Competition – Anne Cowper

Anne Cowper writes about herself, 'I’m a retired probation officer of a certain age. Although I grew up in England I’ve lived in Wales for much longer; in the absence of a legal mechanism for changing citizenship I now self-define as “Welsh by tattoo” (a daffodil on the ankle specifically). I am hugely accident-prone and I pay tribute to those wine-tour guides who have experienced my tendency to get locked in (or occasionally out) of places, get left behind, drop exploding bottles of red on a coach seat and frequently fall over.' Her unedited entry in our seminal wine competition follows

I blame the BBC. It was a wet, miserable winter in Wales, a holiday programme showed scenes of blue sky, sunflowers and spectacular scenery and I thought “I have to go to Tuscany”. Reviewing the options for a single woman who didn’t want to eat alone, the best bet seemed a small group tour with a specific focus. I was on the point of booking a tour to the Puccini festival when I came across something I hadn’t heard of before – a wine tour. On impulse I booked, even though at the time my idea of a big night in was a bottle of supermarket Bulgarian red (it was some time ago!)

I went to Tuscany and that trip changed my life. I learned so much: that the terroir and climate needed for successful viticulture invariably leads to vineyards occupying some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. That wine and food work together to provide an experience where the whole is so much greater than the two halves. That the smell of a winery says “welcome home” when you enter it. That if you split your lip falling up the steps of the Duomo, grappa is a highly effective external antiseptic and internal analgesic. And above all that the people involved in the world of wine – the growers, producers, estate owners, tour guides, cellar rats, pickers, experts, and just plain wine-lovers – are the nicest, most approachable, helpful and entertaining people you can possibly hope to meet.

On that first trip – I have the photos to remind me – I went to places I hadn’t heard of and to estates whose names meant nothing. They did by the end of the week. Antinori, Avignonesi, Fonterutoli and Altesino rolled off my tongue as the wine I brought home rolled round it. I longed to return to Montepulciano, Montalcino & San Gimignano, and I have done so. That tour was the start of a massive learning curve and a constant fear that the bank manager will appear at my door to query my spending habits. It meant that future holidays invariably seemed to be to wine-producing areas, which meant I discovered the magnificent Rhone Valley, beautiful, sunny Provence and above all Piedmont, the place which has totally stolen my heart.

It's not an exaggeration to say that my trip to Tuscany was an epiphany – almost as great a one as the grappa tasting at the Marolo distillery. But that’s another story. Oh, and I have now been to the Puccini festival – as part of a wine tour.

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