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  • Wine Making Unlocks Ischia's Culture

    During the vendemmia period in Ischia, Italy, people get to learn about the grape harvest but also many other island traditions
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Here are some of the grape vineyards in Forio, Ischia in 2009.
    When the sun sets on summer, the people of Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples, begin preparing for the vendemmia or grape harvest. Many families and friends invite each other to their vineyards and host a lunch, often served at long harvest tables or as a picnic. But before breaking bread, the guests and hosts work side by side to cut the grapes off the vines for wine making.

    The labor can be intense, depending on the size of your vineyards. The sun, during the day at least, is usually still quite hot during the early fall. And most of the vineyards are in the hills, which means you will most likely work up a sweat. After you fill a carton with grapes, you have to carry it to the truck or wherever you plan to press the grapes for their juice.

    Since there is no such thing as all work and no play in Italy, the people in Ischia turn the harvest into a day of celebration. After they work in the hot sun, they feast on peasant dishes, such as pasta e fagioli, rabbit, or bruschetta - and of course, wine. Many people make wine for themselves and their families, but there are others who sell the wine as a business. In fact, my Nonno Giovanni used to make wine and sell it. But the most serious and famous wine maker in Ischia is the D'Ambra family.

    At the Museo Del Contadino in Forio, you will see prints like this one of the vineyards in Forio long, long ago.
    One of the D'Ambra villas is home to vineyards, a wine making facility, and museum. At the Museo del Contadino (Museum of the Peasant) in the Ischia town of Forio, visitors can learn how wine once was made and how it is made today. My niece Laura Porraro, 10, recently visited the museum with her class. They saw the old tools - when everything was done by hand - used for making wine. There are large wooden barrels, wooden presses, and other materials used for preparing the grapes for fermentation. The students also watched as grapes in cases were dumped into the vats for pressing, which is now done by machine.

    Outside the museum visitors get a glorious view of the vineyards in the hills of Forio, which is known for getting more sun than other parts of the island. You can also look down on the ocean and the town of Forio below. If the sun is shining, you may think you're in Heaven.

    But the museum isn't only about the wine and sunshine. Inside, you'll also find examples of presepio, miniature towns and scenes that are usually displayed around Christmas and thus often feature the nativity scene. In southern Italy, especially Naples (of which Ischia is a province), the presepio is raised to an art form. Often, the peasants were the ones who created these magnificent little towns for the holidays.

    These are the old wooden wine barrels on display at the Museo del Contadino in Forio, Ischia.
    The special part of the presepi on display at the Museo del Contadino is the fact that the hand-made houses, churches, and people are exact replicas of famous sites in Forio, Ischia, including the Chiesa Soccorso (a church that was featured in the movie Avanti). The reason the presepi fit into the wine making theme of the rest of the museum is because they offer insight into the history of Ischia, particularly the town of Forio.

    Many of the communities get in on the act during wine making season. In 2008, the town of Piedimonte, which is part of the Comune di Barano in Ischia, hosted a vendemmia festival in the piazza. There, the townspeople offered free wine, along with grilled meats, pasta, and salad for a small fee. While everyone enjoyed the food and drink, the children of Ischia, who participate in the various dance programs, served as an opening act for 'Ndrezzata, the folk dance troupe from my father's hometown of Buonopane. (Nonno Giovanni played the clarinet for the troupe for many years, and my mother's maternal grandfather and another uncle of mine also performed in the troupe).

    Wine is more than mere drink in Ischia, "dove si mangia, si beve, e si fischia" ("where one eats, one drinks, and one whistles"). Wine is a culture - and a fine excuse to show off the island's history and traditions.

    For more photos of the Museo del Contadino, visit the Photo Albums at the Two Worlds Web site. Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Photos copyright © Laura Porraro. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

    Article Published 10/04/09


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