Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Nectar of the Neighborhoods

Eight years ago, a friend of ours bought a wine-making business. We were happy to support him, though I was skeptical about making our own wine. Despite the wonderful smells that lingered for weeks in and around our neighborhood every Fall when I was growing up, I couldn't erase the thought of fresh grapes fermenting into a stiff and unsavory turpentine-like-beverage that never seemed to bother our fathers-- a joke that kept many of us laughing for at least a decade. Come to think of it, I remember a gathering with friends last year when we were still howling about that wine and how, out of desperation, one of us discovered it was perfect for clearing the bathroom-sink drain one day.

 The wine-making business has changed a great deal from those 
early-immigrant days. It's not as much fun as it used to be back when our dads rearranged our cement-block garages for at least a month every Fall...though there's no question today's end product tastes a lot better! Driving in and around Toronto, we'd see the signs Uva per Musto outside Darrigo's grocery store and that's when we knew the grapes had come to town. Our fathers lined up their wine-making equipment in the garage and hustled in the crates. We neighborhood kids would move from garage to garage (our makeshift outdoor living rooms) where activities were infinitely more entertaining than staring at the TV.  

We'd gather around the wine presses like they were Christmas trees and circle around the thundering damigiane.  Our dads would swap notes and press the grapes. We'd show our strength by adding some muscle. My dad would make red, our Friulano neighbors would make white and share their grappa-making secrets. We'd visit uncles in their cement-block garages and wood sheds and listen to more wine-making secrets.  It was a time of great excitement; one that lasted weeks from start to finish with us kids drinking a fresh and bubbly grape juice and our dads tasting, testing, waiting, and hoping for the best. Of course many times we got the worst but that only led to more adult conversations that lasted all winter long and a decisive determination to do better next Fall. 

Today, larger-than-life damigiane collect dust in city garages and we no longer see the luscious grapes that turn into musto.  Instead, we start with the musto and we're bottled and done in less than an hour. But before I get too nostalgic, did I mention that today's wine tastes a lot better?  Our wine-making memories will always be with us, and while we're reminiscing, it's nice to enjoy a glass that pleases the palette! Here's how we made it this year:

Inside a beautifully decorated store, we sanitize and prepare our bottles. We choose seals and discuss labels. The fermenting grape juice moves from the easy-to-manage jug into the bottles.  

It's corked and the loose seals placed on top. Extreme heat shrinks the seals into place and the bottles are set aside to be labeled.  

 It takes three seconds for the heat coil to shrink each seal.  End result?  The final product looks as good as any bottle at the LCBO.

Today's wine jugs are one-third the size of a classic damigiana.
A corking machine makes it easy.
We repeat the procedure. First white; then red. We load up the car, pay the bill and go for lunch where we discuss politics and globalization and the complex issues the world faces today. We stop to buy Halloween candy and a few chocolate-covered raisins to chew on for our trip home and I think about how our kids used to come with us when they were younger. How we'd stop by the lake to breathe in the view and look for interesting stones and driftwood before riding back home.  I think about the prosperity they've known in their young lives-- one we couldn't even dream about as early immigrant kids. I tell these stories with the hopes that one day, when they're enjoying a glass of fine wine, they'll tell their children about a generation of nonni who worked so hard to make a nectar that wouldn't taste like turpentine. And how, despite their disappointments in their efforts most years, they drank it with great pride and with the hopes that their children would have a better life one day. One better than anything they could ever dream of.

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