigued by the labels on some of the non-Barolo wines that Renato Ratti winery produces. You will note that there are uniformed militia featured on six of the labels.

Ratti’s research into the history of the Barolo area revealed that each of the hill towns put together a uniformed militia to combat invading armies, like Napoleon’s. Matching the geography of these hill towns to the location of vineyards supplying grapes for their wines, the Rattis developed the labels for the regionally-associated wines.

In this example, the militiaman of 1775 served in the Asti regiment, about 20 miles northeast of the Renato Ratti winery.


Our Recommendation

Go to the Renato Ratti winery to experience the Barolo wine-making process.

Visit their beautiful facility with one of their informed hosts.

Then opt for the higher-end educational wine tasting that will find you sampling several vintage Barolo wines. You will not be disappointed.


Here is a closing photo from our wonderful time at the Renato Ratti winery. In the photo, from left to right are: my wife Ellen, our host Christine, brother- and sister-in-law Craig & Leslie, myself, and the driving force behind the Renato Ratti winery, Pietro Ratti.


We were pleased that Pietro, when we mentioned that we were from the Denver area, immediately offered, “Ahh, the Barolo Grill!”. He knows it well, as it has been a stop in the annual take-your-employees-to-Italy trip that Barolo Grill conducts. Wouldn’t a place that takes the staff to Italy each year be a wonderful place to work?! It certainly is a wonderful place to eat!


Renato Ratti Winery

Coravin Wine Preservation System

Barolo Grill Restaurant in Denver

I hope you enjoyed our wonderful time spent at the Renato Ratti Winery in the Langhe region of Piemonte, Italy. If we run into you there upon our next visit, I’ll buy you a bottle of wonderful Barolo wine! Otherwise, Renato Ratti wines are readily available at restaurants and wine shops in the U.S.

Ciao for now,

Steve


The Results Are in -- Part 16

The live online gala was attended by 11,829 photography fans around the globe, who logged on to watch the climax of the industry’s most important event for color photography.

OK folks, this one’s big. It’s the International Color Awards, and it’s the leading international award honoring excellence in color photography. Awards were announced during the spring of 2019. In a field of over 7,000 entries from 79 countries, I am honored to have had seven of my photos recognized, from nomination (a limited number of photos selected for further consideration by the distinguished industry judges), to honorable mention, to receiving a third place (aka ‘Honor of Distinction’) in the Americana category.

A press release was even provided…so I’ll let that press release say the rest, following this gallery of considerations and winners.


NOMINATED FOR FURTHER JUDGING

Aerial Category

Yes, I have a drone, and I love to use it. The first photo below was found while hovering over East Vail, and the second is the Snake River (of Colorado), near Keystone.

Springtime Shadows

Serpentine

Architecture Category

This photo was taken in Venice, Italy. You may have seen it before…and some of you even have it hanging in your homes!

One-Thousand Years in the Making


HONORABLE MENTION

Abstract Category

A photo captured during a visit to Scott Kelby’s PhotoShop World Conference in 2012. I saw this demolished-building scene (minus the pedestrian) just across from the Washington DC Convention Center conference site. The abstract nature of the photo comes from my insertion of a lone figure taking the stairs…kind of.

Taking the Stairs

Aerial Category

Whilst driving through central Nevada (which I found absolutely fascinating, by the way…more in the next photo’s discussion), it came to me that I had been driving in a very, very straight line for a very, very long time. I pulled to the side of the highway and flew my drone up to get this straight-as-an-arrow view.

Straight as an Arrow

Americana Category

Still in central Nevada, I discovered one of the by-gone icons of Americana — the drive-in theater — abandoned as most are today. I was going for a look of ‘western-Americana-like desolation’ in the photo, and I think I achieved that. This photo is titled, “Matinee”.

Matinee

To be perfectly honest (is there any other kind of honesty, by the way?) the drive-in theater is located about 140 crow-flown miles from the background scenery…thank you Photoshop. The small photo shows the lay of the actual derelict drive-in theater in Yerington, Nevada.

 

HONOR OF DISTINCTION

3rd Place in the Americana Category

Here is my photo that garnered 3rd place overall in the Americana category. I captured this rather ironic photo - titled ‘Drive Thru Window’ - in Van Horn, Texas. And west-Texas-isolated Van Horn is chock-a-block full of scenes like this one. And yes, that is pretty much a drive-through window.

Drive Thru Window


And now, as promised, here is the press release they provided that lays out the specifics of this international contest, including a list of the distinguished judges.

PressRelease.jpg

So, there you have it. And, I’m glad to say that at least one of the photos above was taken in Italy! More from Italy coming soon.

Ciao for now,

Steve