I have just realized how much time has already passed since my last post… well, we have been on vacation too and have come back to the village just in time to help my parents with the grape harvest.
It’s already that time of the year. And apparently it’s that time of the year for most of the people living here! Throughout the village there are men and women on tractors loaded with baskets full of grapes, people unloading trucks, people pressing grapes in their cellars, people cleaning the presses, people moving the must from the vats to the barrels, or rather from one vat to another, people cleaning the steps of their houses, now covered in sticky purple stuff. The air smells of freshly pressed grapes, there are bees buzzing about everywhere, and you can hear excited voices and the noise of the motors powering the pumps and the pressing machines.
This made me realize how many people still have land around here, even if farming is not their main occupation. I also realized how many people still make their own wine, which they prefer to drink with their meals rather than bottled wine, even though what we make at home is nothing (and I would like to stress the nothing concept…) like what professional wineries produce.
My family has made its own wine for decades. I have many dear memories of the “vendemmia”, the grape harvest. Grape picking has always been a “family business”, with my grandfather shouting instructions from the tractor and the rest of us picking grapes from dawn to dusk! Now my father is in charge of the shouting part and we are still picking!
For those who have no idea how the “non professional” grape harvest works, here is what happens in my family every year.
In mid September, generally on a weekend because we all have other jobs, my father decides that it’s time for the “vendemmia”. The vendemmia takes priority over everything, so if you have already made other plans, forget about them. Of course there is no way to know when this sudden “urge” will appear… it mostly depends on the weather forecast and whether or not the grapes are ready.
You might think that the rain would be a bummer only on the day that you decide to harvest the grapes, but no… actually it’s just as bad if it rains the day before, because that means working while up to your ankles in mud… and that’s not fun, especially when you need to move heavy baskets. So, my father lets us know that the time is approaching, and after that, the “call” can come any day… it’s like childbirth!
On the day of the grape harvest, family and friends meet in the vineyards, wearing comfortable shoes and clothes we don’t care much about (you wouldn’t believe how much sticky grape juice and mud ends up on you), with a pair of good scissors, and possibly, gloves. I always bring gloves as I hate putting my bare hands in the leaves if I don’t know what I am touching. I am not a huge fan of insects or sticky hands.
Someone is in charge of the empty crates and places them at regular intervals among the vines so that the pickers don’t have to walk up and down the hill when their crate is full.
Grape picking is a sociable activity. If the vines have many grapes you can work with somebody who picks opposite you on the other side of the vine. If there are only a few grapes, then people work on the same side. Position is not important: chatting is. The vendemmia is the best time to catch up, gossip and tell jokes! But only until my dad decides that we have to hurry up, because he needs a few more crates on his truck so that he can start pressing the grapes!!
While the rest of us keep on picking, my father and my husband load the truck with 25-30 crates full of grapes and drive to the cellar below our apartment where we keep the press. No… it’s not a wooden tub where we all jump in and press grapes with our naked feet singing songs… sorry… (ed. Unless of course you count last year when the motor on the press broke and we had to press a truckload of grapes by hand!) It’s an electric machine which crushes the grapes and separates them from the stems and then pumps the mix of juice, skins and seeds into a large vat where they are left to ferment.
It takes a while to empty the crates into the machine and make sure that all the grapes are pressed but that’s just another chance to chat with passers-by who stop to comment on this year harvest, last year’s wine, the neighbor’s wine-making skills, and so on and so forth.
After the grapes are pressed, the boring cleaning part of the day has gone, and the smell of must has invaded our home – and it does not come off your clothes and hair so easily – the food-related part comes! My parents invite the people who helped to stay over for dinner and it’s finally time to relax around the table!
The wine making process is not over though. It goes on for a few more days. After the grape harvest, my father goes to “abbassare il vino”, literally to “push the wine down” every day, or twice a day if it’s too hot. At this point the vats contain a mixture of grape juice, seeds and skins. The skins need to be pushed down once a day to keep the ones floating on the surface from coming in contact with oxygen, becoming rancid, and ruining the wine. This operation is also necessary to keep the temperature of the must below 36°C, as higher temperatures might block the fermentation process.
A couple of days later, it’s time for the “svinatura”. This consists in pouring the must into another vat while filtering it to remove the skins and seeds. The latter are then pressed again and the juice is added to the filtered must, which keeps “boiling” (i.e. fermentation produces bubbles as in boiling water) for about a month.
At that point the wine can be decanted again (i.e. transferred to another container). This operation must be carried out with great care and only when the moon is waning. The bottom of the container must not be touched and the wine should not be moved too much, so as not to disturb the sediment which has settled in the vat. The purpose of the “travaso” is in fact to further filter the wine.
This is the time when most people have their wine analysed and possibly corrected with specific products, such as citric and tartaric acid. Apparently, since this year we had very little rain, the wine will be very strong. The wine is left to rest for another month, and then these operations are repeated. Normally the new wine is ready at Christmas time.
We are always happy to invite our guests to participate in the grape harvest, and we organize wine tasting tours!
How interesting. I find it fascinating that so man people make wine for themselves and their families.
Fascinating! Sounds like a lot of work and a lot of fun.
Thank you! Yes, I guess most people around here make their own wine. It is very different from bottled wine, you should try it next time you are in Italy!
eh vabbe, tommaso and i will pitch in that weekend IF it’s not all muddy!!
Don’t say that again or before you realize it you’ll have scissors in your hands!
Aloha e Gloria,
We will be in Tuscany between Lucca and Orvieto the last week of September. Is there a way to adopt your family for a day and evening of picking and laughter once you papa calls for the vendemmia?
Vicki and Daniel
The rainforest, Maui, Hawaii USA
Dear Viki and Daniel,
thank you for the sweet message. Unfortunately we are not allowed to have non family member in the fields because of strict immigration labor rules. Sorry!