I’ve been wanting to go see Gambino Winery for a long time. Like… years. But Elliott and I both wanted to invite friends to go with us, and we just never planned ahead enough to do that. (Typical.) Finally we got our act together and invited two couples that are becoming good friends. (See this post!)
Unfortunately, the morning that we chose to go also happened to be a day that Etna decided to erupt. She’s been erupting a lot lately, but it’s usually just a pretty spew of lava. That day, unfortunately, it was a gigantic ash cloud, the largest we’d ever seen. We admired it from our kitchen window and then jumped in the car to drive up the slopes of Mt Etna to the winery.
You might be thinking ahead of us and wondering if there could be a problem here? The fact that we were driving right into the ash cloud didn’t occur to us until we were about to get off the highway and both turned to each other in surprise.
“Is the road under construction? What’s all this gravel?”
“Wait, is there something falling on the car? Is it raining?”
“No, it’s ash from Etna. Wow, the whole road is covered. It’s not gravel… it’s a 1/2 inch of ash! And it’s still falling!”
We got off the highway, noticing with a slight sense of anxiety that the highway entrance was now closed indefinitely. We turned onto smaller mountain roads as we began to climb the mountain toward the winery.
My friend Laura texted me to say that their GPS indicated they would be 15 minutes late… sorry! (No problem… so would we. As usual. Everywhere.)
We continued to follow Google Maps on my phone as it wound up the mountain. The GPS led us to turn off onto smaller and steeper roads, which is a serious issue when they are covered in loose, gravelly ash. A couple of times our car’s tires whined, scrabbling for purchase on the slippery roads, and then lurched forward, fishtailing slightly before getting a grip. We exchanged sweaty glances and ignored our increasingly fussy kids in the back seat.
After a couple of stressful wrong turns, we finally followed our GPS around a tight turn and up a narrow gravel road. At this point we dead-ended at a farm, made a wrong turn, came back to the farm, and stared at the road the GPS was telling us to take. I got out and walked down the road to confirm our suspicions. No, we were correct. The “road” was a farm lane that petered out into a straggly vegetable patch. From somewhere nearby we heard a farmer singing as he worked in his garden.
We were officially completely lost.
At that moment we heard a car coming up the road behind us, tires digging furiously in the loose gravel and ash. We got out of our car to watch as a large, black, American car squeezed around the rock wall and then slowly pulled up in front of us. Our friends got out.
“So I guess this isn’t the winery?
I’m going to skip ahead — past the hilarious laughter, past the cheerful Italian man who came upon us then and guided us back to the main road in his car, past the realization that the directions on the winery website were actually correct, past the absurd and second wrong turn that led us up steep gravelly roads that we eventually had to all back our cars down, past the enormous and almost anguished sense of relief we felt as we parked our cars and ran into the winery, ever-so-grateful for that basket of bread and full glasses of dark red wine.
And then there we were, sitting peacefully around a large farmhouse table, eating and drinking and relaxing together the way you assume you always will when you move to Italy. Roads and GPS units excepted.
For 20 euro for each adult, we were served a full meal of antipasti, sausages, soups, espresso, and dessert, and we also were given five bottles of wine to taste and take home and as much bread, olive oil, and balsamic as we could eat.
Three of the five wonderful wines that we sampled.
Very typical Sicilian food: grilled eggplant and sausages sprinkled with crushed pistachios.
Alyssa and Jake… who read this blog before they got to Sicily and now get to see themselves on it! What what!
Eggs from local free-range hens. Apparently the eggs went very well with the last, strongest wine!
My sweet friend Laura and her new fan, Miss Lena-Making-Silly-Faces.
Growing big and handsome on Italian bread and olive oil.
After the meal we headed outside for awhile to walk off the wine and take in the view. The patio outside the winery was covered in crunchy, ever-so-lightweight ash, some of the chunks as big as our palms.
We could step right into the vineyards themselves and walk around. Clusters of grapes still clung to the branches, and the leaves were turning red and gold in the cold autumnal air.
The main building of the winery is brand new and beautiful, and the owners are digging a wine cellar now that will be visible through the plexiglass floor of the main tasting room.
Tasting the season’s leftovers!
We attempted a family picture in the vineyard, and this one makes me laugh. So typical of Gil these days!
But this one turned out pretty well. To our new friends: thanks so much for braving the mountain right after it erupted (talk about induction into the Sicilian Driving Club) and for making crazy memories in Italy with us! We’re so glad you’re here.
What a surreal experience! I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to push through the ashes… That food and wine looked good enough to make it worth it, though :).
This is Elliott’s A. Becky – LOVED your post about the winery tour that Steve forwarded. Enjoy your stay in Italy – and such a pleasure to see the family pics. Beautiful kids you have! Hugs from Colorado.
Thank you so much, Aunt Becky! Good to hear from you!
“…car’s tires whined…” Love it!!! What a great adventure.
I was captured by your writing and felt like I could have been with you, especially as you got lost. Not sure I would have liked that part, though it Was an adventure. Glad it had such a delightful ending for everyone!