Will Fly For Food (or Wine) 

"We'll see a bit of culture, how the locals live, shop, eat—everything always has some sort of food attached to it."

When Gino Pilato looks at a bottle of wine, he sees more than glass, cork and paper. For many of the bottles he explores through Amico Gino, he can look past their shining exteriors to the stone walls and fruit-laden vines of the Italian wineries they hail from—spots he makes a point to visit as often as possible. Luckily, his career as a Boise-based wine tasting guide makes that a bit easier.

"Part of the spoils of being in this industry is that we get to go and we treat ourselves," he said.

It's an experience he'd like to have more often; and after listening to him rhapsodize about heritage cheesemakers, grape-stomping monks and Florentine markets, it's easy to see why. Recently, Pilato realized that the best way to increase his time in Italy was to hop on an up-and-coming travel trend—and take 20 of Boise's most Italy-crazy vinophiles with him.

click to enlarge GINO PILATO
  • Gino Pilato

In Italian, a close term for the practice is agriturismo, and in here in Boise, where it's a burgeoning business model, we call it agrotourism: the business of vacationing amid agriculture. While the trip Pilato has planned isn't a foray into agriturismo proper (that would involve a longer farm stay), it's certainly an exploration of Italian ag. From Monday-Tuesday, Sept. 16-24, Pilato will take his first tour group on a romp through Florence, Siena and Montalcino to visit wineries, taste cheese, view iconic art and eat at restaurants that only someone with a pocketful of local connections would know about.

"There are going to be four wineries, all of which I've been to already and are really strong contacts of mine in Tuscany, which is a place I liked when I was doing study abroad in prep school," he said. "...It's going to be a much more laid-back, more insider type of feel."

Boise-based travel advisors Stephanie and Jim Bennett of Cruise Planners - Making Waves Travel will help Pilato pull off the trip, which currently rings in at $4,194-$5,167 per person including airfare, by taking care of the logistics. After attending one of Pilato's classes, Stephanie convinced him to take the experience abroad.

"Almost every class I'm in, there's like a joke that, 'Oh, we should all go to Italy together!' Because you kind of bond at the class, and of course the wine is involved, but everyone's excited about Italy by the end of it," Pilato said. "And that's my whole thing—to share that passion and gravitate to others who have a passion for Italy and Italian things and connect us all, and then see where it goes."

click to enlarge European food guru Lisa Peterson leads tours of Italy, France and beyond each year. - LISA PETERSON
  • Lisa Peterson
  • European food guru Lisa Peterson leads tours of Italy, France and beyond each year.

Lisa Peterson, owner of a'Tavola Gourmet Marketplace, is already living Pilato's dream. She has planned and guided trips through the European countryside for the last five years, and this year, she has two excursions on the books for October: a week-long trip to France's Burgundy region, and an equally long spin through the Chianti region of Italy. Each one will cost travelers $4,295-$4,895 per person, airfare not included.

"We'll see a bit of culture, how the locals live, shop, eat—everything always has some sort of food attached to it," said Peterson. "We do cooking classes in our villa, and then we'll go to someone's home or to a restaurant to do a cooking class."

Like Pilato, Peterson uses her strong food industry contacts to plan group adventures to places that press olive oil or raise goats, but she also maps out trips to spots she has yet to explore. Rather than bouncing from hotel to hotel, her groups shelter in centrally located, often historically significant buildings—a chateau in France, say, or a villa in Italy—and take day trips to nearby farms, markets and restaurants.

Retirees make up the bulk of Peterson's clients, but over the last decade she has seen a spike in interest across demographics.

click to enlarge LISA PETERSON
  • Lisa Peterson

"I think for a while people were afraid to travel to Europe, so I think a lot of that has changed over the years," said Peterson. "...This way, not only are they making new friends but they're having shared experiences with others." Next year, she plans to add a third tour in the spring to accommodate demand.

Gino has his own theory for the uptick in agrotourism.

"I'm convinced that a lot of the younger travelers, even the middle-aged travelers, they not only want to travel they want an experience, and they want something to bring back with them that they've done," he said. "It's not just to go and snap a shot of the Sistine Chapel, they want to go and make pizza somewhere in Italy, or they want to do a cooking class ... And now more so than ever, there are opportunities to do that."

Other Boise-based food tours include Koenig Vineyards' Colors of Provence seven-night cruise and multiple upcoming trips through Cypress Tours. 

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