The last – and only time – we turned our own grapes into wine was in 1975, our first year on the land in Umbria. The land and farmhouse had been abandoned for ten years prior, detrimental to the vineyard. Phylloxera had taken over. As we picked our meagre yield with farm friends, Peppe and Mandina, they reminisced on the past beauty of the vineyard, its grape abundance under the able hands of “povero Giannetto” (in Umbria, “poor” – povero – precedes the name of a deceased).
Giannetto had died years prior and his wife and children had moved off the land. For about $25 per month (right price!), we rented a crumbling farmhouse and the land in September, 1975, close to vendemmia (“grape harvest”) time. Our nearest rural neighbors, Peppe and Mandina, soon became our mentors and dear friends, teaching us everything about the land – and not only.
Our dirt road was nearly impassable and on the morning of the vendemmia, they arrived at our farmhouse on the wooden cart Peppe had made, pulled by their team of oxen, huge bigonze (wooden barrels for the grapes) clattering in the back.
Pino re-planted our vineyard up on the hill just a few years ago and we have grapes from Giannetto’s vines twisting around the maple trees – called “la madre dell’uva” (“mother of the grapes”) as they guide the vines – in front of our house. In late September, Pino took all the grapes (five crates, maybe 100 kilos?) to Peppa’s to unite with hers for a “joint venture” vino. She and her three sons pressed the grapes, transferring the juice to huge casks. Peppa, of course, headed into her wine cellar daily to taste test the wine-on-the-way.
Last week, a frantic Peppa called us, asking for the copper kettles and sieve hanging on our kitchen wall: all the wine (about 400 liters) had to be immediately transferred to new barrels, passing it through copper. The only way to save it, a “wine expert” (her nephew) had told her, warning that the wine ha preso di spunto (“was going sour”). Pino had had the same suspicion a few days earlier, puckering at a vinegar hint as he sipped. “Ma no!” exclaimed Peppa, negating.
Down came a couple of the copper pots and the battered sieve, a few of the pieces I’d bought at an old junk shop on Corfu the summer of 1974. I remember emptying my backpack of my clothes, stuffing in the copper and heading to the ferry back to Italy (I was teaching in Rome that year). And now the copper would be used once again (perhaps as an old Greek farmwoman had once used it?).
In Peppa’s wine cellar, we transferred the four hundred liters of wine through the copper sieve into other barrels.
At dinner at Peppa’s last night, we asked about the wine progress. She sternly asked me, “why did you take the copper away? You know I would have taken care of it.”
Who knew she’d need it again? But she does: her nephew has recommended a second try at pouring the wine through copper. Her sons will be there for the wine-sieving tomorrow.
Using my old Greek copper, they’ll make another attempt to save this year’s harvest.
Here’s hoping, Peppa, for a wine as good as the ones we’ve tasted in your wine cellar in past years.
Meet our farm friends, givers of the greatest gifts
Read about – and see – our first years on the land in Umbria
Read more about treasured rural friends
Read more about indefatigable Peppe
Click here to read more on Peppe’s wondrous olive oil
You really can’t miss a rural banquet cooked by Chiarina
Read about the “regal welcome” Chiarina and Marino give to their guests
Read about our rural friends – and their “green gold,” olive oil
Read about why a visit with our rural friends makes any Umbrian stay unforgettable
Click here to see how a visit to rural friends can make your stay “the experience of a lifetime”
Click here to read about a treasured Umbrian rural winter tradition
Click here for many more insights on our rural friends
Read about Chiarina and Marino – and the use of broom
Click here to read about – and see – why rural visits offer “unforgettable moments”
Click here to read about “memorable rural moments”
Live Umbria, live the “rural life revisited”