Our cousins invited us to help out at their Vendemia in Piemonte this past weekend, an invitation we eagerly await every year. The vendemia is the annual grape harvest, and from all reports this is one of the best years ever, in terms of both quantity and quality. There was lots of rain early in the season, and then it was dry for a couple of weeks, which made the fruit very sweet.
It’s a family affair in a big way. Our cousins’ extended family includes three generations ranging in age from 17 months to I’m-not-telling (but I would guess early 80’s), probably about 35 people including the children who are too young to pick.
All the grapes are cut from the vine by hand. Fortunately the vines are well managed, and most of the grapes seem to grow between knee and shoulder height.
We put the bunches of grapes in plastic buckets which are then emptied into the bucket loader of a small tractor.
This in turn is dumped into the trailer. With so many willing workers, their vineyard is harvested in about a day and a half. Usually, one of the uncles told me, they collect two medium trailers full of grapes. This year there was a small load, a medium load, and a huge load:
Later in the afternoon the vineyard manager, who takes care of several vineyards in the area, appears with his big tractor and hauls the grapes to the place where they are pressed (in this case Cascina Orsola, some 38 km distant).
It’s a LOT of work (my estimate is about 250 person-hours) and while everyone loves doing it, they are also very happy when it’s finished for another year.
Then comes one of the highlights of the weekend: the communal meal! The older generation used to have a fish restaurant in Genova, so the cooking is outstanding. This year they served us the world’s most delicate and light lasagna, roast beef with drippings, french fries, eggplant that was lemony and garlicky, fruit, cheese and home-baked cake.
There are small and medium-sized family owned vineyards all through this part of Piemonte. I imagine the scenes above are repeated a hundred-fold at this season, each with a different cast of characters and a slightly different view. This must have been what farming was like back in the days before agri-business took over, both in the US and here. It’s refreshing that it still exists.
If what ‘they’ say is true, there will be some superb wines coming from this years’ grapes. So Salute! Cincin! Bottoms up!