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  • Eh, Paisano! Pour the Wine
    Benefits and Tradition are in a Glass of Red Wine
    Part 2 of 2: The October Tradition of Winemaking

    Continued from page 1
    Italian Memories

    by Cookie Curci

    October has always been my favorite time of the year, when the air is brisk and leaves turn a vibrant rainbow of colors. Father looked forward to this autumn month, too, but for a different reason. October is the traditional time of year for winemaking. It's the transition month between summer and fall, a time when father gathered his paraphernalia and ingredients for the making of his hearty red wine.

    Winemakers on the East Coast had to wait for good winemaking grapes like Malaga and Zinfandel to come in by rail car from California. But Santa Clara Valley winemakers, like Father, were lucky enough to have the plentiful grapes of the Napa and Almaden valleys practically in their backyards. They only had to drive in their pickups to local vineyards to buy boxes of the finest grapes. Some old-timers nurtured their own tiny grape vineyards for the express purpose of making their own red wine.

    Devoted winemakers, like Father, usually owned their own grape-crushers, while others rented or borrowed one each fall. After the crush was finished, the juice was poured by funnel into the huge oak barrels, which had been cured with sulfur smoke.

    Here's where the talent for good winemaking would come in. One mistake and the winemaker's barrels would be filled with vinegar instead of wine. But, like Father, most winemakers had inherited their skills from the Old Country and rarely made a bad batch.

    My favorite memory of winemaking was how the family gathered together at the ranch house to help father make the wine. The hub of activity was usually in Grandmother's kitchen, where the ladies were hard at work making pastas, sausages, raviolis and hot tomato ketchup, in preparation for a grand October feast. The aroma of roasted bell peppers wafted through the air from Grandmother's hot oven, filling our nostrils with their wonderful pungent smell. In the fall, the men in the family gathered in the cellar to cure the wine barrels and to help father set up his winepress. Some of the men helped father haul in the grapes; others set up the grape-crusher and some others cured the oak barrels. As a child, I remember hearing Papa and Nonna speak of the renowned vineyards of Brolio Castle, the baronial estate of the Ricasoli family, an area famed for its Chianti wine. It is said that wine has been made in this region of Italy since 1000 C.E. It was this revered standard of Chianti that father tried his best to clone.

    "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake," advised Paul in the Bible. Wine has been around for thousands of years. Its benefits have been passed down from generation to generation. But only recently, thanks to modern medicine, we now have scientific proof that wine can aid digestion and wipe out bacteria better than bismuth salicylate (Pepto Bismol).

    But all of this wouldn't be any news to Grandma Isolina and Grandpa Antonio, who lived well into their 90s, enjoying a daily glass of nonno's homemade red wine.

    Part 1: Health Benefits of Red Wine

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