Six years ago, Robert Gaglio, a 24-year wealth management/lending banker, closed the door on banking for the last time. A new door opened. The son of Sicilian parents, Robert always has had a love for his cultural upbringing, the love of family, friends and sharing that love with food. He created his first Tuscany culinary tour with friends from his banking career. His goal to reinvent himself set him on a course to follow his passion for Italian food, culture and his heritage.
“I bought my first pasta making tool when I was 17 years old after watching my best friend’s father make fresh pasta for us in the basement kitchen of their home,” Robert explains.
Fast forward 40 years and a series of personal and professional events led him to his current career as owner of the specialty tour business, Italian Culinary Tours. Robert prides himself on creating and providing guests with tours that create true cultural experiences.
One of the events leading up to the professional change was meeting his father’s family in Montelepre, Sicily on a trip with his son, many years ago.
“It was an epiphany for me, receiving the inherent love from my family who just met me for the first time,” says Robert. The profound experience led Robert to want to return each year to see them again. So, he started to bring friends and later, clients to Italy.
Over the past six years, “Chef Robert” has perfected his Tuscany Dream Tour with his company. “I am surprised to receive so many compliments from very well-traveled guests through the years,” says Robert.
He attributes his success in creating a magical experience to the passion he has for the Italian food and culture, as well as his wealth management background, which taught him to always provide exceptional service. Robert presents the Italy adventure with an intuitive approach: Savvy, experienced travelers don’t want to feel like “tourists.” They want to feel like one of the natives. Therefore, he provides opportunities for his guests to interact with the locals. From visiting a friend’s butcher shop, to exploring the vast produce and fish markets.
Another friend, Candida, who operates a bed and breakfast down the road from the Tuscan villa, opens her home to Robert’s guests. They enjoy a Tuscan-influenced meal, made fresh from her garden vegetables, her home-made preserves, a fish or meat entre. Guests often tell Robert, getting to know Candida and enjoying the dinner is one the highlights of the tour. They don’t just dine; they make friends.
A traveler to Tuscany must have wine on the itinerary. But Italian Culinary Tours provides a different kind of visit to a vineyard. “l’ve been to many wine tours in the past,” Robert says, “but I wanted something different for my guests. I wanted them to experience meeting a family that produces wine like it was done many years ago, and eat the food prepared in their family home kitchen.”
In his quest, Robert asked a friend who lived most of his life in Florence and has spent the last 20 years importing wine from around the Chianti area. “I told Andrea (from Pozzione Wine Imports) that I’m looking for a wine tasting experience with a producer that works just with the family members, where we can tour their farm, taste their wine and enjoy their food. But the wine has to be excellent,” says Robert. Andrea had just the right place. It is located in the back hills of Greve in Chianti. The following year the tour of the Montoro e Selvole vineyard was added to Italian Culinary Tours and has been a guest’s favorite ever since.
This dining/tasting experience is so good, Robert says, “our driver, who has taken thousands of visitors to wineries over the past 15 years, asked if he could bring his German wife with us, so she could enjoy the truly Tuscan experience.”
At the vineyard, you will find 86-year-old Giovanni Matteuzzi perhaps driving the tractor or walking among the vines to see how the year’s grapes are progressing. Giovanni was born on the property when his father Emilio, and mother Luisa, worked the land for the previous owner. In 1970, the family purchased the farm to stake their claim in the wine making tradition of Chianti. The farm’s position and slopes are the perfect setting for the Sangiovese grapes to thrive. According to Robert, it’s not just the earth and sun that creates this flavorsome wine. It is also the heart and soul this multigenerational family puts into the process.
It’s a family affair when it comes to harvest. Even some extended family come to help hand-pick the grapes. Giovanni and Maurizio process the grapes to make the year’s vintage.
Guests can view some of the 1,500 olive trees on the 3-hector farm as well, where the family harvests and processes in a good year about 1,000 liters of amazing oil. Guests then progress to the cantina, where Maurizio shows them the olive press and centrifuge used to make the olive oil and where the wine is aged.
Robert says, “The best part of the tour is to be invited into their 200+year-old home to be greeted by Duma the dog and enjoy a home-cooked meal paired with delicious home-grown wine.” Imagine your mouth exploding with joy from seasoned and spiced tomatoes, fresh from the garden, piled high on the bruschetta. Indulge in cristini, the best meats, mushrooms with polenta, and panzenella served with an outstanding Chianti Classico from two different vintages. The tour guests choose which vintage to purchase for a villa barbecue night.
As guests dine during their visit, they enjoy learning about this loving family. They view the needlepoint Nona makes. On display are great grandfather Emilio’s World War 1 metals and the Major’s certificate of acknowledgement. Old wine bottles from the first vintage when the farm was purchased in 1970, tell more history of this vineyard.
Manuela enjoys sharing her recipes with the guests, and completes the meal with made-from- scratch desserts.
“Our groups love this wine tour visit, we will be back for many years to come!” Robert exclaims.