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Bootlegging Italian Style

Renata Cardelli
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Growing up in an Italian family can sometimes be a lot of work. As you already know, our family cans tomatoes and lots of them. Well, the tradition wouldn’t be complete nor could it snow until the wine was made, as well. This, too, was a Fall
“activity”, for lack of a better word.

The fun would start in early September when my dad, Papa’, would “scope out” the grapes. He’d visit different venues, but always ended up at Caputo’s where he’d buy 25 cases of green, seedless grapes and 10 cases of Moscato grapes, which are white and seedless, as well. These 35 cases of grapes would render anywhere from 80 to 100 gallons of wine. I know. I know. Craaaaaazy!!! He’d lug those home and the process would begin. For my Papa’ it was like being a kid in a candy store, and to say that it was a labor of love, is an understatement.

The wine press. Unlike back in the day when people stomped on the grapes in their bare feet (hope they were clean), we had a wine press, which by its very definition “pressed” the grapes. The one Papa’ had is now referred to as Ratchet design. It’s basically a big wooden barrel with slats on the sides and a ratcheting head that works its way down a threaded, stationary shaft that is secured at the base of the press. It had a two-piece break-away basket design which allowed for the removal of the spent pulp more quickly between pressings. In any event, it looked something like this.

I remember that Papa’ would crush the grapes first, but cannot for the life of me remember how he did it. Did he use his bare hands? Did he pound them with a small object? See? It’s times like these when I still wish he were here. He’d then fill the press to capacity, press, and continue adding crushed grapes until all were passed through the press. His method was two cases of Moscato grapes to five cases of the regular green.

As the “juice” was coming out of the press, it would be transferred to gallon drums with the entire process taking from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Now you’re thinking, “what were the women doing while the men were “slaving” away bootlegging?” I remember my mom cooking up a storm in the kitchen, all the while grumbling that my Papa’ did not need the wine.

The work wasn’t complete until all the drums were covered with a white sheet (ma loved that one). A temperature of 60 degrees or cooler needed to be maintained as the wine fermented for a good six weeks, and the longer the fermentation process, the clearer the wine. It would then be transferred into
five-gallon glass containers, using a siphon until it was ready for use.

I can still remember Papa’ checking on his precious brew daily, making sure the temperature was just right, listening to the boiling of the wine, and inhaling its scent. Then he’d exclaim once again, “Now it can snow.”

Renata Cardelli