Meet the Devotees in our New Shop!

We are excited to announce the opening of the Borgo Boutique Shop featuring original DEVOTEES saint T-shirts. Continue reading to discover the strange (yet true) story behind the project

Walking through the renovations of our Tuscan apartments, located in a Franciscan monastery from the 1200’s, one can’t help but feel a connection to those who once shared these spaces.


I was never a religious person, but an unsettling dream planted a seed in my mind. In the dream, a monk-like figure appeared to me. He did not say a word but the numbers above his head foretold the exact day of my impending death, 18 months into the future. When I woke up, I told my new girlfriend (now my wife) about the dream. She agreed that it was indeed strange but couldn’t talk much. She had to help her mother take the dogs to church for “the blessing”. It was, as she said, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.


Blessings the dogs?
St. Francis? What are you talking about?!


When she left, I Googled St. Francis and found paintings and information about the man. He looked similar to the monk in my dream and as it turned out he was also the patron saint of animals. What did this all mean?


Jump ahead 18 months – only 1 week before my “death date”. The metal plates in my arm kept breaking as a result of a broken arm not healing. I received a call from the hospital. There was a last minute cancellation and they asked me to come in for surgery. It was only 4 days before the death date. Somewhat spooked, I presented myself at the hospital, overcoming any superstitious concerns… I subscribe to the scientific method after all.


The first red flag was raised when the hospital staff had no clue who I was or why I was there. Then a fire alarm mysteriously went-off while an angry nurse berated me to get back in my room (I didn’t have a room yet and was wandering the halls). I took this as a clear warning sign… literal alarms bells!

Once the alarm was silenced, a doctor approached and apologized for the confusion… they had everything “sorted-out” and were ready to operate on my right arm. This was the 3rd and final sign. Wrong arm. The surgery was meant to be on the left arm. Heeding the dream’s warning, I quickly left the hospital. Better safe than sorry.

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Years later my wife bought her first Italian property. It was oddly coincidental that the property was part of a former Franciscan monastery, further fueling the curiosity for the man in my dream. I began researching St. Francis which eventually led me down the rabbit-hole of saints in general. I was amazed by the historical accounts of regular people who experienced extra-ordinary circumstances.

Delving deeper into the lives of these men and women, I quickly realized these stories still held lessons we could learn from today. The connection of patron saints to particular subject matter was especially interesting (if not sometimes ironic). As it turns out there’s a patron saint for just about anything. Take for example St. Joseph Cupertino; an Italian Friar from the 1600’s. Acknowledged as being “remarkably unclever”, Joseph would pray, fall into trances of ecstasy and then levitate a few feet off the ground. Over 70 documented incidents of this exist. Because of his levitation, Cupertino is connected to flight and is now regarded as the patron saint of Astronauts, Pilots, air travelers and those with learning disabilities. Interesting how that worked out.

Devotees Saintly T-shirts

Whether you are a religious person or not, acts of devotion & bravery in the face of adversity & ridicule serve as examples that transcend time, space and religious belief. They can serve as a source of strength in our own personal journeys.

Intrigued by these stories I was inspired to combine the new-found curiosity for saints with my passion for storytelling and creating imagery. The DEVOTEES t-shirt project was born. Using humor, irony and graphic design, patron saints are depicted in the context of contemporary people.


We hope you enjoy the first Devotees series as much as we enjoyed creating it. We have designed 12 Devotees and are starting with the initial release of four. Subscribe to the newsletter to stay in the loop for new Devotees drops.

Beautiful Vacation Properties in Suvereto

Handmade Shoes & the Art of “Made in Italy”

The label “Made in Italy” evokes thoughts of style, quality and craftsmanship.

Recent visits to Italy had left me skeptical of the phrase as a marketing ploy used to target unsuspecting foreigners. In an age of Globalization, marketers allude to Italian Design, Italian flavour & Italian ‘Inspired’ as a short-hand for Italy’s real secret sauce: Passion.

Even genuine Italian products are likely mass-produced. Far-removed from the idyllic notion of an artisan skillfully crafting something by hand.

Then, like fog dissipating under the Tuscan sun, my cynicism evaporated as I entered an authentic shoe makers’ workshop. Discovering Diego Daddi’s leather shop, “Quel Pellaio di Diego” in Suvereto is a revelation.

I met up with Diego as he made a pair of bespoke men’s shoes.

First thing’s first: Diego looks wild. He is a combination of rock star and mad-scientist with hair that appears to be (in-part) styled by electric shock.

I would be a lying if I were to say I wasn’t a little intimidated by the man. The locals warned me Diego could be a bit prickly. Instead, as someone who designs and makes things myself, I discover someone I instantly connect with:
A Creator.

Born from the Land

For the first few minutes I watch as Diego positions various pieces of leather over a dummy foot.
Like a tailored suit, each leather panel is cut to simultaneously follow form and to create style and structure.
After each adjustment Diego pauses to inspect the work-in-progress with his critical eye.

Hand-crafting a shoe is both a manufacturing process and an art. In fact, the process itself is contradictory: It is both introspective yet intensely physical.

Pushing a large needle and thread through leather and sole requires strength. 
Diegos’ forearms strain as he pushes a needle through layers of leather, then pulls the thread tightly to fasten the pieces together. I interrupt his concentration with a question:

“Tell me about the leather. Where do you get it from?”

Diego replies, “It is sourced locally of course, right here in the Maremma.”

Tuscany is renown for its bovine products; from its famous Florentine steak to designer leather goods. 
The Maremma region in southern Tuscany, is often called Italy’s last wild frontier.

To this day, real Cowboys (Butteri) still exist in the Maremma, roaming the region’s wild landscapes and herding their cattle according to centuries-old customs and tradition. 

It’s only natural that traditional crafts such shoe making still exist in places where people are still intimately connected to the land.

Diego Daddi was born and lives in the small mediaeval village of Suvereto where he runs his small artisan workshop.

“I began this journey in 2009 thanks to a very lucky and chance meeting, in the historic village of Magliano in Tuscany, with the master Mario Maretti. I owe him everything, both for what I created myself and for the art that he gave me.”

Tradition versus the Modern World

Wandering through the workshop with my camera, I notice a customer enter the shop. The customer, a local elderly gentleman, greets Diego before gesturing to the contents of his plastic bag.

“Can you help me? My shoe needs repair.“

Cordially, Diego replies, “Sure, let’s have a look.”

Reaching into his bag, the old man takes out an inexpensive, “discount store” running shoe. He points to the nylon-mesh upper which has torn above the injection-moulded plastic sole.

Looking up from the low-hanging glasses perched on the tip of his nose, Diego looks over at me with a defeated expression.
Focusing his attention back to the customer, Diego politely answers, “I’m sorry sir, unfortunately these are not repairable.”

The meaning of the moment is not lost on me. It embodies the experience of being an artisan in the modern world.

As industrialization chokes our environment and inundates the world with disposable “stuff”, independent creators like Diego become increasingly rare. They are simultaneously less important to the masses (motivated by low cost) and yet increasingly important to those who value the craftsmanship and individuality of the human hand.

Traditional “Made in Italy” still exists but is becoming less common.
Perhaps this particular style of “Made in Italy” requires a way of describing it as something more magical.
Maybe something like…
“Made well, with passion and tradition by really special people who also happen to be Italian”.
Isn’t that what we all really want to hear?

Unfortunately that maybe too long to fit on a label.

You can visit Diego’s shop at www.quelpellaiodidiego.it


He is taking orders and shipping internationally.

A Tuscan Wine Revolution has Begun & it’s Awesome

Tradition meets Science & the Results are Magical

Unexpectedly, I Mandorli  a Tuscan wine, changed my views regarding everything Italian. It profoundly led me to re-evaluate my beliefs about farming, youth and modern Italy itself.

At the epicentre of wine production in the Maremma region, Suvereto is an important stop on the ‘Wine Road’. Its’ beautiful geography, weather and wine making traditions are what people imagine when dreaming of Tuscany.

Looking for a winery to feature on this blog, I canvased several locals in the hope of making connections at one of the famous local wineries.

A short-list of the “big three” wineries checked all the boxes necessary to illustrate my story about wine and Tuscan culture:

  1. Traditions unspoiled by modernization 
  2. Quality, Passion and an obsession for the craft 
  3. Classic old-world vibes 

With a complete narrative in mind, all I had left to do was to find a winery, gather quotes and take photos.

Things don’t always work out as planned…

In retrospect, it was a predictable narrative but I figured a story of Old-world simplicity and tradition was what people wanted to hear. It is the story I wanted to hear.

The combination of the words “Tuscany” and “Wine” imply a sensory goodness that hits the palate and the soul.

Could most people identify a wine based on a uniquely Tuscan flavour?
Probably not. 

Would most people buy a Tuscan Wine without knowing anything about it?
Yes.

Together “Tuscany” and “wine” add up to marketing gold.

Tuscan wine

I Mandorli was the first winery to agree to my story request.

I had never heard about them. In fact, the more I learned about I Mandorli, the less I wanted to visit.

Everything about them contradicted my sepia-toned narrative. 

They are a modern operation located high on a wind-swept hill, run by Millennials with a ‘new way’ of looking at things. 

Ugh.

I considered declining the offer to visit but ultimately agreed as a courtesy to the person who arranged everything.

My fixer didn’t tell me too much about I Mandorli other than “they are cool”.

Cool? Another strike… I need traditional not cool.

As a European-Canadian, I’ve always had my in feet two worlds. First-generation kids always see the world from two sides. 

Cultural observation is at the core of Borgo Boutique’s philosophy. Generally unhappy and over-worked, North Americans long for the authentic simplicity of Tuscan life. North American’s obsession with media & consumerism is a product of lives unfulfilled. Synthetic happiness is served through TV & brand names.

Borgo Boutique aspires to build a brand which leverages Tuscany’s character to provide customers with an authentically human experience.

Featuring a modern winery potentially risked self-sabotage. “Old-world” escapism is a huge part of the Tuscan narrative. Would we be detracting from the appeal?

Next, my own biases about Millennials came into consideration. At my age, people view Millennials as both self-promoting and under achieving…. “Influencers” who don’t actually do anything.

A “new way” of doing things? Really?!
What’s new in wine-making?

I was skeptical to say the least.

As we drove up the winding road from Suvererto, the elevation got higher and the temperatures got lower. Reaching a 300 meter elevation, an ultra-modern winery awaited as we looked down onto vineyards, valley and sea below.

I Mandorli (The Almond Trees) looks like it would be more at home in California than in Tuscany.

Soon Costanza, a beautiful young woman, greeted us. Based solely on her youthful appearance, cool fashion-sense and command of English, I assumed Costanza was employed by the winery as Public Relations representative.

Soon my pre-conceived notions of I Mandorli began to turn and morph around me like a scene from the movie Inception. Constanza, a vibrant woman in her early 30’s is not only a face for the brand, she is the brand. At this exact moment, my mind was blown. 

Started by Massimo Pasquetti in 2002, I Mandorli is a family business. Without any previous agricultural experience, Massimo had no intentions of making wine. There was no actual plan. The only plan was to grow a few olive trees to make small batches of oil for himself and his friends.

Massimo first planted Sangiovese grape vines in 2003, then Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc the following year.

The first wines were bottled in 2010. Encouraged by the initial results, he continued to expand the vineyards. From 2011 to 2018 another 5 hectares were planted and the modern cellar was built. 

As expected from wine of this region, I Mandorli’s wine is brilliant. Their current wine portfolio consists of 6 wines. I recommend the VIGNA ALLA SUGHERA (Sangiovese) or I MANDORLI BIANCO (White Wine).

As impressive as the wine is, it is not the real story. I Mandorli’s approach to agriculture is the true star here.

Massimo has put his trust in Costanza, who is now in charge of wine making at I Mandorli. She explains their uniquely holistic philosophy towards agriculture:

We practice organic agriculture that respects the environment and the consumer. A holistic approach is based on listening to the vineyard. We intervene only where there is a need.

Biodiversity plays a fundamental role in the balance of the vineyard. Agriculture does not exist in nature. It is a human act.  It is important to maintain a varied and rich environment, because mother nature is a perfect spirit and thinks of everything. 

For every unwanted insect, there is always another insect that is its natural predator. For each weed there is another plant that creates competition and keeps it at bay. And so on.

Bees are the best maintainers of biodiversity. They regulate the process of reproduction in wild plants. Consequently, microbiology is rich and varied.

We keep intact the natural balance of our ecosystem. Nature thinks about the rest.

Interesting but what exactly does it mean? Is this merely marketing or more Millennial hyperbole?

I understand the basic theory. By having a variety of plant and insect life, grape vines benefit directly and indirectly from the surrounding biodiversity. Everything contributes to a healthy and strong ecosystem.

Surely, there must be more to the story… how about fertilizers, pests and plant diseases? These are all important aspects of farming, how are they managed? I probe deeper for more information from Costanza.

We do not use synthetic fertilizers or products. We use different natural cultivation techniques for soil fertilization, such as the green manure and cover crops with different seeds.

We use biodynamic preparations (500 horn manure, clay horn, 501 silica horn, propolis and equisetum) to assist the trophic activity and the life of the soil and canopy. 

Promoting soil life is fundamental: through the symbiosis between mycorrhizae and the root system, the vine lives in balance, it manages to assimilate water and nutrients and to defend itself from root pathogens.

If you’re confused, don’t worry. I had to go back and Google each one of those terms myself.  There’s a lot of science happening here. Some items (horn manure 500) are nutrient-packed fertilizers while others act on the vine’s root system to better absorb nutrients. 

Horn Silica 501 for example, is an organic spray that promotes growth, increases the power of the sun, enhances flavour, aroma and nutritional quality. 

All the science checks out and is very impressive to say the least.

I’ve only ever considered “modern” farming in terms of industrialization, chemical use, heavy machinery and genetic modification.  All of which are detrimental to the sustainability of the land, our health and the environment.

I Mandorli’s interpretation of “modern” is an A-ha moment. Applying ancient farming techniques to modern scientific and biologic understanding is an agricultural revolution. 

That’s not hyperbole.

Costanza and I Mandorli are the real-deal. What they are doing is nothing short of brilliant. They are proving that you can be profitable while being a good steward of the land.

So why farm this way?
If it easier, cheaper or faster? No.
Does it maximize profit? No.
Does it taste better? Yes. 

Is it the right thing to do for the sustainability of the land? 100% 

My opinions have changed. Sometimes you don’t realize what you’re missing until you see it. Whether you realize yet it or not, this is the new Italy. 

Removed from the tropes of Lambo’s, Versace & old men sitting on benches; Italy has a smart, conscientious, young generation working hard to move the world forward.

I wanted a traditional old vineyard because it fit an old narrative. 

Perhaps changing the narrative of farming should be the goal. Conscientious “Designer Agriculture” could make people care as much about their food and the land as they do about their shoes. 

Does I Madolori checks all the boxes necessary to convey my narrative about Tuscany?

  • Traditions unspoiled by modernization – check
  • Quality, Passion and an obsession for the craft – check
  • Classic old-world vibes – check (but not how I ever imagined)

I Mandorli offers wine tastings and guided tours of their estate. Focus is placed on the biodynamic philosophy, winemaking, cellar and ageing room with tastings. Discover more about I Mandorli at www.vignaimandorli.it


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