The kids stared at their empty soda bottles and just put their heads down. My wife’s expression showed that waiting was getting old. I tried to keep the optimistic grin pasted on my face and silently prayed to God and that Melane’s boyfriend would show up.
My white knight rode into the piazza on a scooter. Brandishing aviators and bedecked in a Felix the Cat t-shirt Paolo came forward to meet us. Like Melane he spoke excellent English. He was warm and friendly as we told him our story and offered him the tokens of homebrew and t-shirts from the parish beer club. But nothing could have prepared us for how gracious and generous he turned out to be.
After talking for a while he told us he was going to take us on a tour. We got in the car and followed him on a 10 minute drive out of town to the industrial brewery. He buzzed us through the gates and into the empty parking lot.
Once inside we had to don the obligatory hairnets and booties. This finally gave my children something to do. Now I have been on many a brewery tour and I know when they are being given by rote. You know the spiel, “Here’s the fermenter… over there’s the mash tun… there’s the bottling line… yada, yada, yada.”
In contrast, Paolo took over an hour to highlight, not just the basics for the benefit of my family but also to explain in detail what steps Baladin was taking that were unique or innovative. There were also many samples drawn directly from the tanks. Yum! Of note was the beer, NationAle, which represented Teo’s dream of the first beer to be made from all Italian ingredients.
From there we headed back into town for a visit to Cantina Baladin. Like Dogfish Head’s brewpub in Rehoboth, Cantina Baladin was where Teo started it all. It was both his brewery and his bar until his growing fame allowed him to expand. Yet although it is no longer really open to the public, it is still an active site for brewing and for Teo’s artistic expression. The kitchen (seen below) has been decorated to look just like the kitchen from his childhood including paintings of his family.
But the real magic here was in their casks. There was an extraordinary array of beer in wine casks. The same beer was being aged in 40 different white and 40 different red barrels, each wine carefully chosen from all across Italy. I was tempted to book a room in Casa Baladin (their boutique hotel) next door so that we could stay and sample them all. But the hour was growing late and Paolo had already been more than generous with his time.
After a quick tour of Casa Baladin (each room is completely different), we headed back to the piazza and to the table where we first met our savior more than three hours before. After a quick picture and a warm goodbye he headed back to his scooter and we to our car. Although we would take the highway back we still had a long trip ahead.
The next year I had to good fortune to see Paolo again. This time I only had to travel 20minutes to see him during Philly Beer Week at the newly opened Alla Spina. He remembered me and even complimented up on the beer we gave him.
At a time where everyone is rushed and so few the virtue of hospitality, Paolo, Melane and the crew at Baladin really bucked the trend. They could have easily dismissed us as tourists who they would never have to see again and sent us on our way. But they didn’t. Instead they bent over backwards, going so far as to come into work on their day off and treated us like royalty, not for any gain, but simply because they wanted to make sure a family of strangers was treated well.
And so in the end I am actually grateful that Google Maps sucks. If it had told us that it would have taken five hours to get there we probably never would have gone. And so while I will never put my whole trust in their estimations ever again, I am grateful that on that one Sunday in July they managed to lead me to Baladin.