On the morning of the vendemmia Luigi picked grapes for less than an hour, then Babo di Rossana called him out of the vineyard. When he didn’t return, I realized that he had been recruited for a different grape-harvesting job, but I would have to wait until lunch to learn all the details.
After the clusters of grapes were snipped off the vine, they were placed in large, plastic baskets or buckets with handles. When the buckets were full, the pickers (like me, Vittoria and her 85 year old brother) lifted these (very heavy) buckets to men standing behind one of two tractors that I started to refer to as the “grape mobiles”. These men, in turn, transferred the grapes into larger bins that sat on metal trailer behind the tractor. When the large tractor bins were nearly spilling over, the tractor diver transported them up, up, up the hill. But to where?
At lunch, Luigi spilled the beans. He explained that when one of the grape mobiles reached the road at the top of the hill, he, Babo and Riccardo were waiting to load the bins into Babo’s large, panel truck. (The same truck in which Babo transports antique furniture.) The three grape-musketeers would then drive the panel truck through the village, past the castle and down the road by the pizzeria to Babo and Mamma di Rossana’s farmhouse and cantina. At the door to the cantina (that lies beneath the house), they would unload the bins and dump the grapes, bucketful by bucketful, into a crushing machine that would, in turn, pass the crushed grapes into large, concrete vats.
The three ragazzi would then get back into the truck and drive up the road by the pizzeria, by the castle, through the village and back to the vineyard. Load, unload, repeat. Sometimes they would stop and grab an espresso. They also had to sample last year’s vino down at the cantina – several times.
Back in the vineyard, we finished picking our last row of grapes at 5:00pm. Both tractor drivers waved, shouted, “ciao, ciao!” and drove their grape mobiles off into the distance. The rest of us struggled back up that hill, one more time, (I swear it kept getting steeper) where we got into our respective vehicles and drove to join Luigi, Babo and Riccardo down at the farm.
As the sun started to dip behind Mount Cetona, all of us gathered in the small vineyard by the farm (yes, another vineyard!) where we picked through the last of the vines in nothing flat. A few of the men loaded these bins of grapes into Nino’s Ape and he drove around back to the cantina. Everyone scurried to dump the final grapes into the crusher before it got dark.
Inside the cantina (that is so old, that no one knows how old it is), Mamma explained to me that the crushed grapes will ferment in the vats until Monday (6 days), at which time the mix will be pressed to remove the skins and stems from the liquid. This new wine will then be transferred to clean holding tanks, where it will remain until Christmas. One more transfer to clean tanks will take place during the holidays (to remove sediment that has accumulated at the bottom), and after a few more months of aging, the wine will be ready for drinking at Easter.
We all gathered outside the cantina and Mamma di Rossana served up a snack of left-over panini, cheese and panetone – plus a couple jugs of wine, of course. “Siete stanchi?” Mamma looked at Lou and I with a little pity in her eyes when she asked if we were tired. Of course we said, “no”. What a great, big lie! We were both ready to drop.
We finished our snacks as the evening air grew chilly, and the vendemmia crew, one by one, started to leave. I went inside the cantina one last time with Babo to look at the grapes already fermenting in the vats. He gave me a big hug and a smile. Torni lunedi, no? he asked. I was a bit confused. Why would I return on Monday? “C’e’ un pranzo proprio” (a real lunch) he said. “You and Lou must be here to barbecue and celebrate the vendemmia!”
So it looks like we’re headed back to the farm on Monday. I wonder what we’ll be eating? Of course, I already know what we’ll be drinking. Cin, cin.