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swirl and savor

Intro to Divine Sicily: A Culinary, Wine and Cultural Tour

Beth Ribblett

It was one of those moments where we happened to be at the right place at the right time and meet the right person. Kerry and I were speakers on a panel last year at the Women Chef's and Restaurateurs national conference where we discussed alternative careers for women in wine. There was a woman in the front row that asked a lot of great questions and stayed to speak with us after the presentation. It was one of those crazy instant connections that you make when in the first 5 minutes you feel as if you've known the person forever. We started talking and arranged to meet at the shop the next day. We discovered that we shared a passion for wine, food and travel and that our new friend had organized several culinary tours to Sicily and was looking to add a wine component to her trips. Were we interested in working with her?!? Well as you can imagine the response was a resounding YES and we've all been working on this since last July.

Our responsibility has been to determine what we feel were the top wineries to visit. We're talking quality here, top notch, Gambero Rosso awarding winning, highly touted, best of the best, cream of the crop, get the idea. And I can tell you that delving into the Sicilian wine world is unlike anything else in Italy. Active volcanoes, little known indigenous varietals, wacky winemakers and cultural influences that change dramatically from one end of the island to the other, Sicily is one exciting place for wine!

But through our relationships with importers, producers and of course a little guidance from our favorite Italian wine guy, Antonio Molesini, we have put together an incredible itinerary that takes you from the profound wines of Frank Cornelissen in Mount Etna, the extreme purity of COS in the southeast to the traditional powerhouses of Donnafugata and Planeta in the west. I get goosebumps when I read the itinerary!

Our other hosts, Cynthia Nicholson and her partner in crime, Elisabeth Zoria have organized several culinary and cultural tours of Sicily and know the ins and outs of the island from one end to the other. They'll take us from visiting a cheese and salumi producing family in the east to the beautifully Baroque city of Ragusa, picnicing at the Valley of the Temples on the shores of the Mediterranean, tasting freshly pressed olive oil at the Mandranova and farmhouse cooking classes featuring the foods of the region.

Wherever in the world she travels, Cynthia Nicholson loves seeking out individual food artisans, farmers, chefs, - people who care about food, how it was made or raised and the story behind it. She admires the history and tradition of peasant food-dishes and ingredients that have been prepared the same way for centuries. The food that springs directly from regional cultures and cuisine. She grew up on the Gulf coast of Alabama in a coastal farming region and was raised in a tradition of fresh, seasonal cooking. Her love of food has taken her on many adventures including cooking on yachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, serving as Food Editor of Country Living and Real Simple magazines, and teaching cooking classes around the country.

Elizabeth Zoria grew up in an apricot orchard in Northern California. The daughter of a fruit farmer in a family of Sicilian heritage, where life seemed to happen around the kitchen table. She fell in love with Sicily sixteen years ago when she visited family in Palermo and was excited that life happened around the table there too. After years of owning a bar in the Mission District of San Francisco, she realized it was time to follow her dream. While searching for a new place to call home, Elizabeth met Cynthia in a cooking class in a farmhouse in the Madonie Mountains. Today, she enjoys life in the sweet Sicilian seaside town of San Gregorio, where her days are filled with cooking, laughing, and life around the kitchen table.

Keep an eye out for my next post where I'll release the full itinerary and details of the trip!