Winemaking was a serious business and not taken lightly - so when grapes were in a lot of the children in the family suddenly got sick and missed a few days of school. Grandpa had a walled in court in the backyard behind the kitchen of their house and all the female children would sit around three folding tables set end-to-end which were covered with white linen tablecloths which where not only bought new every year for just this purpose, but were so ridiculously white they almost looked blue. The men and boys would bring the grapes to the tables and the girls would pull the stems from the grapes and sort out any bad or mouldy fruit - and toss the good grapes in laundry baskets - There was an initial lag time where there was nothing for the men to do so they stood around eating Cappicolo and Prosciutto sandwiches with roasted sweet peppers and looking snotty. Finally, when there was a reasonable amount of grapes ready the men and boys would haul the laundry baskets to the cellar and begin to grind them into the vertical open ended oak barrels which served as primary fermentation vats. The grinder was a ponderous homemade affair which sat on two 2x4 struts across the upended barrel and was powered by an electric motor which was screwed to the grinder's base - The young boys would circulate between the garden and the cellar and bring Uncles Tony, Ernie, George and Joe baskets of de-stemmed grapes as they became available - There was a lot of time to drink last year's wine, eat Cappicolo and Prosciutto sandwiches with roasted sweet peppers - but eventually, over the course of four or five days all the grapes got processed into the primary fermentation vats - the crushed grapes were covered with burlap potato sacking and the light in the cellar were extinguished - It was then that the fruit flies asserted themselves......... At any rate After the crushed grapes sat overnight Grandpa would innoculate the vats with a yeast starter - at the time real wine yeast was an unheard of extravagance and so he used plain old brewer's yeast dissolved in warm water. Within a day the grapes would be fermenting furiously and the whole house smelled of the fermenting juice - The entire cellar was thick with fruit flies that buzzed and swarmed in an effort to get to the treasure beneath the burlap sacking. Grandpa timed the fermentation so that the primary fermentation would take place during the week when my uncles were obliged to work at their jobs and the children were in school. When the weekend came around we were all expected to converge on the house on Exchange St. and pitch in once again. During that week, once a day Grandpa would push the cap of seeds and skins which would rise to the top of the juice down with a crude wooden paddle he had for as long as I can remember - It was stained so purple from years of use that it looked black. Saturday was the day the grapes got pressed and that was an entire weekend's work - All the male children were issued pitchers, pots or pans and would line up at the first vat - Grandpa was in charge of the wooden spigot at the bottom of the barrels. He'd take a pitcher from the first in line and fill it with fermenting juice from the spigot, when full he'd hand it to the child and instruct him " You donna drop !" and send him on his way to Uncle Joe or Uncle Ernie who usually had the job of pouring the wine through a cheesecloth covered funnel into the waiting whiskey barrels which Grandpa had bought from a local Cider Mill. These barrels were used only once for aging Kentucky Bourbon - He said that by law they couldn't use the barrel for Bourbon again and so a lot of them were sold off to other distilleries which weren't governed by that rule and to cider mills throughout the country for aging hard apple cider. Grandpa explained that the barrels were saturated with fine whiskey which not only made the wine strong and resistant to disease, but also added a nice flavor to the wine. One time a fellow named Cosimo Pusateri came to visit Grandpa when he was making wine - Cos fancied himself an expert on wine and winemaking and was quick to point out all the things he saw wrong with Grandpa's procedure - Actually he was sort of a fop when all was told because he always dressed in a beautiful suit and Italian shoes so bright the'yd sparkle - but by the looks of his manicured nails you kinda got the impression that even if he DID know a lot about wine drinking he probably never crushed a grape in his life - Grandpa used to say that the emptiest barrel made the loudest noise and he held Cosimo in rather low regard. Still, Grandpa listened to all of Cos's sage advice and would nod occasionally while he continued with the filling and emptying. Finally it was time for a break and Grandpa pulled a couple of semi-clean jelly jars from the rafters of the cellar and drew two glasses of the fermenting wine from the vat he was working on. He handed Cosimo one and drained his in a single draught. Cos sipped his appreciatively and went through his analytical routine and told Grandpa that the wine was good, but would be much better if he added about a pound of sugar per gallon to the juice. The one thing no Sicilian EVER does is add sugar to wine -and Grandpa was visibly shaken at the suggestion, so he walked over to Cos and looked down at his feet and pointing, said "Whats-a Dat on-a you shoe?" Cos looked at the mirror-like perfection of his shoes bewildered, and about that time Grandpa closed one nostril with a finger and blew his nose out onto Cos's shoe. Cos blanched and tore out his handkerchief and tried to clean the toe of his hoe, but somehow it's perfection was now defiled- He left in a huff and Grandpa and my uncles laughed like maniacs and minced around the cellar in a parody of a Dandy showing off his stuff. When all of the free juice was drained from a vat Uncle Tony would scoop the seeds and skins into a pail and he'd dump them into the huge winepress , the slatted basket of which was lined with a canvas pressing cloth which kept a lot of the seeds and skins from squirting out the slats when the screw was run down . All day and into the evening we'd move in an endless line from the vats to the waiting barrels until all the vats had been emptied and all the remains poured into the press - Finally it was time for dinner and all of us adjourned to the backyard and washed the sticky juice off our hands and faces with the garden hose. Grandma and our moms had set the folding tables in the yard with a large antipasto, dishes of Chicci-Favi, Lupini beans, Provologne, huge bowls of Gavatuna and sauce with Polpetti the size your fist, Salsiccia, pork and chicken which had been simmering in the rich sauce all day. An immense salad with Romas from their own plants. The loaves of crusty bread were still warm from the oven and fragrant. We all sat and said Grace with Grandma and waited patiently til Grandpa came from the cellar with a pitcher of wine from a previous vintage for the table. All the adults were served and, because we'd worked on the wine all the kids would get a small glass which Grandma would dilute with some water. Grandpa would raise his glass slightly and quietly utter "La Familia" and dinner would begin. After the meal we kids were released to play or go to the Sugar Bowl for a piece of penny candy and my uncles and Grandpa would return to the cellar and enjoy a DiNobili cigar and more wine while the long process of pressing the grapes began - The big screw would be run down on the wooden plate until the juice began to flow into the waiting pitcher - Theyd tighten it up a few turns then wait a while, then tighten some more. This process went on through the night and into the next morning. It usually took the rest of Sunday to press the rest of the juice, but by Sunday night ten freshly filled 53 gallon barrels stood in a row in the cellar under the dim electric bulbs - Grandpa would pour a cup of olive oil into each barrel which would rise to the top of the wine and seal the new wine off from the contaminates in the air - then a tin cup inverted over the open Bunghole and the wine was ready to sleep in their oak barrels for a long while. Frugal to the end Grandpa would break up the plug of seeds and skins from the press and put them back into the fermentaion barrels, pour a good deal of hot water over them and add some sugar syrup and let this ferment for a week or so - This was known as "Aquadi" or Watered Wine - and after it fermented for awhile he'd drain the liquid from the two full vats and toss it in the ancient pot still that he had built years before - When the 100 gallons of second wine was distilled he had maybe 10 gallons of homemade Grappa which was filthy stuff - clear as water, smelling like acetone and strong enough to kill a hundred year old elephant - but just the thing for a cold winter day sitting in the kitchen of the house on Exchange Street, dozing slightly behind the spirit's seeping fire, dreaming as old men will when they're content, dreaming of the next fall when he and his family would make the wine once again. Â© Copyright 2004 Roberto (UN: bobmarsh at Writing.Com). All rights reserved. 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