Favorite Family Wine Stories

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Epic Pitmaster
Original poster
OTBS Member
SMF Premier Member
Sep 7, 2013
Roseville, CA, a suburb of Sacramento
How my love of wine all started for me.

Although I'm half Italian (mom) and half Scotch-Irish (dad), the Italian side of my genealogy has dominated my life's adventures. My dad even adopted the lifestyle of my mom's Italian family.  They just had so much more fun than his own side of the family who all grew up on a farm rural in West Virginia.

My maternal grandparents immigrated from Calabria and lived in Fairmont, WV in a predominately Italian section of the town back then.  We're talking the 19-teens onward.  Grandpa was a doughboy in WWI for the short time we were involved in that war then worked in the coal mines until he retired.  He only worked the mines for a short time and spent decades working in the metal shop/foundry on the mine site fixing broken equipment.  During slow times he would make stuff for himself.

He made a hand cranked grape crusher and wine press out of old barrels and broken metal parts.  He used that wine press to make thousands of gallons of wine in his lifetime.  Heck, during Prohibition he even made sacramental wine for the Catholic Church, an allowed exception to the Volstead Act.  Of course he kept plenty for himself in storage for the church!  My parents had that old wine press for a while but termites basically reduced it to nothing. 

Grandpa had a basement under the house that extended into the side of the hill behind the house.  That was where he made and stored the wine.  I used to love to go down there to play as a kid in the hot summer when we visited because it was the coolest place around (no AC) and smelled incredible.  I actually wasn't allowed down there but that didn't stop me.

On the hill behind the house was a small flat area of grass where grandma hung laundry to dry.  The rest of the hill was a garden that included veggies, some fruit trees, and rows of red wine grapes.  I have no idea what type of grapes they were.  He'd use them to make wine along with grapes he bought at a little Italian store down the hill from the house.  He always bottled his wine in gallon glass jugs, never the 750 ml wine bottles.  Some had screw-on tops, some corks.  There was ALWAYS an open bottle on top of the refrigerator that got used until it was gone or started to turn to vinegar.  Then he'd grab another jug.

The wine was usually "green" tasting because he bottled it right from the last racking stage once all the fermentation stopped.  He didn't bother to let it age in barrels.  Still, for some jugs that got stuck in the back of the basement and stuck around a while, it was pretty good table wine.

To this day, dry red table wine is my absolute favorite red wine.  I've only ever had one bottle of $50 wine in my life, a Merlot shared with a friend, and yes, it was fantastic, but I never buy expensive wine, preferring the familiar taste of a simple red wine.  $20 is about the max I'll spend on a bottle and that's usually at a winery after a tasting.

That's how my love of wine started for me.  But I have are so many more stories of Italian family and friend get-togethers that always included red wine, my dad's adventures into wine making, a visit from the "revenuers" when we lived in Tennessee, and the mysterious loud bangs that emanated from our garage one summer that took weeks to figure out.   I can share those if anyone is interested. 

Feel free to share your own family wine stories.  After all, this is a "community."  Thanks for reading! 
Noboundaries, that was just beautiful!

Thank you for sharing this and here's a toast to your heritage and family!!!

What's wonderful about wine to me is that it is indeed a "connector" and thus something better when shared.

Whatever good and bad that is experienced, is always somehow lived out around much food and wine in my house - family coming together in good times and in bad, but always raising that glass of "gratitude" and warmth so to speak.

It was a treat to read your words here. Please DO continue to share whatever you wish, and post photos in here too!

And that invite goes to all - share your vino stories indeed!

T'is gorgeous stuff!

Cheers and happy March!!!! - The best month of this new year so far!!! - Leah
Thanks Leah. Wine is such a great bonding agent among family and friends.

Hmmm, pictures.  My dad probably has the old family albums.  Below is a picture of my Italian maternal grandparents I took from a cookbook my mom put together in 1995 for my daughters of a few their great-grandma's recipes.  To give the picture some perspective, grandma was only 4'11" tall so there isn't a lot of height in that picture.

On another thread about family recipes someone mentioned Christmas Eve.  Grandma would cook all day and Grandpa would make the baccala.  They would put aside money for months to have what they needed just for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner.  Wine was an essential part of that celebration.

Baccala was always on the Christmas Eve menu, what grandpa called the salad, pronounced Sah-lahd.  He'd buy about 15-20 lbs of salted cod, then soak it in water in a big tub in the cold attic for about a week, changing the water several times a day from a wash sink he'd installed up there.  Then he'd bake the cod until it was almost crispy.  He'd transfer it to a BIG bowl then add olive oil, salt, black pepper, hot red pepper flakes, marinated Italian black olives with seeds, and lots of garlic.  That is a recipe I've learned to duplicate with fresh or frozen cod and one I make on occasion.

Grandma made a red "sauce" that used fish instead of meat.  In it she'd braise calamari (which they pronounced Kah-la-mahd), cod, shrimp, and clams.  She'd make a huge pot of pasta, then came the fried dishes: fried cod, calamari, shrimp, smelt, and cauliflower.  Of course she'd been baking bread for more than a week and so many different types of cookies for more than a month.

We'd have a late dinner, always with lots of grandpa's wine, even the kids got wine mixed with water.  When we visited there usually 14-16 for dinner but we barely put a dent in the amount of food available.  Off to midnight mass, kids to bed, then the party started.  People came by the house ALL NIGHT LONG!!!!  It wasn't unusual for there to be 30-40 people in the house at any one time.  Many brought their own homemade wine in jugs to share.  The food was laid out on the table again, jugs of wine opened, and people ate, drank, and laughed all night long.

The men always played an Italian drinking game called Morra, an ancient game that translates into something like "fist fight" or "fist quarrel."  They'd pick teams then each player pair simultaneously yells out a number in Italian and throws out a fist with a chosen number of fingers extended.  You'd add up the fingers and whoever called the right number won and moves to the next player. That went on all night long.  Winning team drank wine, losing team drank wine, the point was to drink wine!     

When I would wake Christmas morning, the place would be clean, any leftover food put away, and grandma plus my aunts and mom would be simultaneously cooking breakfast and a Christmas dinner of turkey and ham, plus all the fixin's.  That was what I remember from the 1960's and holiday visits to my nonni and grandpa's home.  Such a different time.  Honestly, I don't really have much in the memory of opening gifts when we visited them.  I have vague memories of doing so but I so clearly remember the food, laughter, wine, and LOVE that was in that home.

"May all your days be filled with smiles and laughter, and your glass never empty!"


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So downright majestic!

Your grandparent photo is simply beautiful!

The pronunciations (such as their calamari term) and more, made this so very heartwarming!

Thank you!

I can say, already, that I just LOVE your dear grandparents!!!! Smiles. What people! What stories! What fabulous tradition and food/wine enjoyment and love!

THIS is what wine is really about after all!

Such a wonderful story indeed!!!!

Keep them coming! My wish is that all people will chime in!!!

Cheers!!!!!! - Leah
Thank you Leah.  You're a sweetheart for saying such nice things!

Mentioning Morra in the above story reminded me of another wine drinking story.  Zoom ahead 30 years to a restaurant chain called Romano's Macaroni Grill.  Back when the chain first opened locally there were gallon jugs of red table wine on each table.  You'd open it up, pour your own glass, then use the honor system to be charged for the wine.

Our family pretty much spread out after the 1960's moving all over the country.  On one occasion in the early 1990's though my parents, wife, kids, and Italian friends we grew up with and their adult kids and families all got together at a big table at Romano's.  We were surrounded by smaller tables of couples and families enjoying their meals.

Well, the jugs of wine got opened, we started telling stories and laughing, and the fact we were in a restaurant somehow got lost in the moment and it was like we were sitting at home around the kitchen table.  Next thing you know the guys are playing Morra, and we're not being quiet either.  People from other tables who knew the game are joining the "fist quarrel."  We're teaching the game to folks who wanted to learn, including how to count in Italian.

When the dinner was over and we get got up to leave, we had so many folks walking over and hugging us, telling us what a beautiful family we had, others with big smiles thanked us for the entertainment!  Several tables applauded wearing big smiles, including the cooks and management.  For three hours we unintentionally transformed Romano's into one big Italian family dinner all inspired nicely with red table wine.


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Such fabulous things!!!!!

You know for years. we have gone (when able) to my pal's home up in Vermont, where she (AMAZING CHEF who needs to join this site) prepares the full Italian "Garibaldi" day celebration and for MANY!

I remember the first time I went - asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with truffle butter, and arancini rice balls and so forth...(and ten zillion other things right)...

So I GOURMETED myself, and stuffed and stuffed and stuffed, and sort of learned (or so I thought) "So this is what an Italian Garibaldi Day is all about!"

I propped my stuffed self against a wall; grabbed my ninth wine with both hands, and sort of prayed that I would digest all that I consumed.

AND THEN, my pal emerged, in front of the some 50 people there, and announced, that "Now, alas, 'DINNER' would be properly served."

(At which point the grilled goods and all kinds of pastas and everything you could imagine, came into the kitchen).

Until that moment, I had never properly "understood" her culture per se; but am mightily in love with it! Smiles. Indeed, fantastic stuff!

Cheers! - Leah
LOVED that story Leah!  Learning to eat Italian involves huge volumes of seemingly never-ending food.   My belly is one efficient calorie storage warehouse!

Garibaldi Day!  Had to look that up because I never heard it before but it explains a lot.  Learned something new!
Homemade Wine Story Mystery.

When my dad made wine we lived in Tennessee outside Chattanooga.  The garage was his winery so he made his wine in the Fall when the temps were cooler and he wouldn't have to worry about summer heat destroying new wine.

One Fall when the temps had cooled off he fires up a batch of table red and puts it through all the initial stages of fermentation, he racks it, and when the fermentation ceased in the vapor locks he bottled it in gallon glass jugs.  He had big metal shelves upon which he store the wine jugs three deep and the shelves were packed full of new wine.

Wouldn't you know it we get an Indian Summer one year with temps in the 90s in early October.  Dad had already bottled his jug wine for the year.  We're sitting, watching football and we hear what sounds like someone firing a 22 caliber pistol in the garage.  Dad and I jump up and run into the garage expecting to see a fermented red grape and glass disaster in the garage.  Nothing.  Everything is exactly as it should be.  We look around and can't find the source of the sound.  Confused, we shrug our shoulders and walk back into the house.

Over the course of the next week the sound is repeated at least a dozen times, always with the same result.  There's absolutely nothing amiss in the garage.

Finally, the sound occurs again and we were determined to figure out what was going on.  We looked closely at all the jugs of wine and Dad noticed a few droplets of wine on a shelf next to a jug.  Without moving anything he saw that the jug had a crack right in the middle that ran 360 degrees all the way around the jug.  We carefully moved the jug, carrying it from the bottom and put it in a bucket.  Dad opened the cap and when he picked it up with the handle the top half of the jug completely separated from the bottom half.

The unseasonal heat had stated fermenting again whatever yeast and sugar was left in the bottled wine, building up pressure in the jugs.  When the jugs failed, they didn't explode, they just instantaneously cracked, and it was that crack we were hearing that sounded like a 22 caliber pistol shot.

Dad unbottled all the wine, put it back in the fermentation jugs, and made real sure it was done fermenting before he bottled it again.  To this day I've heard him tell that story so many times when he talks with friends about the wine he use to make.  It is one of his favorite wine memories.            
LOVE this so much!!!!!!!

OK, so when reading this post, (and I do not let myself skim down and scan - not in a book or post as it just ruins the surprise), so as I kept my eyes atop amid your text, I was predicting precisely what you described EXCEPT that I was imagining that there would indeed be a BREAK and that something more explosive was going to come.

I am SO HAPPY that it did NOT and that you thus got to drink some lovely wine and that your dear Dad may indeed tell this great story!!!

But what a story! (SENSATIONAL)!

Remember too, Champagne!

(A BLIND, 17th Century, Benedictine Monk, and by the name of Dom Perignon, was making his wine - per usual - and yet due to heat and residual sugars, it got all mucked up - and almost 'carbonated' if you will).

To witch the monk tasted it and exclaimed, "Ahh, come quickly! I'm tasting STARS!!!!!!!!!!!"

Eras later, Champagne would become the drink TO the "stars" and something which underneath many "stars" we people do indeed drink and enjoy!

But it DOES go to show that many a fabulous "thing," is invented by accident.

And that's my mere wine trivia lesson for today, but I ADORED your story and hope you'll continue to share these as it's fabulous!!!!

Cheers to all!!! - Leah
Dad's creative side of winemaking.

After I left for university I'd come home occasionally and Dad loved to pour me a glass of wine, not telling me what it was.  I figured out pretty quickly that whenever he did that he was using me as a taste tester for one of his creative winemaking experiments.  Seems Dad's buddy at the Wine Art store where he got his supplies told him that you could pretty much make wine out of just about any ripe fruit or vegetable by adding sugar, yeast, and water.  Well, the creative side of my Ol' Man just couldn't leave that bit of winemaking trivia alone.  Next thing you know he's making small 5 gallon batches of wine out of just about anything he could get his hands on at the grocery store or a roadside stand.    

Apple, strawberry, peach, and pear were good and sweet but nothing I cared to drink regularly.  Dandelion wine; it was pretty featureless.  Tomato wine; that was not a pleasant memory.  It didn't taste all that bad; it was just the thought of it being made from tomatoes.   Carrot wine: it was actually something you could get used to.  But the absolute biggest surprise was rhubarb wine!  Dad's batch was as clear and colorless as water but OMG it was fantastic!!!  To this day that was my favorite wine he ever made.  It's been too long so it is impossible to describe, but it was slightly sweet, slightly dry, and you could definitely taste the rhubarb.  There are lots of recipes online about how to make it, which I just discovered, so who knows, I just might have to make some myself!
Noboundaries!!! Good Morning!!!

I'm not sure which I enjoyed more - following along and just enjoying your Dad's creativity so much, (wondering "what did he try next?"), or indeed learning that it was Rhubarb wine which held your fancy!! That's incredible!!!

While I cannot stand sweets, I tasted "rhubarb pie" with vanilla sauce decades ago, and thought it was the best thing in that dessert department ever! Too funny!

That wine must have been amazing and I'd love to see your postings if you do attempt making some yourself! How wild!!!

Moreover, the stories, of family and such, are beyond precious and enchanting! It sounds like you had one sensational Pop!

Thank you for sharing! I love these wine stories!!!

Cheers! - Leah
Leah, you deserve an Oscar for enthusiasm!  Just love your responses and stories.  I've seen stars a few times myself while drinking wine!

Okay, one more story to tell then I'm done.  All this happened back in the mid 70s. 

Back when Dad made wine you were limited to 200 gallons per year for personal consumption.  Fortunately no one was checking and you didn't have to file any form or anything.  I have no idea if that limit has changed or not over the decades.  Well, needless to say Dad made MUCH more than 200 gallons a year.  He gave away almost all of it to friends, family, and wine drinking neighbors.  Heck, when I was at university I always had 15-30 gallons of red table wine in my dorm room closet.  I had to build shelves in my closet to store the wine. Back then the drinking age was 18.  If you came by my room to visit, you were drinking wine.  Needless to say I had a LOT of visitors!

By sophomore year I'd often start running out of room to store wine.  I always put masking tape on the jugs labeling when they were made so I opened the oldest wine first.  Dad's jug wine was pretty green because he didn't age it in barrels.  I always tried to let it get a little age on it in the bottle so it didn't pucker everything it touched.  Unfortunately whenever I went home to visit my GF and take the empty jugs home my Dad would load up my VW Beetle with new gallon jugs of more wine.  I'd tell Dad I had no room for more wine but to this day you can't tell him what to do.

My roommates and I figured out how to solve the storage problem.  At school I lived on a coed floor of a dorm that had 24 people in four suites with full kitchens in each suite.  When wine storage room got scarce we'd host a spaghetti dinner party.  Homemade sauce, garlic bread, salad, and spaghetti.  We charged just a few bucks to cover the cost of the food and disposables, but it was all the wine you could drink.  I'd open a jug or two of the oldest wine first then go to the newest wine that was the greenest.  Didn't stop college kids!  Man oh man those were some FUN times.  Those parties always made room in my closet for more wine I knew my Dad would give me on my next trip home!
Any Dad who loads his son's VW up, and with gallons of wine, sounds like a pretty fun father to me!!!

FANTASTIC stories indeed Noboundaries! I just love them!!!!

And your spaghetti college days must have downright been one ongoing oenological and pasta blast!! So fun!!!

Here I thought that me giving "Trick or Treaters" the rot gut bottles of wine I've been gifted, come Halloween when they do knock, (instead of candy), was so resourceful and grand regarding storage; YOUR story just passes that indeed! Smiles.

Wine is better shared - like most things in life - and thus your family did something so very beautiful, and right!

Many thanks too, regarding my charisma and energy! If one may be anything on each day, may it be "excited," and/or "grateful," and hopefully both!

Happy HUMP DAY to all!!!!!!! Make it delicious and toast a glass with someone else!!!!! Such precious stuff!!!!

Cheers!!! - Leah
The limit has not changed, its still 200 gallons for personal consumption. But as you pointed out, no one is going to show up and check unless you file documents with the ATF for a small winery license. Then it comes into play where you have to account for your "personal consumption" Stock which is exempted from taxes.

I suck at story telling but here you go:

Shortly before my wife and I got married my wife got a job offer from a company near where her parents lived in PA. So we moved 6 hours away and her parents let us stay in their basement while we looked for a house... Well, just before we moved I bought a wine making kit... Her parents liked wine so we all decided to give it a try together. We ended up building a house so we lived with her parents for much longer then we expected (just over 14 months all told) but the time was passed with making and consuming lots of wine. Fast forward a couple years and my wife and I haven't made wine since she got pregnant but her parents... they keep us well stocked as they have never stopped. With the new born running around the wine comes in handy after he goes to bed.

We all like Dry reds, Cabs, Sangio, Cab Franc, Merlot, ect. But during the summer we make a green apple resling and a resling based margarita wine.
OK, now I just have to say AGAIN, that these "family stories" actually make me authentically CRY, & Laugh, and love wine even more! WELL DONE!

(Years ago I taught public speaking to college students, and when teaching the 'prefect toast' for a wedding or such, - which, for the record should be no longer than 3 minutes, bar none - I always taught: Make them laugh, Make them cry, BE CERTAIN TO LITERALLY, VIA WORDS, TOAST THE COUPLE, and then sit down and shut up)! And in that order!!!!

In any event, your stories here, are all of that and just majestic!

And that 'reverse socialization' (where the kids come home and either teach their parents about computers, cooking, or in this case about that fabulous entity called: "WINE"), it is so touching to see the torch continuing, post learning, and here's a cheers therefore and to both you and your lovely folks!

This "Group" on this site, is such an enjoyable one for me, and I do hope that more people come enjoy the fun. What you delivered here is such a treat!

I'm posting more later.

Cheers to all! - Leah
What a great life memory BKBuilds!  Thanks for sharing!  Honestly, I thought I was done contributing.  It's funny how one person saying something can trigger another thought in others.  Both you and Leah triggered that in me.  Leah, I love making people cry happy tears.  This short one may do so. 

One of our daughters is marrying into a big Italian family this Fall.  Our daughter and her fiance' have been together for years.  Her future inlaws, whom we dearly love, are members of a co-op winery and we help them bottle wine each fall.  Her future father-in-law has been making wine for decades.  Thirty some-odd years ago when he married his wife he made a red wine using grapes from a small vineyard that was known for amazing grapes, then served the wine at the wedding reception.  He still has one bottle of that original wine and showed it to us this past September when we helped them bottle last year's co-op run.  The original owner of the old vineyard has passed on, but his kids still run the small vineyard like their father did, creating amazing grapes for red wines. 

For his son and our daughter's wedding, the first of his kids to get married, he bought grapes again from the same old vineyard.  The wine is aging in barrels as I type.  We barrel tasted it last Thanksgiving and after only 6 weeks in the barrels it was already phenomenal!  It was the best barrel taste I've ever had the pleasure of sampling.  By the time it is bottled just before the wedding it will be absolutely heavenly!  In a family tradition he has started the wine will be served at the wedding reception.  He and I will toast our kids life together with their own wine, then my daughter and his son will carry their own special wine into their future together. Leah, I'll be sure to remember your words of wisdom when I offer my toast to the newlyweds. 

Noboundaries!!! Now that is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard!

Talk about a sentimental sip?

That wedding is going to be special - and like no other - splashed with such vino essence and all! That is tremendous!!!

If my toast tips helped too? Well then I'm just flattered and delighted! (That system DOES work beautifully and so I'm thrilled that someone can read it here and put it to use)!

But the love that is going into the mere WINE for this dear wedding, and already???

Well I think that is indicative of all the warmth and "blended" family essence which goes into this unity and marriage therefore! Ahh, perhaps we have a rough outline of a toast started! Smiles.

Beautiful stuff!

Thanks for sharing!

I love this wine group!!!! It's about the best parts of life! Food, wine, and family!

Cheers to all! - Leah
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