We were in Italy, traveling from Florence to Rome; the year was 1983. Before we left Florence, I had spotted a mention of a winery near Montalcino that had a nice mid-day meal. Montalcino is between Florence and Rome, and along the route, so we decided to stop in.
In the center of this great medieval city we saw a little fingerboard sign pointing to Fattoria dei Barbi; we followed the sign. Soon we saw another. We traced our way to the winery via the signs, sometimes doubling back because we had missed one.
Arriving at the winery, we went to the most obvious place for a restaurant, a low, smaller building. Although the door posted hours of Noon to 8PM, and it was 12:30, it was locked. We knocked.
A wizened gentleman opened the door, welcomed us, and escorted us to a 12-person bench. He poured wine into the jug on the table, and disappeared.
Over the next hour, the room filled with all kinds of people, some obviously workers from the winery, some from the city. The quiet room became a roar of conversation. In the meantime, we enjoyed course after course of delicious food, always accompanied by a refresh of our table jug.
After too many courses to remember, it was time for a finish. And Mr. Barbi himself, the patriarch Grandfather of the family, arrived with a full bottle of Grappa (the wonderful Italian aquavit). He poured a glass each for Becky and me, and watched and waited while we tasted it.
He immediately refilled our glasses! It quickly became clear to me (as I have since discovered several times) that this was The Grappa Ceremony. Drink again, and we are refilled! Realizing that we had another several hours’ drive to Roma, we had two options: drain the bottle, or leave full glasses on the table.
First we encouraged Mr. Barbi to also participate. That helped. Then we got the others at our table to share. That helped more. Once on a roll, we got the other tables to help drain the bottle of magnificent Grappa, and we paid our check, then departed, to the cheers of the workers and visitors.
Fattoria dei Barbi had ups and downs in the 1980s. More recently, they have excellent Brunello de Montalcino in good years, and good wines in other years. And, they continue to be a great visit if you are in the area.
Still today, Fattoria dei Barbi serves wonderful meals at their winery in the outskirts of Montalcino. But be aware of the Grappa ceremony, if you have far to drive. Enjoy!