Friday, January 5, 2007

A Love Affair Begins

It all began when I was six years old. My family and I had just moved to a new house on eastern Long Island, NY. My parents, both immigrants from Portugal, finally had the space and cellar to continue what had been an annual September tradition when they grew up.

The tradition, you guessed right, was making wine. Now, this was my very first experience with what for me would also become an annual tradition. I remember it late August my dad called me outside to help him with something. That something was adjusting the hoops of the barrel to tighten the staves. While I didn't know what the heck we were doing, it was fun helping him with the bilge and quarter hoops, etc, as he tried his best to explain the process to me. Anyway I'll get on with it.

Two weeks later, a big flatbed truck pulled into the driveway one Saturday morning loaded with wooden boxes bursting with red and white grapes. Not having any idea then that wine came from grapes, I admit they had piqued my interest. So me, my mom and dad unloaded the truck and put all the boxes in the underground cellar. This is where the process got fun...

Now, you have to remember that this was in 1981, well before today's modern wine making technology. I wish I could say it was as entertaining as the famed I Love Lucy episode, but it wasn't. We lifted the heavy, manual crank wine press on top of the barrel and I started cranking as my dad dumped the grapes in. The squashing and slushy sounds were pretty funny, as were the random juice squirts like rockets. After what seemed like hours turning the crank, I thought my arm was going to fall me and dad switched spots. And that was the moment that hooked me. Seeing the grapes inside the press, churning and spouting juice.

I thought that was the end of it..thought they were ready to start drinking. That when my dad tried to explain the fermentation process to me. Needless to say, I didn't get it. Anyway, after several days, it was time to continue with the process. So we drain the the juice that is now wine from the barrels, and pull out the remaining grape skins/stems that remained and put them in a different kind of wine press. Like the first press, this thing was old school - we had to literally walk around in circles pushing two levers that made the top depress and squeeze the rest of the juice out of the fruit. After all the juice was squeezed out, it went back into the barrels, and was left there to age. Now this wine was for immediate consumption, so there wasn't a 9 or 12 or 18 month aging process. This wine was pulled several weeks after pressing.

And, for all my hard work, my reward was a little tiny sampling of the wine. It was delicious. To this day, my dad's wine is some of my favorite...of course it doesn't compare to a fine Bordeaux or Burgundy, but to me it's home. I don't need an expert rating to tell me that.

Anyway, until next time, remember to swirl, sniff and swig. Cheers.

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