Those are the words that come to mind when I reflect on yesterday’s vendemmia, grape harvest. When Lou (Luigi, that is) and I were invited to take part in our friends’ vedemmia, we jumped at the chance. I’ve taken tours through many vineyards here in Italy – large, commercial ones and small, personal ones – but this was our first opportunity to be a part of the grape harvest as workers. And work, we did!
Here in Umbria, the harvesting of grapes has taken place for thousands – yes, thousands – of years and yesterday’s experience proved what I had only suspected before. Aside from a few pieces of modern machinery, the vendemmia hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Yesterday I was struck with the basic beauty of that.
Friends, family and a few workers (working for their share of vino) climbed up and down the steep hill, in between the long rows, snipping clusters of grapes while chatting and laughing. I heard stories, told in thick, Fabrese dialect, about well drilling, cingiale (wild boar) hunting and 2 mice that were found in someone’s truck. Whether they were the black or dark brown variety is still being debated.
Sometimes the voices fell silent, and all you could hear was the snipping of plant scissors and the soft plops of grape bunches as they fell into buckets. The temperature was ideal – in the high 60s – and the sun shone brightly for most of the day.
There were 14 of us in all, and I was the youngest at 48 years old. My picking partner, for much of the day, Vittoria, is 84. Her brother, also picking grapes, is 85. When my muscles grew sore (about mid-morning!) and my stomach starting growling, I looked to Vittoria and her brother for inspiration. How could people their age manage up and down that steep (really steep!) hill, let alone lift bucket after bucket filled with grapes? Those buckets are heavy, let me tell you!
So I continued my snipping and lifting without complaint, and instead let my mind wander to the Etruscans and Romans and medieval workers who probably harvested grapes on that very same hill, in centuries past. The view of the ancient village of Fabro was spectacular, the grapes were delicious (you get to eat as many as you want while picking) and the company – well, they were the best.
When the church bells from the village rang 12 times, Mamma di Rossana (we call her that, because she’s Rossana’s mother) said it was time to climb up the hill for pranzo, lunch. Even Vittoria and her brother were ready for the break.
And pranzo? Well, that story shall be told in La Vendemmia: Part Two …