The original impetus for this trip to Italy was the grape harvest at my grandfather’s friend’s small personal vineyard. I had been hearing my grandparents and cousins tell me over and over what a wonderful experience it was, and this year I finally decided that I wanted to try it myself.
We came to the villa (formerly a stable, now rebuilt in high style) on Friday afternoon, and had dinner at a snazzy local restaurant that was formerly an ancient monastery. The harvest was all day Saturday, from 9:30 to 5:30 with a long break for lunch.
The harvesting crew consisted of about 10 snippers with gardening shears, plus the logistics crew who swapped empty baskets for full ones on the tractor and carted the grapes away. I was a snipper, cutting off bunches of grapes and dropping each bunch into the basket. It’s not rocket science, but it’s sometimes tricky when the vines have tied themselves in knots around the support wires. It’s easier with a partner on the other side of each row, which leaves plenty of time for conversation, but it’s also a fine, meditative solo activity.
The baskets of grapes are taken by tractor to the destemmer, which uses a spiral blade to separate the grapes from the stems. The grapes, crushed, go into the tank for fermentation. The grapes in question are of the sangiovese variety required to make Chianti: smaller, darker, and sweeter than table grapes, but also full of small bitter seeds.
The grape vines are planted exactly one tractor width apart, so when you hear it coming you must limbo under the vines into the next row. Also, there’s something about grapes and hillsides, so one is often dragging baskets up or down a slope, or ducking under a vine while stepping up onto a higher terrace. It’s exercise.
In 6 or 7 hours spent working yesterday (plus 3 or 4 spent feasting), our crew of mostly senior citizens managed to harvest grapes that, when crushed, amounted to 5000+ liters of juice and mash. This was not such a small vineyard after all!