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June 2007


WINE & SPIRITS

The Italian Job
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave

A CONNECTICUT COUPLE'S PASSION FOR ITALY LEADS TO WINE IMPORTING SUCCESS

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It's hard to resist the wonderful story of the Westport couple who turned their favorite hobby—traveling to Italy to visit friends and seek out fine wines—into a full-time profession. It was barely two years ago that Jodi and Garrett Stonehouse, who share a passion for all things Italian, first took the plunge and began importing their first small production estate grown wines from Italy.

Under the name Aventine Hill, a reference to the seven ancient hills upon which Rome was built, they currently distribute 33 wines from 11 producers. Already, they've picked some real winners. Two of their Sicilian wines, from Lanzara, are currently served in the Vatican. And one of their Tuscan wines, Colombaio Di Cencio, just won a Tre Bicchieri, an Italian award for wine excellence.

Working with partners in Rome, the Stonehouses traversed Italy looking for small wine producers not yet represented in the United States. As Jodi says, not only did they find themselves with a portfolio of family-owned, organically minded, high quality wineries, but also a collection of wonderful characters—including two Counts, a few salts-of-the-earth types and a Tuscan bon vivant living in a 15th century Florentine villa.

As a fellow Italianophile, I was instantly taken by the wine—and the men—the Stonehouses uncovered. There's Count Filippo Gaslini, a heartthrob with movie star looks in Piedmont who produces a fantastic Barbera D'Asti. In Tuscany, meanwhile, there's Renaissance man Jacopo Morganti, the winemaker at Colombaio Di Cencio who is also an amateur artist, bike racer, harpoon fisherman and scuba diver. "Jacopo puts all his personality into his wine," says Jodi Stonehouse, holding up the bottle of I Massi Chianti Classico Riserva that won the 2007 Tre Biccheri.

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