It took only 10 minutes for our guide to realise we were not connoisseurs, as he took us through the impressive Ricasoli Wine complex in the hills of Tuscany, in October, 1994.
Photo 1: Ricasoli Winery
Maybe it was the Kangaroo rugby league touring outfits, or the the fact everyone drank the wine without at first savoring the bouquet and taste. In other words, no-one expectorated.
Our guide, a Dutchman, had been assigned to look after our group of 44 alleged wine aficionados from the land down under.
How did our group, the Brisbane Souths Supporters’ Tour, come to be swanning around the hills of Tuscany, being feted with lunch in a village trattoria, followed by a tour of the Ricasoli family castle?
After taking my first Kangaroo supporters’ tour to the UK in 1990, I was asked to do it again in 1994. Once again, it was Souths’ stalwarts, Graham and Jean Kerr who were at the helm of organising the numbers, with the Souths’ and Easts’ clubs almost equally represented.
Jean had got the idea from Jim Lewis, father of rugby league Immortal, Wally Lewis, who had gone on a supporters’ tour in 1986.
There were 33 people in 1990. I took 44 in 1994, and, in the end, I was telling potential travelers, the tour was full, because I didn’t want 50 people on a 50 seater coach, and I wasn’t taking a second coach.
In 1990, we had started and finished in London, taking in Ireland, Scotland, France (Paris) and Holland (Amsterdam).
This time the group (and there were 31 repeat ‘customers’) wanted to see more of Europe, so we started in Rome, spending two nights in the Hotel Sant ‘Anselmo on the Palentine Hill, and doing the usual tourist stuff – Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Coliseum, St Peters, Sistine Chapel etc. There also was a trip into the hills for a tour of Tivoli Gardens.
I wanted to come up with something a bit different for the early days of the trip – a winery tour seemed to fit the bill.
But how to go about it?
Brainwave. I went to my local grog shop – at the Homestead Hotel, Zillmere – and bought a bottle of Frascati. On the back was the name of the company which imported the wine. (Remember, the internet wasn’t around then).
I contacted the company, and they told me Frascati wineries were too small to cater for a group like ours.
But, they recommended the Ricasoli Winery, which was trying to re-establish itself in the marketplace, after returning to family ownership. Australian company, James Hardy had been at the helm for some time.
I don’t know what the bloke from the wine importing business told Ricasoli, but they laid out the welcome mat. Nothing was too much trouble, and the whole experience, including wine tasting; the meal (at Ristorante de Carlino) and all the wine and liquors you could drink, followed by a tour of the castle, cost about $25 Australian.
One of our tour group, Graham Warland, said he didn’t care what happened on the rest of the trip. It was already a winner.
That gave me a great feeling of satisfaction.
What about our Dutch guide? Well, once he realised we were mob of wine illiterates, he relaxed, and like us, had a good time. In fact, he was in tears, waving to us as our coach (driven by Welshman, Johnny) drove to the Hotel Capitol in Florence.
And he wasn’t crying because I left him a small tip. It was substantial.
One of the newcomers on the trip was Jim Gibson, who was ground announcer at Davies Park, home of Souths Magpies. Jim, who was accompanied by his wife, Lesley, had strong Scottish connections, and this was to prove invaluable, down the track. That story for another day. The 1994 trip also took in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Scotland and Wales.
Photo 2: Lunch at Ristorante de Carlino (From left), Allan Pilling; Judy and Rod Jennings, Graham Warland.