La Vendemmia in Calabria

Rinsing out the wine barrelsEvery year around this time comes the morning when I am awakened by the distinct smell of extremely fermented grapes wafting by. It’s not the grapes themselves, of course, but rather the insides of last year’s wine barrels (and the remaining sediment called feccia in Italian, fezza in the local dialect) mixed with water as they are rinsed and cleaned to be filled once again with this year’s stock.

Just in case the return of cooler air and school buses in the piazza hasn’t tipped me off, the purplish and oh-so-pungent liquid rolls casually down the street from our up-the-hill neighbors right on schedule, letting me know that the time for harvesting grapes for wine has arrived and giving me a free buzz along the way.

La vendemmia.

We have yet to make our own wine despite having all the equipment in our cantina thanks to P’s father, but I’ve been to several vendemmie over the years. Here in my area of Calabria, many families still make their own wine from grapes in their campagna (plot of land in the country) though others simply buy le uva and put them through the press and the wine-making process themselves.

The work of picking the grapes, as romantic as it might sound, is rather back-aching and tedious, but if you can manage to show up just for the inevitable feast that follows the grape harvest and/or pressing of the grapes, well that I highly recommend.

grillingThere’s always a grill involved, which means plenty of meat (sausages, ribs, pancetta, hot dogs are the usual suspects). The rest of the spread varies a bit by family, but you will likely encounter various preserved items from pickled eggplant to sun-dried tomatoes, cold cuts and cheeses, and even pasta in some form or another (lasagne brought from home, for instance).

Even though desserts aren’t exceedingly popular for barbecue atmospheres, some families will, indeed, bring them to vendemmia, so you might see a tiramisu or fruit crostata, but seasonal prickly pears or the last of the year’s figs are always excellent ways to finish off the meal.

The food portion of it, anyway, because there’s always coffee–and since most people’s country places aren’t equipped with electricity or even camping stoves, the coffee is usually brought up to the campagna in a thermos, already sweetened and ready to be poured into plastic cups.

And there’s also digestive liqueurs, course. An amaro (which means bitter but is actually quite sweet) or limoncello always hit the spot. As you might imagine, wine is generally free-flowing throughout the meal.

Ah yes, the wine. Those rinsed out barrels end up holding the pressed grapes that become il mosto (must), which includes the skins, seeds, and stems of the grapes and is left to ferment for a bit (how long depends on the person making the wine). By November 11, San Martino’s day, the new wine will be ready to try . . . which is, obviously, time for another feast.

Those barrels will still hold some of the wine to be aged throughout the year until they are emptied out little by little into bottles and then finally relieved of their entire contents when it’s time for the next vendemmia.

That literally intoxicating smell is a seasonal ritual I’ve grown to love, even if it’s also slightly offensive to the nostrils and a bit of a rude wakeup call on the morning in question. But now, after thirteen autumns in Calabria, I can’t imagine the arrival of fall without it.

grapes on the vine, almost ready

The rest of Italy Blogging Roundtable’s posts on the topic of WINE:


11 Beans of Wisdom to “La Vendemmia in Calabria”
  1. 09.17.2015

    Sounds like a grand time, M! The grapes are so beautiful! Hugs to you all!

  2. bonnie melielo

    So each family makes wine enough just to last for a year? The idea of bottling to age it is not part of the equation? How fascinating!! I am such a seasonal person, it is how I grew up!! I love marking the passing of the seasons by events such as this!!

  3. 09.17.2015

    Brings back memories of my Grandfather making wine in his cellar and pouring us all a small little glass to have with our Christmas Eve dinner. Now my cousin continues the tradition. Salute. Paulette

  4. Gil

    The best and most detailed write up of Italian wine making that I ave read so far. Thanks for doing it. Off to finish a few ounces of wine in my glass from dinner!!

  5. 09.23.2015

    I wish I was there! Has it been a good year for wine producing? Not too hot?

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