Sunday, March 2, 2014

What the old-timers were about

Give your wife a bottle of wine, and you give her an hour's happiness. Teach her how to make wine at home, and you give her a lifetime of love to share with everyone.

For my wife's birthday, I bought us all of the tools to make our own wine at home. I could couch this colorfully, but the fact is, wine is a major food staple in our house.

We've been a little inspired and envious of my cousins Joanna and Jere who have made their own wine at home. They have hosted a yearly family reunion and an annual Christmas party for family and friends. Always, bottles of homemade wine and homemade limoncello come out. In their case, wine-making was a tradition where Joanne's father, Carmen, was the glue of the group of amateur vintners. Since he passed a few years ago, their group of men haven't gotten together to make any wine. As Jere told me at their Christmas party, "it's just not the same without Mr. P, but I do want to get back into doing it."

Karla and I told them that if they do, we'd love to come over and learn and do it with them.

Jere makes his wine straight from the grape, often driving down to the Italian market to buy cases of various varieties of grapes. Karla and I will be making it from a juice that comes packaged with the grape skins--so someone already did some of the messy work for us. We're trying a Malbec-Shiraz blend for our first batch. I can already see us keeping the production line going nonstop as it will take several months for this first batch to come together. We're hoping for homemade wine by August or September.

When I was a child living in South Philadelphia, our neighbor, Gino, made homemade wine in his basement. Row homes in cities have thin walls. On one side of the house we could hear the other neighbors, Teddy and Kay, fight like vicious cats and dogs. Actually, they were my first education in spousal abuse and alcoholism. Kay stabbed Teddy during violent episode. As little boys, my friends and I gathered around the trail of dark, dried blood that had drizzled along the cement sidewalks and led all the way down the street into another neighborhood. Through the other wall was Gino's house where the strong, pungent aroma of wine going to bottle permeated the plaster between us and made breathing taste sour and bitter.

Yesterday, a brew shop owner, Paul, spent an hour talking me through the process. Patiently, he brought me into a little kitchen in the back of his shop and demonstrated how simply all of the apparatus worked. On a battered, long folding table near a line of sinks and an electric stove, plastic buckets of wine fermented. Along with the buckets, two huge, bulbous glass bottles, with stoppers the size of a child's fist, also fermented. He called them French fermenting bottles.

I love that one of the tools used in wine-making is called a "thief." It is combination dipstick and turkey baster. Paul used it to draw some wine out for testing--testing, not tasting. I'd love to know the story of coming up with the name--calling it a thief just smacks of wise guys in the old country.

Paul's heavy New York accent added instant authority to what he was telling me, but his passion for wine and family infused more excitement into something I look forward to sharing with my wife...and then everyone else in our lives. Paul shared that his grandfather made wine, his father made wine, and now he makes wine every week: "Everybody loves it. My daughters are always coming over, taking bottles home, my family, my extended family, my neighbors, they say all the time, 'Paul, or Dad, I'm just going to grab a bottle or two.' But that's ok. That's what the old-timers were about. That's really what all this is. You make it, you share it, you love."

1 comment:

  1. What fun! Happy making and testing and tasting and drinking!