A Traditional Grape Harvest: La Vendemmia

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers a fascinating look into the culture and traditions of small Italian towns in the Apennine hills.

Adapted from a post by Marco Cacciavillani, owner of Azienda Agricola, A.M.A. Green

The origins of today’s wine harvest date from the early 1900’s, but a lot of the traditions go even farther back. Well before the birth of Christ, the Romans used rudimentary techniques to ferment the juice of grapes, which even then were a much-prized fruit on every banquet table.

Every casa has its own particular methods for making wine, but the basic process is pretty much the same. We start pressing as soon as the grapes are harvested, which in our vineyard takes all day.

To discover and re-live these traditions is a fundamental part of l’Azienda A.M.A. Green and this year, thanks to the Angelo Marinelli family, it was an incredible experience. We lived a traditional Agnonese Vendemmia, using the 18th century stone vat, preserved in the cantina for all these years, and pressing the grapes by hand – or rather, by foot! This is how it was done before mechanization and has its advantages – the stalks remain intact, keeping the slightly bitter, woody taste out of the wine.

Keeping a vineyard is a serious business. Regular pruning, weekly application of copper oxy-chloride to prevent fungus, and constant weeding are all required to protect the fruit from parasites. Then, in preparation of the harvest, we scrub the boxes and crates, as well as the copper tubs and wine presses, completely clean for storage. This is fundamental for preventing any parasites or mold that could destroy the must during fermentation.

La vendemmia is a ritual and a festival; it is hard work, but a lot of fun. In the last 10 years in our region, the harvest has grown in importance. Friends, relatives and neighbors all come to help. Early in the morning, we share breakfast together, and once fortified, we head for the vines.

There’s great excitement and emotion when the first bunch of grapes is harvested, and the smell of the ripened fruit gets everyone going. Harvest stories and folklore are passed down through the generations: types of agricultural methods used, changing religious rituals, and the culinary and contadine traditions. Besides being of cultural significance, the annual vendemmia is an important social cohesion for the community.
Later in the morning we share produce from our land – homemade breads, different types of salami, frittata, and, of course, a good wine.

In the evening, we gathered for the harvest feast to celebrate, starting with a selection of antipasti, then the traditional Agnonese pasta, sagne a tacconi. A baked pork dish followed, accompanied by grilled peppers and green beans from the garden. Over the long evening with song and stories, we got through various dolci and amari.

Life today gets busier and busier, and time is precious. Yet it’s an enormous thrill to rediscover these activities, and to capture flavors that we’re in danger of loosing and forgetting. La Vendemmia 2017 was a great pleasure for us all.

You can live this, and all kinds of experiences, at our farm near Agnone. For more information, click below.

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  LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN offers language and culture holidays in the small historic town of Agnone, Alto Molise, far from tourism. Mature students of Italian come to live among a friendly community to practice, improve, listen and engage.  Cook with the locals, visit family businesses, and discover the culture and history of a beautiful region.

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