Memories help the mind to fill the void that the reality of time no longer supports. Presently, my mind goes back to a simpler, innocent time in life when my father was alive and vital and I was about thirteen. As with most memories, the reality of the time remembered did not place a great value on experiences until after the fact … in this case many years after the fact.
We had moved from the West Side of Buffalo, NY that was then resplendent with Italian families; many of whom I thought were my relatives but most of whom were only friends. Many of the homes that were built in that era had basements that were filled partly of hewn stone and of solid mud walls. It wasn’t unusual for water to seep into the cellars making the ground somewhat slippery. Some of the old timers would carve out a portion of the mud walls and insert their wine casks in there in order for the wine to ferment. Although we had moved from the neighborhood, there was still a very strong connection that my family had to many of the residents who still resided there. The friend that my father chose to help make his wine was also our butcher, Mr. Losi.
Most every year that I can remember, my father, whose name was Joe, and Mr. Losi would get together and plan their strategy for the coming fall, usually in the early part of September. It took three-to-four weeks for the grapes to arrive so they needed lead-time. They needed to decide what kind, how many and what proportion of white and purple grapes were going to be purchased from a California vineyard in order to make the type of wine they conceived would be the best for that particular year. I assume that they had an on-going business relationship with a particular supplier.
When the time came and the grapes had arrived by air carrier, an old-but-still-functional press would have its cheese and oil cloths that protected it during the off-season removed revealing the instrument that was crucial to the process of the wine making. The machine was hand-loaded with the grapes and there was a huge crank that had to be turned to squeeze the grapes that were dropped into its grinding tumbler wheels while dropping the pulp and stems into a huge vat. It was a tedious job and the role of the “turner” fell to me partly because I was the youngest, presumably the strongest and, mainly, because I relished the honor.
Then there was the process of extracting the juice to be placed into the casks for initial fermentation. The whole process took about four-to-five hours of constant labor. If I became tired of turning the huge crank and paused to rest, the adults would spur me on into continuing by implying that I didn’t have the stamina that they had. That sense of embarrassment was enough for me to restart the process in order to prove them wrong. I guess it was akin to a young man’s ritual of passing into adulthood.
It was customary for the wine-makers to come back to the site over the following three-or-so months to check on the fermentation process and make sure that the acidity levels were on target as well as to pass various taste tests known only to the experienced winemakers. Usually, it would take about four-to-five months for the whole process to take place. However, in our home, the cask holding the lightly red colored wine would be tapped ~ just a couple of gallons, no more ~ in order to drink it on New Year’s Eve. That was a time when the family would stay home in order to celebrate which was contrary to how most people celebrated the event. My mother had pre-hung her sausage in order to make her delicious pepperoni and would bake loaves of bread to be eaten soon after it came from the oven along with all sorts of Greek and Italian olives and other ethnic favorites. The pepperoni could only be eaten after midnight according to tradition. Previous to that time, fish was the main fare consisting of at least four to five different species including calamari (squid), whitefish, and fried scallops. It was a feast but the whole meal, which started around 10 P.M. ended at midnight just in time to toast in the New Year, centered on the newly drawn wine. Obviously, the words calorie and cholesterol were unheard of during this period of my life.
Admittedly, the wine usually had a somewhat acidic taste to it because of its being tapped prematurely but for us, it was the “fruit of the vine” made by human hands ~ ours ~ which was savored, not criticized. Picturing the family gathered around the kitchen table with my parents telling stories about their early lives, many of which we had heard before, always brought about tears of hearty laughter from their children. Those days will always be remembered and revered for the rest of my life. And to think that those memories center around the simple act of making wine in a musty old cellar with mudded walls. Actually, it was more about the people than the wine. They are now all long gone but never forgotten.
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.