500 gallons of Red Wine part one

Discussion in 'Beer & Ale' started by bob marsh, Jan 8, 2008.

  1. bob marsh

    bob marsh Fire Starter

    Here's a glimpse into my childhood - I have a feeling that some of you may have similar stories luring in the backs of your minds. I hope this is in the right place as it's sort of a "How To" dealing with winemaking, old school style - you may even get a laugh out of it.
    First let me say that my late Dad was an electrical engineer and one of the smartest men I have ever met, and earned very nice money. His parents were of English Protestant descent and as such were sort of taken aback when he chose my late Mom - a flashy, cigarette smoking, makeup wearing Italian Catholic who could cook with the best of them and dance to Big Band Swing until dawn peeked over the horizon.The point here is, is that I wasn't a deprived child who did the things he did or obeyed his elders out of need or desperation - I did it because I respected and loved them.

    Anyway, when I was growing up ( Circa 1950 ) the big thing in my life was both sets of Grandparents and Sunday dinners. Later on I'll tell you about Grandpa Percy Marsh and his model T's - but right now I'll tell you about Grandpa Pietro Valery and the Red Wine.

    Grandpa Peter was a Sicilian immigrant whose specialty was making boots for people with club feet - this is not a joke, this is completely the truth - so you can imagine how much work he had to do. My Grandma Josephine was a homemaker that worked like a slave and saved like a miser, and through her efforts and skill they were able to, over time, buy almost an entire city block in Lowertown. Lockport, New York was split into two distinct parts - Lockport proper where the well-to-do Irish, English, German, etc. made their homes and "Lowertown" which was at the bottom of Market Street Hill . This is where the Italians, Poles and African-Americans lived. Lockport was so named because the Erie Barge Canal ran right up the center of the town coming in at Lowertown and flowing into an immense set of canal locks which was right smack in the middle of Main St. in Lockport proper - ships from Lake Ontario would sail up the canal, through the locks and later go to the Saint Lawrence Seaway and beyond.

    My grandparents owned close to a city block at the intersection of Market St. and Exchange St. - Within this block they owned a small hotel which catered to the workers of all ethnic groups who were constantly revising and widening the canal. there was also a candy store run by the a widow, Mrs. Anselmo, Tommy Colletti's barbershop, Mrs. Muscarella's "Antique" shop and a movie theater Grandma and Uncle George operated - in short a sort of early, crude Mall.

    Grandpa Peter didn't work much ( Shortage of people with clubfoot ) so he supplimented his family's income by making wine, which he would sell to the canal workers and just about anybody else who could afford the insanely high price of $.25 a liter - not a misprint - 25 cents a bottle . At that time, as at present, making wine wasn't illegal in New York State - Each family could produce 250 gallons for their personal consumption - so 500 gallons may have been a bit much. Moreover, selling ANY of your wine, even one bottle was forbidden by Federal law - in other words, what Grandpa Peter was doing could be looked upon as bootlegging. I guess it helped a little that Grandpa greased the skids a little with the police, a lot of whom were sons of his Paisans. Whenever one of the officers would come to his house they never went away without a gallon of Grandpas best, so, they were sorta looking out for him and turning a blind eye.

    Now, a lot of the old Italian men in Lockport would make wine but because of tradtion they cut off their noses to spite their faces - It went like this: Lockport was right smack in the middle of Niagara County - Niagara County was one heck of a grape growing region, but at that time the grapes, which were mostly Lake Niagara white grapes and Concords were disdained by the immigrant winemakers as inferior grapes - useless for making good wine - Everybody out of habit would buy Alicante' and Mucat Grapes from the Niagara Mohawk Market in Niagara Falls. The catch was that these grapes were expensive even then because they had to be shipped from California and be kept cold on their journey. At the time I think they were about $15.00 for a 43 lb. flat - You need about 750 lbs to make one 50 gallon barrel - you see where this is going...eh?

    So every fall Grandpa Pitero and Uncle Tony would ride to the Mohawk Market and buy enough Alicantes and Muscats to make a couple barrels of wine - 100 gallons or so. No Bride on her wedding day was ever cared for more delicately than these grapes - It was only later, when I was about 9 or 10 that I was allowed to make the journey from Lockport to Niagara Falls in Uncle Tony's '47 Chevy Pickup wedged between Uncle Tony and Gandpa Peter to buy the grapes. Of course, all the other old Italians were at the market at the same time - a veritable feeding frenzy - all trying to get the grapes they needed for their year's vintage.

    Grandpa would make a great show of taking his time - choosing just the right grapes - paying cash, and loudly proclaiming - " Dis-a all this-a piece of junk-a truck will haul - I come back later for more...." And so he'd buy 1500 pounds of California grapes - 2 flats Alicantes to 1 flat Muscat -

    We'd haul them home and stash them in the cellar, and then, under cover of darkness Grandpa and Uncle Tony would rendevous with Dick Nerber who owned a huge vineyard and sold most of his Concord grapes to Welch's for jelly and juice. Long story short over the course of a couple, three nights they would haul enough Concords from Nerber’s farm to Grandpa's house to magically transmute a fifteen hundred pound purchase of California grapes into 10 barrels by cutting it with Concord Grapes which cost at the time about $1.50 a bushel. That this wasn't traditional bothered Grandpa not at all - he didn't see it as a cheat, after all, wine was wine and as long as the drinker enjoyed it what was the difference?

    I don't know how he did it, because I was just a kid but all i know was that everybody from the police department to Father Lombardo from St. Joseph's would start sniffing around about the time the wine was ready to be bottled.

    Grandpa had a wine press cemented into the concrete floor of the cellar of their house - Of course when you're small everything looks huge, but at the time it looked like Grandpa, Uncle Tony and I could get in the basket and do a Tarantella -

    Continued in next thread due to size constraints

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