Italy's Le Marche Region

Andrea Priori, left, and his wife, Michela, and mother, Elia, prepared lunch for visitors in the family's winery, Tenute Priori e Galdelli, located in the rolling hillside vineyards of Italy's Le Marche region. Umberto Ballanti photo

What’s the future hold for a young man from a farming family when he’s embarrassed to talk about his roots?

That was the quandary Andrea Priori found himself in as he navigated his awkward teen years in the tiny village of Rosora, located in the heart of Italy’s verdicchio country.

It took a near-death experience for the youngest son of Giuseppe Priori and Elia Galdelli to take stock of his life and set his sights on a productive path.

We first met Priori on a wine tour at the Robert Mondavi Winery last summer. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, he was here with his new bride, Michela; they were on their honeymoon. An extended conversation — half in English, half in Italian — led to an invitation to visit the family winery, Tenute Priori e Galdelli, during an upcoming visit to Italy’s Le Marche region, some two-and-a-half hours northeast of Rome. This is the region where the parents of Robert and Peter Mondavi were born and that connection had prompted the newlyweds to stop off in Oakville to see first hand what the son of a Marchigiani had accomplished.

During a visit to friends Rita and Umberto Ballanti, who live in Sassoferrato, we set out for nearby Rosora at midday in order to take up an added invitation to join Andrea’s family for lunch at their spic-and-span winery located along a typical winding road in the hilly farm country.

During a delightful afternoon of outstanding food and wine, we learned how Andrea had come late to his family’s vocation.

His parents married in 1974, raising a family and eking out a living on a small agricultural plot in this region celebrated for its stellar verdicchio wines. Over the ensuing years, Andrea said his parents slowly converted a typical truck farm into vineyards. By 1990, his older brother was involved and helped with the conversion to vines.

But Andrea wasn’t buying any of this laidback farm life. “None of my friends were in agriculture,” he recounted, admitting that he was ashamed to say that he came from a farming family. “My friends had good wages and I just felt uneasy around them” he added — his comments coming with the help of translator Rita.

“I was 19 and didn’t see a path for myself,” he continued. “Then I was in a car accident — I came close to death ... it changed my life. I dropped out of school because I knew I had to make some changes. At the time, my family was fearing for my future.”

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But one bright sunny morning, his perspective changed. “I looked at the panorama (surrounding the family’s home) and it was like seeing it for the first time. Here was something I hadn’t taken time to see. I was seeing it with new eyes I guess. What I had felt was a burden before now seemed like a newfound joy.

“I had a new appreciation for what (his family) was doing ... my parents were overjoyed and my brother welcomed me to join him at the winery. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.”

And now he’s brought a bride to the fold, and he and his wife recently welcomed their first child, Gabriele.

The family welcomes visitors from all over Europe — with a substantial number coming from Denmark and Germany — year round, with most arriving between April and October.

With 15 hectares of vines, Andrea, his brother, Giancarlo, and parents produce an average of 15,000 bottles of wine each harvest. More than half of the production is verdicchio — including a passito and a spumante.

The largest production is Sette Campanile verdicchio, a tasty offering of the treasured grape from this region with a lot of bang for the buck. It retails for 3 euros. The family’s verdicchio superiore, Castrum Rosorij — named for the ancient town that dates to ancient Roman times — has all the qualities we expect to find in a great verdicchio, with a touch of mineral complementing the bitter almond finish.

Diaspra is the family’s Marche Rosso, 100 percent Montepulciano, a wine with deep violet color, dry tannins and a rich, round mouthfeel. The family also makes a Montepulciano aged for a couple of years in 5 hectoliter oak barrels — a dense, rich red with violets galore on the nose. It’s a special wine for regular clients.

Also part of the family’s portfolio is the wild cherry “visciola.” In the summer, when the cherries are mature, they are harvested and mixed together with wine and sugar to obtain a second temperature-controlled fermentation. The result is a sweet, aromatic wine that marries well with desserts and chocolate sweets.

Tenute Priori e Galdelli is located about a half hour from the Fabriano train station — itself some two-and-one-half hours by train from Rome. If you plan a visit to Le Marche, contact Andrea and his family first at the winery to arrange a guided tour. Maybe mama will fix lunch. He can be reached online at prioriegaldelli.it.

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