Interview with Leigh Vincola, a lifestyle and wellness coach with a heavy dose of food and wine. Leigh helps her clients map out a road to living their fullest lives and uses Women and Wine series and an annual yoga and culinary retreat to keep the conversation interesting. You can see more about what she's up to at Leigh Vincola Personal Cartographer.
W: Leigh tell us a bit about yourself and when you first fell in love with Puglia.
L: I am a Boston native with a food, wine and agriculture background (among other things). I have done a lot of work with food and wine events with an emphasis on New England local and regional Italian foods. Across two continents I've worked with chefs, restaurants, farmers, fishermen, food producers and health and wellness professionals in various capacities. I first visited Puglia in 2010, fell in love with the region not knowing that I would be returning to live there a few months later. I ended up working 2 years for a company that did culinary tours of the region and got to know some of the most wonderful spots, people and traditions. Today I'm on my own working as a a lifestyle and wellness coach. Many of my programs still involve and emphasis on food and wine because I think it's a fine way to grease the wheels when charting the course towards your future. I'm based in Providence, RI and go back and forth to Puglia.
W: This Spring you will be taking a group on a retreat filled with wellness. Tell us a bit about your retreats and what do you tend to focus on?
L: The retreat is called Nourish and Flourish. The week is held at a fully restored farmhouse (with solar heated pool!) will be a nice mix of lifestyle coaching, yoga and mediation and authentic culinary experiences. I am leading it with a yoga instructor, Sara Hauber and our hope is that is a time of real self-care, forward movement towards what you want to achieve and relaxation.
W: Why do you think that Puglia is the perfect destination for this retreat?
L: Puglia is the ultimate place to be good to your self. You are surrounded by the sea almost all the time, the food is among the freshest on the planet, and life moves at a refreshingly slow pace. Think aqua blue water, laundry lines, church bells and siesta. You can't help but relax. Puglia also is home to 50 million olive trees making it the largest producer of olive oil. In Puglia we put olive oil on everything--always high quality and always good for you. Springtime especially is a dream as the fields are full of wildflowers and the countryside just explodes with color.
W: Tell us a bit about your favourite wines and food of the region.
L: The food in Puglia is essentially simple and full of flavor. The cuisine of the region is heavily based on grains, vegetables, fish and fresh cheeses and olive oil. It is the ultimate Mediterranean diet that has become so popular. The famous pasta of the region is orecchiette (little ears) and broccoli rabe. The best grilled octopus I've ever eaten came directly from the Adriatic sea and Puglia is also the home of burrata cheese, the oozy, creamy cousin of mozzarella. The produce is plentiful and robust in flavor. May is cherry season, which is part of why I chose may for my retreat.
No meal is complete without wine however and Puglia is the land of the Rose or rosato. I never expected to be drinking so much pink wine but in the hot summer months there is nothing better than a chilled glass of rose sitting on an outside patio. It goes with pasta and fish dishes, which are plentiful. White wines aren't plentiful in Puglia but the one's that are made are among my favorite white wines anywhere. Crisp, refreshing, light. I favor Verdeca and Locorotondo.
The region's primitovo and negrommaro grapes are starting to gain attention in the foreign market and am so happy for that. I do a little skip every time I see one of these wines (a good quality one) on a shelf in a local shop. But my favorite, and harder to find, is Sussameniello--an indigenous grape grown primarily in the sandier soils closer to the sea. If you want to know how to pronounce it go here.
W: And where do you think that our Winerists should stay to make sure they enjoy the region to the fullest?
L: You'd do well if you visited the white washed (think Greek influence) hill towns of Cisternino, Locorotondo and Ostuni and wander through their charming maze of historic centers, get lost, have a coffee and a gelato. Then you should head down to the Adriatic coast to Savelettri and enjoy some fresh grilled octopus and sea urchins right on the rocks with a bottle of verdeca. Then travel to Lecce, the Florence of the South where you can take in the baroque architecture and enjoy some great wine bars in surprisingly hip small city. From Lecce you should wander around Salento and settle into it's laid-back vibe while you check out the coastal towns of both coasts. Definitely check out Greek Salento, a group of small towns where they still speak a Greek dialect.
W: We have long known about the benefits of wine, but what do you personally think is the best part of a wine holiday?
L: I think a lot to do with it is the pace. When we travel to other cultures we adopt their pace of life as well. Often cultures that give importance to wine live at a more humane pace than we do not in cities like London or Boston. When we have the time to enjoy our food, digest our food and savor a glass of wine it all becomes more meaningful, balanced and healthy endeavor.