by Christina Kelly & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & rt and winemaking will blend together next month when Va Piano Vineyards of Walla Walla will introduce a new red table wine with a familiar name for the Spokane region.
"Bruno's Blend" is a collaboration between Justin Wiley, winemaker/owner at Va Piano, and Father Bruno Segatta, a beloved former assistant dean at Gonzaga University who ran the Spokane-to-Florence, Italy, study program for 23 years. Based in Florence, Segatta left the university a few years ago when the administration revamped the study course.
For the past few yeas, Bruno (as everyone calls him) has traveled to Third World countries, offering assistance by selling his paintings. But living a gypsy lifestyle helping to feed the poor didn't sell throngs of artwork.
Wiley, a marketing graduate of Gonzaga who participated in the one-year Florence program in the late-1990s, never forgot Bruno or the year he studied abroad. The 33-year-old has slowly built his winery Va Piano (which means "go slowly" in Italian) and released his first commercial wine this spring. He and his wife Liz were contemplating the idea of making a red table wine when the couple took a vacation to Italy and hooked up with Bruno.
"We were on a train talking to Bruno when it suddenly dawned on me how I could sell a declassified red table wine and help Bruno sell his art," says Wiley. "I told him we could call the red wine Bruno's Blend, and feature his artwork on the label."
With thousands of people touched by Bruno through the study abroad program, Wiley figured he would have a ready market for the blend and help the priest fund his charitable causes. A portion of the proceeds from wine sales will help fund Bruno's outreach to needy families.
Through e-mails, Bruno says he recently took a personal journey to Africa and wound up selling some of his paintings to help a man raising his children and those of his sister and brother (both of whom died of HIV) -- a total of 18 children.
"He is a great man and the tragedy is that he has a 13-year-old who is blind and in need of brain surgery," Bruno writes. "With the money I got from selling my paintings, we bought rice and maize and a little bit of chicken meat, and it was a feast for his family.
"Justin and Liz are making it possible for me to sell my paintings so I have the money to help feed a family and help heal a kid."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he wine is a blend of 73 percent Syrah from the Va Piano estate, 18 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 9 percent Merlot from Lewis, Cold Creek, Milbrandt and Seven Hills vineyards. The blends will change from year to year, depending on what is available, and the label will change yearly to showcase one of Bruno's paintings of Florence, the Tuscan hills and other Italian cities.
For those who know Bruno, his connection to the Northwest wine industry isn't a surprise. He's been coming back to the states to marry former students, visit their extended families, baptize children and return to the Spokane region where he touched the lives of so many people.
"A lot of people have Bruno in their hearts," says Wiley. "He looked after a lot of people -- kind of a mother hen with an attitude. I've never known a character like him."
Peter O'Connell is another Gonzaga alumnus who spent a year studying in Florence. Now a teacher in Montana, O'Connell describes Bruno as an inspiration to those who know him.
"There aren't too many people out there who can hop a train at a moment's notice to an unknown locale, befriend an otherwise hostile group of locals, share a meal and some drink with them, sleep on their otherwise private beach, toast the rising sun and still make it back to Florence in time to celebrate Mass on the pillar of a bridge," O'Connell says. "Father Bruno's passion for living has been an inspiration for countless individuals over many decades -- his unshakable optimism and compassion leave a lasting impact on all who are lucky enough to cross his path."
To this date, Bruno has sent more than 30 paintings to the winery to help fund his causes. Wiley has most of the painting posted in his barrel and tasting rooms. His paintings fit the Tuscan theme of the winery building, and this summer Wiley hopes to have Bruno paint a fresco on one of the winery walls.
Bruno's Blend is a tasty wine, with black fruits and cherry in the mouth. It's a big wine that will work with beef and lamb dishes, as well as a flavorful pre-dinner drink. Wiley recently put the blend together and expects the flavors to integrate in the next few weeks. He expects to retail the wine for $23. It will be available at the winery and online at www.vapianovineyards.com.
To kick off the adventure, Wiley expects to bring Bruno to the winery in July to do some painting and introduce the priest to the wine community. They plan to visit Spokane, but as Wiley says, Bruno will need no introductions. He just doesn't know for certain what date Bruno will arrive.
"With Bruno, when you see him is when you see him," Wiley says. "He is so interested in everyone around him -- you never know where it will lead him. And when he gets here, everybody will want to see him."