The blond woman with the ringlet curls was behind the front desk at Relais San Maurizio when I came down in the morning to ask about a running trail. The hotel, perched at the top of a ridge with precipitous vineyard slopes on three sides, was accessible only by a switchback road from one direction, and a narrow lane from another. With the sporadic immediacy of the morning traffic, neither route seemed like a safe place to clear my head.
The gentleman behind her suggested the road was the place to run, and that it was not a problem. The woman conferred with him in hushed Italian and then asked if I would mind running in the vineyard. Is there a path? There is a road, she said. Just right here, pointing out beyond the old monastery gates.
The vineyard surrounding the hotel is part of Vignaioli di Santa Stefano, a moscato partnership that began with the Ceretto family, whose roots are in this part of Asti, along with Sergio Santi and the Scavino brothers, Gianpiero and Andrea. I had always appreciated the delicious freshness of their wine, but never gave much thought to where it was grown. Without any intention to get intimate with this vineyard, I found myself navigating the hillside and the sometimes slippery clay between the vine rows, wending my own path along the side of the slope (the vineyard road went straight downhill, and considering the return, I changed course). Soon I found a wide tractor path along a terrace, one that branched off into other latitudes of the hill as I followed the moscato vines. Sometimes the paths converged; at other times, there was a five foot drop between one path and another, with thorn trees the only convenient hand holds (the trees were not tall, but the thorns were about two inches long and made the branches look like medieval combat weapons).
Later, when I returned to the hotel, my shoes were caked with clay. The gentleman at the front desk looked quizzical when I asked if there was a boot scraper outside, to brush the muck off my soles. He shook his head and suggested they could clean my running shoes. He probably thought that was a better outcome than what he got, a guest standing at the iron fencing of an overlook in the garden, trying to bang the clay off the bottom of his shoes against the rail. Eventually, giving up and submitting my Asics to their fate, I was astonished to find them that evening displayed on a shopping bag on the floor of my room. They were sparkling, restored with meticulous attention to their plastic detail as if they had been some valuable Renaissance fresco, or the latest Rocawear for rapping on moscato…