– Stories such as this are the heart and fun of Anne’s U.S. Cooking and Lecture Tour “Feast of Umbrian Rural Cuisine” home events this February and March! Not to be missed! And meet Peppa, taste her wine: join Anne’s “Inside” Umbria tour (for just 12) in May!
Until this past fall, the only time we’d turned our own grapes into wine was in 1975, our first year on the land in Umbria. The land and farmhouse had been abandoned ten years prior, detrimental to the vineyard. Phylloxera had invaded. As we picked our meagre yield with farm friends, Peppe and Mandina, they’d reminisced on the past beauty of the vineyard, its grape abundance under the able hands of “povero Giannetto” (in Umbria, “poor” – povero – precedes the name of a deceased), the farmer who had owned our house, worked the land.
Giannetto had died years prior; his wife and children had moved off the land. For about $25 per month (25, 000 lire – the right price!), we’d rented their crumbling farmhouse and the land in September, 1975, close to vendemmia (“grape harvest”) time. Our nearest neighbors, Peppe and Mandina, soon became our mentors and dear friends, teaching us everything about the land – and not only.
Since our dirt road was nearly impassable, on vendemmia morning, they rumbled up to our farmhouse on the wooden cart Peppe had made, pulled by their team of oxen, huge bigonze (wooden grape barrels) clattering in the back. We all picked our grapes and the pressing was done by Peppe in his wine cellar: a meagre yield, a demijohn full. But what a wine: Peppe had beamed, “buonissimo!” as he sipped the first taste.
This year, we joined with Peppa in wine-making – but the first sip did not enthuse. We’d planted a vineyard up on the hill just a few years ago and we have grapes from Giannetto’s vines twisting around the maple trees – called “la madre dell’uva” (“mother of the grapes”) as they guide the vines – in front of our house.
In late September, Pino took all the grapes (five crates, maybe 100 kilos?) to Peppa’s to unite with hers for a “joint venture” vino. She and her three sons had pressed their grapes and ours, transferring the juice to huge casks. Peppa, of course, headed into her wine cellar daily to taste test the wine-on-the-way.
A week or two after pressing, a frantic Peppa called us, asking for the copper kettles and sieve hanging on our kitchen wall: all the wine (about 400 liters) had to be immediately transferred to new barrels, passing it through copper. The only way to save it, a “wine expert” (her nephew) had told her, warning that the wine ha preso di spunto (“was going sour”). Pino had had the same suspicion a few days earlier, puckering at a vinegar hint as he sipped. “Ma no!” exclaimed Peppa, negating.
Down came a couple of the copper pots and the battered sieve, a few of the pieces I’d bought at an old junk shop on Corfu the summer of 1974. I remember emptying my backpack of my clothes, stuffing in the copper and heading to the ferry back to Italy (I was teaching in Rome that year). And now the copper would be used once again (perhaps as an old Greek farmwoman had once used it?).
A few days after filtering all the wine through my battered Greek copper sieve, I asked Peppa about the wine progress. She sternly asked me, “why did you take the copper away? You know I would have taken care of it.”
Who knew she’d need it again? But she did: her nephew had recommended a second try at pouring the wine through copper. She and her sons once again used my old Greek copper in a final attempt to save this year’s harvest.
It doesn’t taste as vinegary any longer: they added sugar, much to our chagrin. Peppa denies it. But this year’s vino with an acidic bite is now nearly a dessert wine. The Greek copper didn’t save the wine. Peppa and sons opted for their own remedy.