Become a Subscriber

Become a Contributor
Shop for Books by Our Contributors

Also Recommended

Global Adventure with Judith Fein and Paul Ross

Support This Site
Powered by Squarespace
25 Van Ness 25-word essays 40 State 40 Days 99cent store Adventure Travel Africa Aging Air Saftey air travel Airline fiasco Airline Passenger Bill of Rights airline safety Airplane airplane seat selection airport fiasco Alaska all-inclusive resort American Airlines American ignorance Amish Amsterdam Amtrak anger Arab Arabia architecture Argentina Arizona arm chair travel Art Asia Authentic Travel awards Backpack travel bad day baggage Bahamas Bali Balloon Festival ban whale watching Bangkok Barcelona beach being arrested Being authentic Belize Bellingham Washington belly dancing Belmont University Bhutan bicycling bike tour bikes bikes as therapy Billy the Kid bioluminescence Bird watching Birding birthday book contest Boycott Brattany Brazil Breaking news British Columbia Budget travel Buenos Aires Burma bus travel Cahokia Mounds Cairo California Cambodia Camino de Santiago Camping Canada Canadian Geese Cancer car travel Caribbean Caribbean rainforest Carnac Carnival Caving Central America Ceramics change your life Cheap travel Cheap trips cherish life Chetumal children China Christmas Christmas Day Bomber Claridges Class trip Classic Hotels claustrophobic flyer climate change coffee Colombia color contest continental airlines controversy Cook Islands Copenhagen Costa Rica courage cowboy culture Creative travel creative writing crisis Croatia Crop Circles cruise travel cruising Cuba cuisine Culinary travel Cultural travel Culture Cusco CVS cycling Czech Republic dance Death Death Valley National Park Denmark dining dining guide divorce Dominican Republic Dordogne Dubai Earthquake Easter Eco Travel eco-tourism eco-travel Ecuador Egypt elephant seal emergency preparedness England environmental commentary environmental problems Ethiopia Europe European Union excellence in travel writing expat living expats Faith falling family family resort family travel family vacation Fat Tuesday fear festival fiesta Filipino restaurant finances fitnees flight Florida Food forgetfulness forgiveness France French Camp Friendship frustrated flyer frustration gadgets Galapagos Garifuna Gaspe Peninsula Genealogy Germany Ghana gift guide Girona giveaway Glastonbury Festival global curiosity Global eating habits global nomad global warming good day Gorilla Trek Government GPS Grand Canyon grandparents Greece grief guys getaway Haiti happiness Hawaii healing healing journey hearing loss Helicopter tours hiking Historical travel Holiday Celebrations Home Honduras honeymoon horseback riding hotels How to how-to humor Hurricanes i do not love Venice i need a vacation Iceland Volcano Incas independenc India Indonesia inn reviews Inner Child Internal Reflection international marriage introvert iPhone app Ireland Islam isolation Israel Istanbul Italy Jack London Jamaica Japan JetBlue Jewish journaling Judith Fein Jules Older Kansas Karl Rove Kenya kindness of strangers land Language Las Vegas Latin America learning vacations Leukemia Library life lessons life transformation literature living abroad living like a local London Los Angeles loss Louvre at night love luxury hotels luxury travel Maine Malta Manatee Mardi Gras marriage Masonic Temple Massage Maui Maya meditation Mexico Michigan Middle East Military wedding Minnesota Missouri Molokai money Montana Monterey Moose Morocco mother's day mother-son travel motorcycle travel multigenerational vacation Music Musings Myanmar Namibia Nancy King National Prayer Day Native America nature Nepal Nevada New Mexico New Orleans New Year New York New Zealand Newfoundland Nicaragua Nigeria NNew Mexico noise Northwest Airlines Pilots Norway Nova Scotia Ohio Older parents Olive Oil Olympic Peninsula Washington orcas Oregon Orkney Islands outdoors ownership Pacific Northwest Parent's love Paris Partners Passover Paul Ross Pennsylvania personal essay Peru Pets Philippines photography contest Pilots Plane plastic plastic bags Poem Poetry police Politics Portugal postcards Pottery poverty Prague Prayer procrastination pueblo culture Puerto Rico Q&A Quebec Quito ranch vacation random acts of kindness rap song reading reasons to travel recession rejuvenation relaxation Religion Religious holidays remembering mothers Responsible travel. Sustainable travel restaurant reviews revolution River Rafting Road trip roadtrip romance romantic travel Rosemary Beach runway delay Russia Sacred Places sadness Safari sailing Samba music San Andrés de Teixido San Francisco Santa Fe Sardinia Saudi Arabia Scotland sea kayaking Sedona self discovery senior travel Serbia Shakespeare Shamanism shame Shopping short stories Sicily Siena silence Sisters ski vacation skiing Slow travel Slum Tourism Slumdog Millionaire small-group travel Soaking tub Sociology Songwriting South America South Dakota Southeast Asia soviet satellite Spa Spain spirituality Springtime SSan Francisco St. Louis St. Petersburg Standing Stones Steinbeck stress stuff happens Sumatra Summer cottage surfing surviving disaster Sushine Coast Switzerland Tacoma Taiwan Tanzania Taos Taxi Taxi Driver Tbex Texas Thailand The Netherlands the writing life Tokyo Tourism train trip Transformative travel transportation trash travel travel advice travel agents Travel Blogging travel commentary travel confession travel contest travel essay travel gear travel hassles travel humor Travel interrupted travel musings travel opinion travel photography Travel Reviews travel safe travel safety travel security travel technology travel traditions travel trends travel videos Travel with Kids Travel Writing traveling alone traveling with kids traveling with teens trekking trip to the dentist truffles TSA complaints Ttrain trip Tunisia turbulence Turkey Tuscany typhoon UFOs Uganda uncensored travel opinion UNESCO World Heritage Site Union Station United Arab Emirates United Kingdom Upstate New York Utah vacation vacation rental vacation tips Valentine's Day Vancouver Venezuela Venice Venice California Vermont Veterans Day Vietnam Vinayaka Chaturthi virtual vacation Wales Walking Washington Washington D.C. water project waves we don't care airlines weather wedding White Oaks Pottery White Sands National Monument why I fly why not to cruise why travel wildlife spotting wine Women travel workout World Festivals world peace World War I World War II writer's block Writing Yoga Yucatan Peninsula zombie boot camp
« Finding Courage in a Foreign Language | Main | The Doors (And Not The Ones You Think) »

Finding Mario Bollag

story + photos by Michael Housewright

Brunello di Montalcino is perhaps the finest wine produced in Italy. It is made entirely from Sangiovese grapes, grown just outside the hilltop town of Montalcino, in Tuscany. It was the first wine I ever loved.

I met Mario Bollag  at a wine bar I curated in Houston, Texas. He spoke impeccable English, and was easily the most charming winemaker I had met in all my years in the business. In addition, he made outstanding Brunello at his winery, Terrlasole.  We hit it off immediately, talked, and tasted wine for several hours. He invited me to visit him and the winery as soon as I could make my way overseas.

Less than two months after Mario’s visit to Houston, I took him up on his offer, and went to Italy. With my wife in tow, and a rental Volkswagen Golf procured, we set out from Rome airport in search of Mario Bollag.  Being a frequent traveler to Italy I assumed finding Mario in tiny Montalcino would be a cakewalk. I was wrong.

I had sent Mario at least five emails explaining our arrival times. He responded with short enthusiastic notes that stated his eagerness for our visit, and that he would be there waiting for us. He never really offered much detail other than to meet him at a gas station/bar on a corner, after the first roundabout entering Montalcino. 

When we arrived at the yellow service station, on a Thursday afternoon, at the prescribed meeting time, there was no Mario. I asked the clerk inside the bar if she knew Mario and if she had seen him. She said no, and that Mario had not passed that way in several days. I ordered two coffees and 2 waters while we waited, assuming he was just a bit delayed. After an hour, and with the clerk leering at us hoping we would leave, we decided Mario must have overlooked the time and we needed to call him. He had never offered me his phone number so I asked the clerk if she had it.  She smiled wryly and said, “No.” I decided we should proceed to the beautifully restored Fortezza, in the center of town, and inquire at the very fine wine shop inside as to Mario’s whereabouts and phone number.

We reached the Fortezza, where beneath its hulking ramparts sits the beautiful Enoteca la Fortezza. Inside this venerable shop, one finds great Brunello going back several decades. In addition, it is easy to order a plate of local salumi and cheeses to enjoy along with a glass or a bottle of other lovely, local wines. It is rather rude to ask for a service in Italy and not offer some remuneration, so I thought it wise to have some meat and drink a glass of lovely Tuscan white wine while devising our next move. 

This little courtesy presented us with our first clue to finding Mario. Our food arrived along with a paper map that crudely illustrated the locations of every official winery in Montalcino, as well as their phone numbers. Eureka! We sped back to the yellow station hoping Mario may have come searching for us. He had not, so I asked the Negative Nelly clerk if I could use her phone. She reluctantly gave me the bar phone so that I could try to call Mario. I was so proud of myself for working out this little snafu, but when no one answered the phone at Terralsole, my pride turned to disappointment. It appeared I was going to have to explain to my wife that we would have to give up. Instead of staying at a beautiful villa, we were going to be stuck in an overpriced hotel, and the dream of meeting Mario would unceremoniously end before it had begun.

As I hung up the phone, and before I could say a word, my wife looked at the map and said, “Let’s go find this guy.” We tore away in our trusty GOLF and started down a series of country roads, each leading to progressively less pavement and increasingly steeper grades. After several wrong turns and bottom-outs, we saw a small sign for Terralsole which pointed straight up to the top of a ridge. I revved the engine and pushed the rented VW as hard as it would go, kicking up plumes of white dust behind us from the rocky driveway. As we neared the top of the hill the twin buildings, of the most beautiful winery and villa in Tuscany, came into view.

Frazzled from a 3-hour drive from Rome, and an additional 2-and-half-hour search, we parked and got out of the car. A beautiful woman in her early thirties met us in the drive. It was Mario’s wife, Athena. She said nonchalantly, “You must be Michael; Mario is down in the cantina.” I am certain Athena had no idea Mario had told us to meet him in town, and she certainly was unaware of the triumph of curiosity that had led us to her door.

Moments later, Mario came bounding up from the rows of vines, wearing shorts, hiking boots, and carrying his laptop. He was overjoyed to see us, and when I mentioned that we thought we were meeting him in town, he simply smiled his amazing smile and said “Here you are” and began to show us the property. We have been dear friends with Mario and Athena ever since that day. 

I was inclined to believe our adventure finding Mario had been a test to see just how much we wanted to be there, and how resourceful we could be. However, I know Mario believes that all situations will ultimately work themselves out, and that plans, schedules, and emails serve only to outline the possibilities. After all, this was Italy and he makes an outstanding Brunello di Montalcino.

Michael Housewright is a full-time travel writer and photographer celebrating 21 years traveling to Italy. Michael curates The Blissful Adventurer and this fall is leading an 8 day and 7 night exploration of the iPhone and Puglia in Southern Italy. Join Michael for a chance to create your own extraordinary story in pictures.



PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (5)

Fantastic story.

June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Loved it! Getting lost in Tuscany is half the fun of being there and eventually you reach your destination :-)

June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Michael, I enjoyed your story and the resourcefulness and persevence required to reach your goal – a good Life lesson. "Mario believes that all situations will ultimately work themselves out, and that plans, schedules, and emails serve only to outline the possibilities." This seems to encapsulate the philosophy of much of the world that has a different relationship to Time than being ruled and oppressed by it, as many people are in the U.S. Living in Mexico, I found it insightful and freeing to understand that in the Spanish language there is no concept of "spending" or "wasting" time, you only "pasa tiempo," or pass time. I suspect this is true in Italian as well? Thanks for taking us on this journey!

June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAysha Griffin

Were all the images in the story shot on an iPhone? If so, what program(s) did you use for processing?-I'm curious because I just got an iPhone 5 and would like to start using it for travel photos and videos. But there is just so much software out there, it's difficult to assess which is of applicable value?
Thanks for your opinion and your story.

June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Ross

First of all, thanks for the kind comments Paul, Sam, Alysha, and Paul Ross. I am so pleased you all enjoyed the article. Alysha, I am certain that life in Italy is more about being in the moment versus trying to control one's use of time. I am afraid that Italy though is undergoing some change that may force it to eventually function more like the US. I am certainly concerned.

Paul Ross, none of these images were taken with an iPhone but the first one of the bottle and the image of the villa were indeed edited with my iPhone. I wrote a recent post on some of the things I do on my iPhone in the editing process. You may find it here

Cheers to you all!

June 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Housewright

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...