Alchemy of the Vine

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage


The steady stream of gifts – flowers, eggs, courgettes, tomatoes, basil, peaches, figs, cucumbers and apples forthcoming from my self-sufficient and incredibly generous neighbours is slowly giving way to bunch upon bunch of grapes.

Every day I pass people lugging huge great containers of the fruit from their campagne to their cantine, and that can mean only one thing; it’s wine-making time!

Having already sampled a bottle of homemade rosé, obtained through one of my bartering exercises, and rejoiced in its fresh-tasting hangoverlessness, I was intrigued to find out more about what was involved in the elaboration of this local elixir.

My camera and I were invited into the cantina of the local retired schoolmarm, for a step by step lesson in how to transform the humble uva into that sumptuous nectar, vino.

Step 1: The Primary Ingredient

Step 2: Not a Wheelbarrow

Once harvested, the grapes are transported in the lightweight plastic containers that have replaced more traditional wooden ones. They are then tipped into a macchina chi schiaccia (machine that crushes – the correct term had escaped her), balanced over a wooden cask.

Step 4: The crushed uva falling into the barrel

The handle of the wheelbarrow crushing machine is turned, sending the newly crushed grapes to join their already pretty squishy friends in the cask below.

Step 5: Take one Ferocious-looking Pronged Stick

Step 6: And Stir Vigorously

The mixture is stirred with a long, pronged stick until all new additions are thoroughly combined. Sugar is added (except if the wine is for commercial purposes, when it is prohibited) and the contents of the cask are left to ferment for at least eight days.

Step 7: Filters for the Trappage of Grape Gunk

At which point, the tap at the bottom is opened to allow the liquid to filter out through a ramasetta (dialect) or scopino. These filters are made from rametti secchi di erica – dried heather twigs, or rametti dalla vite secchi – dried twigs from the vines themselves and are attached inside the cask next to the tap.

The wine is then placed in damigiane, demijohns, where it is left untouched until San Martino (11th of November) when the demijohns are changed over.

Step 8: Grape Gunk Squeezer

The vinaccia, or remains of the grapes, are put into a torchio (press), where they are re-crushed and the liquid filtered into separate containers. This wine is also perfectly drinkable although it is said to fare un po piu di fondo/fare deposito meaning it leaves more solids in the bottom of the bottle.

Grape juice with a difference

Both wines are ready to be supped in time for Christmas, and although the white mosto I tasted straight from the cask was very nice indeed, and nothing like any of the revolting grape juices I have tried before, it is without doubt the finished product that gets my vote.

So it is with baited breath and almost unbearable excitement that I will be counting down to the time of the year that I usually dread…

Roll on the festive season, and let those corks fly!

This is Status Viatoris, who having failed miserably in keep one little orchid alive is probably unwise to think about trying her hand at a spot of viticulture, in Italy.


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11 Responses to “Alchemy of the Vine”

  1. Cris Lawson Says:

    Which kind of grape juices have you tried? Most in america are made from the Concord grape. It’s super sugary and dark black-purple. That grape (as nice as it can be at times,) is very potent and gets tiresome quickly. It’s the flavor in Welch’s grape soda, the purple Welch’s grape juice, and the purple grape jelly America has in all our stores for PB&J and toast. I have come to hate that grape.

    Uva is italian for grapes? Reminds me of ova. Of course, grapes do look egg shaped!


    • statusviatoris Says:

      To be honest I can’t remember. I think I might have tried Welch’s when I was in New Zealand. All I know is that every one I have tried makes me feel a little queasy. They always taste very sweet and almost floral, and as much as I like flowers, I’m not heavily into consuming them. Parma violets, elderflower anything, rose ice-cream (which I so very much don’t recommend), anything like that just makes me heave…

      Uva is Italian and Spanish for grape! And I was thinking exactly the same thing while I was writing, although for some reason it has never occured to me before…. Duh!


  2. Kai's mum Says:

    Just love the technical term “Filters for the trappage of grape gunk” …. but, oh, the disappointment! Where are the merry locals, arms around each other’s shoulders, bare-legged and -footed, treading grapes like I used to see in old books and black and white tv programmes? Or is it because you were shown this process by a retired school marm and she certainly doesn’t approve of the fun way of squishing grapes? And please don’t tell me that it was all an invention for the tourist trade …….. another myth bites the dust!


    • statusviatoris Says:

      Technicality is my middle name, as I’m sure you have all realised 😉

      I think the grape treading thing has been largely abandoned for two reasons. Firstly in this instance we are talking about production on a very small scale, so 20 folk dancing barefoot round a barrel would probably be considered overkill. And I think that even on a larger scale, wine production is now much more mechanised – although I am sure that most vineyards still hold a ceremonial grape stomp to celebrate the start of the wine production.


  3. sabina Says:

    La tua frase finale, this is SV who having failed…è meravigliosamente sarcasica, come tuo solito 🙂
    E’ una vera e propria arte fare il vino buono, e tu hai potuto vedere coi tuoi occhi che gran lavoro c’è dietro. La zona dove abiti, poi, è rinomata per i suoi vini, io lo so 😉


    • statusviatoris Says:

      Sai, io mi considero da vero fortunata di avere trovato questo posto. Non lo dicco soltanto per i vini (anche se mi piacciono troppo!), ma anche per le feste, il canto polifonico e l’accoglienza tra tante altre cose… Vediamo se riesco fare la mia vita in questo paese! (Dopo il viaggio in Argentina, certo!) 🙂


  4. Cris Lawson Says:

    I can imagine that “rose” flavored ice cream would be disgusting. We went for chinese recently, and there are cartons of ice cream in the ice chest next to the buffet. It’s a self-serve dessert. I got a (dark) green ice cream, thinking it was mint, and it was horrid. I asked the server what flavor it was.

    Green tea. Who on earth wants to eat green tea ice cream? These are words and things that have no business being together!

    I asked about the grape juice because my nemesis, the concord grape, is the grape that inspired the false purple color of many ‘grape’ pops and juices. Anything grape flavored in america is dark purple and seeks to emulate the concord. As you said, it’s cloyingly sweet and to me it tastes like chemicals. Or the way perfume tastes if your mouth is open when you put it on and accidentally get a mouthful. Bleargh!


    • statusviatoris Says:

      I so know what you mean with getting a mouthful of perfume, there are a lot of dodgy products on the market that have that effect. Sweets like jellybeans, for example. Ick!


  5. an admirer Says:

    Forget about the orchid, it was obviously ill before you got it – so get yourself some vines and get your socks off – think of the result!


  6. statusviatoris Says:

    Reblogged this on Status Viatoris and commented:

    (tardy) Weary Wanderings for Wednesdays


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