Joni Mahaffey-Rauschenbach, owner of The Wine Cellar in Saluda, has traveled the world learning about grapes. (photo submitted)

Well-ripened traveler

Published 10:35am Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Food and wine tours are all the rage, and it seems Italy keeps cropping up, quite literally.

Every journey has its rewards.

Sometimes the quest to discover new worlds is a journey in and of itself, and for this woman, her job as a wine retailer required her to go on a discovery of the wine regions of the world, namely Italy, France and California, sometimes on a shoestring budget.

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Who: Joni Mahaffey-Rauschenbach, owner of The Wine Cellar at the Saluda Inn, and owner, a sita for connoisseurs. She says, “they say wine is so much better in Europe because you’re there, and I believe it’s true.”

Where’ve You Been: 2000 – She got a job selling wine which involved importing, and had to go to Europe on a small budget, rent small cars, navigate the directions to castles, and meet vintners who owned the wineries.

It was not as glamorous as it may appear, and they did have their moments of being hot and tired as well as glorious moments. Though Joni understood basic Italian, she got too nervous to speak it at first, and was grateful for her working buddy who had a good ear for speaking it.

Between the two of them, they got through. The areas of Corton, and Florence were their home base, and they drove throughout Tuscany.

Castles may be large, but they can also be cold and scary. When they met Count Visconti, he was gracious to receive them late at night after a long and winding road.

They knocked on a gigantic castle door, and were welcomed in.

Iconic paintings of ancestors hung on the hallway walls like a movie.

The next day was fun as the Count drove them through the arbors in an unexpectedly beat up farm car.

Loved: She will never forget sitting under trellises of freesia, eating five or six course meals, and sipping the vintages of Montelpulchiano and other wines of the Tuscany region.

2006 – Magical France, where she stayed in the tiny town of Riquewihr, Alsace, another famous wine region.

Loved There was a winery in the middle of the town that blended in so well that it was a secret, and she loved watching people walk by it and not even realize it was there.

She went to La Ferme de Gicon – Rhone Valley, and the Hugel winery, which boasts the oldest barrel (or barrique) in the world.

A few years later, Joni made another trip to Italy, traveling with her husband in upscale style.

This time she went to the Piedmont region, a more inland, mountainous area known for wines like Barolo, and Barbaresco.

They visited the Cappezzana Estate Vineyards in Carmignano, and Castello de Monsanto Winey in Barberino Val D’Elsa.

Loved: The breathtaking town of Vogonia, in the region of Trentino Alto Aldige, anview was of the Dolomite Mountain Range, near the Swiss border. People spoke a mixture of Italian and German.

She will always remember meals under trellises; simple pleasures like nutritional fava beans served with fresh baked bread and locally pressed olive oil.

She also loves California, and made several visits there, but points out that the effort she and her husband made to come back to the mountains of Saluda was a conscious one.

Now, thanks to the integrity she brings from her journeys, we get to taste a little bit of Europe right here along the ridge tops of the mountains we call home.

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