I remember my mother telling me about her move to Southern California, and how excited she was the first time she picked an orange off a tree and ate it right there. I was thinking, like… ok, big deal… you need to get out more! But then again, she was from New York, and I had been born and raised in L.A. After all, I had never seen an apple tree… In fact, at 42 years, I still have never seen an apple tree. Maybe I’m the one that needs to get out more.
That said, if you are reading this from Napa Valley (Hi Jac and Ami), this post might have you thinking I’ve been locked in a cage most of my life. Well, that cage was walled by the confines of the 101, 405 and 118 freeways in the San Fernando Valley, and I can’t stop saying to myself: ‘Dude! I, like, fully made WINE yesterday’.
OK, I’m going to admit that it wasn’t my first time. The first time was about 13 years ago when I happened to be here in Soriano nel Cimino during the harvest, and I helped my father in law with his private yield.
At the time, my only point of reference in making wine was the image of Lucy rolling her pants up, stomping grapes, and screaming ‘Ohhhh Ricky’! I quickly learned that grape stomping was actually a practice that ended about a thousand years ago when the first mechanized wine press was invented. Some towns still practiced stomping (of a small portion of their grapes) for fun and entertainment during their wine festivals, and of course THAT made far better entertainment for the ‘I Love Lucy’ fans.
The ‘basket press’ (Torchio in Italian), which was invented about 1,000 years ago has remained largely unchanged through the years. Farmers throughout Italy that have their own private vineyards for personal use still use this press every year to make their wine.
Yesterday marked my second time. I went to visit Leo, Santino and Andrea. They are actually the contractors that restored our villa, but they also have a farm with their own two acre vineyard, plus more acreage of an olive orchard, hazelnut orchard, etc. They harvest their grapes each year, which produces an average of 1,300 liters of an excellent red. Believe it or not, that is hardly enough to get them through the year for their own personal use! Does that thought just drive your mind away from Lucy, and on to Otis from The Andy Griffith Show, or what?
We spent the afternoon in their cantina filling the press with the separated grapes, and watching the must (basically grape juice that will grow up to become wine) pour out. As I watched and helped, I listened to them tell me what a true labor of love it is. Every so often, it was time to assemble the press and start cranking away, squeezing every little bit possible out of those pesky grapes! After all, we couldn’t have a year with only 1,299 liters, could we?
In between, we would rest, eat pecorino cheese, salami and mortadella with freshly baked bread. Of course, all the while we are either drinking the remains of last year’s wine, or drinking the must straight from the press ( YUM!!! ).
It was a wonderful afternoon that I will never forget. So much so, that we discussed expanding the vineyard for next year and dedicating a section to CultureDiscovery’s own private reserve. We’ll be planning days with our guests to share in this wonderful experience, and will set aside enough to produce roughly 300 liters of our own reserve for our guests.
Today I am off to Maurizio’s farm, where he is just starting to pick his grapes. More to come!