La Vendemmia

Travel to Tuscany in late September and early October and you may witness la vendemmia- the grape harvest. Farmers, seasonal workers, neighbors and family members can be spotted in the vineyards with boots, gloves, scissors and bright plastic tubs helping with la raccolta- the collection. The exact dates are hard to predict and vary from region to region and even the slope aspect of the vines. Vintners wait for peek ripeness, so the sugars in the grapes have ample time to develop.

This autumn ritual dates back to 200 BC when Etruscan and Greek settlers first produced wine in Italy. Later the Romans developed larger scale production and storage techniques, including barrels and bottles. Today, Italy is one of the oldest and foremost wine producer in the world with over a staggering 1 million registered vintners (MD!-Mio Dio).  But this next stat is my fav…. Italy leads the world’s wine consumption with 59 liters per capita annually (that’s Latin for-per head), as compared to the US of 7.7 liters per capita! That either means Italians are way more serious about their wine or American’s are putting away a lot more PBR’s. I’m guessing both. Nice cultural commentary!

Picking grapes is a sticky business, but oh so rewarding, kinda like child birth. Witnessing the beauty of nature in a mature clusters of grapes is one of those perfect miracles on this earth. Each beautiful cluster is cut from the vine and special care must be taken to carefully pick the fruit, removing any mold, leaves or spoilage. The smaller tubs are transferred into the collection bin of the tractor and immediately taken to the winery for processing.

So here is what I have learned about the process of wine making, from hanging around a winery. The grapes are put into a de-stemming machine and then pressed through a compression machine that essentially turn them into grape juice. Modern hoses take the juice/skins right to the stainless steel collecting tanks where the fermentation process will start. The fermentation process is often aided by a yeast that is added to help this process of converting the sugars into alcohol and the creation of carbon dioxide, all which further bring out the flavor of the grapes.

For red wine, the skin and juice will stay together to gather more tannins for those heartier, rich flavors and colors. Later a second pressing takes place to further extract the juice from the skins. Skins and seeds will later be separated and pressed one last time and distilled to create grappa. No, nothing is wasted, but you will be, if you drink too much grappa.

From that point, the science and artistry takes place. Each vintner has their own special methods and techniques employed for crafting their unique varietal flavor and wine character. Factors may include; How long the fermentation takes place in stainless steel; When and how long they put it into oak barrels or barrique; Which type of oak is used–French, American or Slovenian; How and if it is blended; and when it is bottled and how long it is required to age in the bottle.

I have been lucky to become friends with a few fabulous wine makers in Tuscany and to learn these processes first hand. I have to say that I am still a newbie at viticulture, the knowledge of wine making– but, I am a big fan! (Also the drinking part!)  My deepest respect goes out to the amazing winemakers with their passion for the earth, vineyards, their amazing labor and the incredible artistry that it takes to produce such perfection in a bottle. More on these characters later.

I hope that you can someday witness Italian vendemmia, meet some of these wonderful people and taste their fabulous wines. For more information about wine tours in Tuscany contact me

10/22/2010 01:47 pm | Share | No Comments

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