One of the most fun time for me as a young boy and later a teen, was the harvest of the grapes and making wine.
Harvest was a busy time of the year in San Romano because we did multiple harvesting. Chestnut, Olives, Grapes, Grain, and other items.
The harvesting of the grapes was the most fun.
Once my father determined that the grapes were ready to be picked, we would prepare the entire family for the task.
At the base level of our home in the very back room called ” Cantina” was the equipment for making wine and storing it.
A couple of weeks before harvesting the grapes, my father and I would prepare the room by disposing of any unnecessary equipment, cleaning all of the required bottles, barrels, ” Damigianes” and of course the “tino”.
The “tino” is the large upright oak container used to collect all the grapes for the wine making.
When everything was ready, the entire family would go out to the vineyards and start picking grapes. Armed with a pair of scissor or a knife, I would cut grape stems and deposit the grape in a wooden basket. Once the basket was full, I would carry it to the “Cantina” and drop the entire load inside the “tino”.
This process was repeated by each member of our family from dusk to dawn. It usually took us two entire days to complete the harvest and fill the “tino”.
Once the tino was full to the level that my father felt it was workable, he would climb inside and with his bare feet would start the stomping process. I can see his smile as I write this remembering how much fun that was for him. The grape juice would pour out all around and my father kept stomping. I remember taking a glass, opening the bottom of the tino’s spigot and pouring the fresh juice in the glass. I loved tasting it, it was very delicious.
By the second day, the entire process was complete and fermentation of the grape juice would start. Fermentation would usually take 7 to 10 days. This to me was always an eternity since I wanted to get to the wine and bottle it.
Finally, once ready, the tino looked like a huge round baked bread with a dome like at the top.
This “dome” was really the grape’s skins that had floated to the top and dried out at the outer edge.
My father would taste the wine to see if it was ready, I would also do the tasting and give my opinion. He then would line up the glass ” damigiane”; the “damigiana” is a large glass container wrapped in straw. This is a very old way to store new wine and every family in the village used this method of storage. Very few families had oak barrels for storage and aging; I believe we only had two or three. By using a plastic hose, my father would insert one end in the bottom of the tino’s spigot and the other end in the damigiana. Since the damigiana had to be on a table for easy transport, he would start the process by sucking on the hose to begin the wine delivery.
Once the damigiana was full, it would be corked and place in storage in the cantina.
One year my younger brother Sergio really outdid himself by tasting a lot of grape juice. He got completely drunk, wondered away from the cantina and walked to the vineyard, about a 10 minute walk. It was not until early evening that we all noticed he was missing. After a full search, we found him sound asleep in the middle of one of the vineyard fields.
Once we collected all of the wine, it was time to clear out the grape skins from the tino. I remember one year my father gave me a lesson on how to make Grappa.
He explained that the grape skins left over from the stomping were great candidates for making grappa. Since using human feet to crush grapes, the process is very delicate and the pressure is limited so that a lot of residual juice is left on the skins that now have fermented.
My father would take these skins and place them in a wooden “Strizzo”. The Strizzo is an ancient grape crusher made of wood with steel straps and handle that can “squeeze the wood and get the second crushing juice out and use it to make Grappa.
I don’t remember if I ever got to taste the grappa my father made; grappa is a very strong liquor used after dinner as an aperitif. Later in life I became familiar with grappa and have enjoyed many different brands.
San Romano and the life in the village was simple, full and very rewarding. Has children and young adults, we were not bombarded by any outside force as today’s Internet, video games, TV, phone texting, and other distractions taking away from the simple relationship of life experiences directly involving each family member on a daily basis.
I now do enjoy and like all of these modern tech toys; but I have a core value that was developed early in life without these distractions and I believe it defines who I am today.
This simple life in the village was really hard work for me, but it was also full of fun. As a young boy and later a teenager, the experiences and the bonding of the family have stayed with me and helped shape my life.