Mine is a loud Long Island family that communicates almost exclusively through mockery—of each other and anyone lucky enough to enter our orbit. There are a couple of people in the world, though, whom we all love without irony. One of them is Ina Garten, and the other is a Tuscan winemaker named Sergio Sardelli.
During the summer of 2016, aunts, uncles, cousins and more all traveled to Italy for two weeks of food, wine and sightseeing. A lovely and patient woman named Sylvia Gualengi organized tours of wineries and goat farms, and she put up with the Italian-Americans in tow who instigated sing-alongs on bus rides through the region’s rolling hills. Each winemaker was a fascinating character, but when Sergio, of Il Cellese, emerged from his barrel room, it was love at first sight for all of us.
With one too many buttons of his slightly wrinkled shirt undone, wavy black hair and a well-earned tan from days spent out among his grapes, Sergio expertly toed the line between “guy you want to hang out with” and “man you wish to marry.” Men and women alike swooned. Those looks, the rakish charm of someone gutsy enough to restore a vineyard, and the delicious depth of his Chianti Clasico Riserva merged with the rolling hills of Tuscany and birthed a collective obsession. Mockery ceased. My 17-year-old sister stopped begging for Taco Bell. We sipped his wines thoughtfully, studiously avoiding untoward drunkenness, then bought bottles to be shipped home.
But one afternoon wasn’t enough. Sylvia made hasty arrangements, on my host aunt and uncle’s request, to get us more time with him. We traveled to the winery’s hotel and restaurant a few days later, driving stick shift up windy roads and braving perilous terrain for a magical evening of spaghetti on Sergio’s lawn.
Here, though, the endless time together had begun to wear on us. Wives snapped at husbands. Teenagers grew sullen. During an attempt to exit the parking lot, an aunt screamed that an uncle “can’t drive,” and Sergio ran out to check on us. My sister dropped to the van floor, as though that would separate her.
We made it back to the rented villa that night physically unscathed, but emotionally wounded. We mourned both our vacation and that we’d likely never see Sergio again. While he definitely did think we were weird and didn’t want to marry any of us, we were bonded briefly in a crush.
Back home now, the trip’s memories are just more ammo for mockery. To us, that’s the greatest love of all.