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MILAN (Reuters Life!) - When Luca Cutolo adopted, he dreamed of qualities any parent might expect such as round, robust and loveable -- but he was especially keen on drinkable.
Because when you're adopting a "barrique," a barrel with enough wine for 300 bottles, your baby better be good.
"I was incredibly pleased," said Cutolo, 33, an Italian who lives in Haarlem, the Netherlands, with his wife, Maria, and Giovanni, the real baby whose happy arrival prompted the wine adoption.
"I made a tasting for friends and colleagues and they said if you do this wine in the future, we will all be your clients."
Cutolo can only dream about his own vineyard, because he's deskbound as the lead information technology architect for a Dutch oil company.
But he tasted his dream, literally and figuratively, through the "Adopt a Barrique" program of the Valdipiatta Estate near the southern Tuscan hill town of Montepulciano.
Miriam Caporali, owner of the winery, has offered "adoptions" since 2004. The process, which takes from six months to a year, costs from 3,500 to 4,000 euros ($4,600-$5,258).
What she calls "aspiring producers" can even pay to stay in the family house.
"We try to make it a whole experience," she said.
Other Adopt a Barrel programs exist, including one in Texas to collect hazardous household waste. A San Francisco winery, Crushpad, like Valdipiatta, allows participants to create a custom wine and follow it through the aging process.
But adopting at Valdipiatta makes you, albeit temporarily, a vintner in Tuscany, joining a professional team with a dozen outstanding ratings on www.eRobertParker.com.
Gigi Piumatti, editor-in-chief of the authoritative Slow Food guide "Italian Wines," said he knew of "adoptions" for agricultural products like rare goats, but Valdipiatta's wine program was an Italian rarity.
"I've never heard of any one other than this," he said.
Valdipiatta's adoptions begin with a half-day wine tasting to create the customer's personal blend from four fully fermented varietals: Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Participants receive a baby picture of their personalized oak barrel and constant updates until the wine is ready to filter and bottle.
They also design the label.
Cutolo's taste just before bottling was better but stronger than his initial tasting at blending. "But this is what I like," he said. "I don't like sophisticated wine."
His wife differs: her 300 bottles should be ready in April.
For details click on "projects" at www.valdipiatta.it .
Editing by Paul Casciato