The heat of the past week was finally squelched by a cooling rain on Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning brought sunny skies with a few mingling clouds, and we strolled through the crowded late-morning passeggiata enjoying the more spring-like temperatures. As we walked, I overhead a couple of passersby talking and one mentioned “cantine aperte,” reminding me that Sunday was an event: throughout the country about 1000 wineries were throwing open their doors for tours, tastings, and a bit of “neighborliness”. We’d forgotten it would be this weekend, and so quickly decided that after lunch we’d head for the hills and partake. Always nice to have a few pretty vineyards to visit, after all. We're not serious connoisseurs; we like wine but we don’t know wine in terms of the lingo and the benchmarks, and don’t partake in the whole “immerse your nose all the way down into your glass, then sip, gargle and spit” thing. We sniff, we sip, we say “mmm, good” or “acidic” and such things. We know what we like and leave it at that.
The clouds thickened and threatened rain. Springtime in the mountains, as we learned from long experience in New Mexico, meant unpredictable weather patterns. It could rain without warning, or it could produce nasty-looking fronts that moved off over the nearest peak. Deciding a little rain wouldn’t hurt us, anyway, we collected the car from the lot and set off down the super-strada while still trying to determine which specific wineries would be open for the festivities. Drops began tinkling upon the windshield as we drove easterly.
Suddenly break lights began to illuminate in front of us, creating an ominously red row ahead. Bryan pumped the breaks and all of a sudden we crossed a line from mere rain to pounding hail. It was like a sheer curtain had demarked the hail zone, and all traffic came to an abrupt and frightening stop. The divided highway meant there was no place to turn back to the other side of the curtain; cars jumbled up ahead meant we couldn’t inch forward.
Bryan navigated as close to the guard-rail as possible to wait it out, inching up to try to get the car under the little bit of overhanging tree branches alongside the road, hoping for some protection. The hail pelted and grew larger and more forceful. The balls of ice pelted our little car creating a roar. We worried it would shatter the windshield. Tree leaves were shredded and rained down upon the hood. I’ve never experienced such a storm, not even in the desert where intense storms can form quickly and then disperse just as instantly. The racket it created was like being inside a drum, and it was both funny and frightening at the same time.
Then it was over. The clouds were being blown toward the sea and rain returned. We continued on, occasionally catching up with the tail-end of the front’s invisible line before we turned north and escaped it. We considered just returning home, but now that the ordeal was over we figured why bother. Besides, a bit of vino would be welcome now! But I’ll now think of the term “ice wine” in a different light.