Genzano wine making the old ways
Wine making the old ways in Genzano di Lucania chasms
WELCOME to our page (31), wine making the old ways
Dear readers, in the old times lot of things were done in a different way, so, some of those ways may seem strange to say the least, you know that, because in our previous two articles we have talked about cheese making and ricotta making the old ways, in this article we are going to talk about wine making the old ways; of course this is also another chapter of my life and therefore, it is my life story, which we would like to tell you, since we believe that it needs to be told just to see how we did certain things in the old times, which were quite unique in their own ways. We would also like to point out that wherever you go, in the old continent there are local things that are unique to that place only, and just for this reason it might be interesting to know what it is like; in our previous articles we have mentioned several time that the first inhabitant of Genzano di Lucania probably lived in the caves in the chasms below the town of Genzano itself. There are reasons to believe that this was true, because, when I was young, I could hear the elders saying that they remember a few people still living in the chasm caves when themselves were young; it should true because this could be the only explanation possible that these caves were dug out in the chasms from the first inhabitant of this region, so that they could have a shelter and live in them; but in my young days there were no people living in the caves anymore, but the caves were used mostly to make wine, so let me tell you about how we made wine in Genzano chasm caves, in those by gone days, when I was young.
WINE MAKING IN GENZANO CHASMS CAVES
Dear readers as I have said, I am really going to talk about wine making in the town of Genzano. But, first of all, don’t get me wrong but this is not the place where the famous wine Cinzano is made, because it only the name that sounds similar; so, in this hub there is not going to be any, chin, chin; chin, chin Cinzano? But the reason I am writing this article is that Genzano happens to be the place where I was born and lived my young life, and therefore, I would like to tell you how and what we used to do then, this place it is also very unique in its own ways, as you will see from my personal story that I am writing here.
So, by telling you my life story, let me take you to see another place at another time, because I would like you to see what I saw when I was young, so that you would understand the old way of life that we were living in this old town of Genzano at a certain time of the year, especially when it was wine making time. We know that this is an old way of doing things and today very likely is not done to the same extend; but I may suggest to our readers that perhaps they could compare the ways of living of those times with the ways of living that we have today, and they can also compare the ways of living and the place they happen to live in now, just to give this article an extra useful meaning so to speak; because I believe that everywhere you go, there are unique things in their own ways, so let us talk about Genzano and its wine caves, just the way I saw it happening when I was young.
Genzano and its wine caves
Let us talk about Genzano and its caves, where we believe that the first inhabitant of this region used to live in the beginning, but those caves later on changed their use and were used to make wine when I was young.
Here I need to say that even today after so many years have passed, when I think about the town of Genzano di Lucania, and therefore the town where I was born and I came from, I cannot help thinking about the chasms and their caves at the time of wine making as a whole unit, you see, I cannot help thinking about the time of wine making in the chasms caves when I was young, because I found that very interesting, you see, we were involved in wine making, since we had some vineyards and a large share of one of these large caves, so we made our own wine in this cave.
Nowadays, when I think about wine making I mentally recall what was going on in this chasm where we had our cave and we made our wine, so let me tell you how I feel about it even today, I feel that there was something very unusual and scenic about this chasm in this town, which I believe that people from outside and not familiar with the sort of set up would be amazed to see, if they could see it happening the same way as it was happening when I was young. Because at the time of wine making the whole chasm seems to become alive in its unique ways; with so many people going around in this archaic place, and you could feel as if you were living in another era; or perhaps you would thing that you were dreaming, or that you were living on a different planet.
If you look and try to imagine what’s going on at this upper end of the chasm, which is the beginning of the chasm situated next to the old town and this is where most of the caves are and therefore the busiest place at this time of the year. This chasm doesn’t seem to have a name nowadays, but I think that it was called Vallone St. Antuon or St Michele. (Chasm St Michael)
During most of the year this wild and dangerous place has been almost deserted, except for a few people passing in the ancient and steep stone paved main road, which was once very busy for centuries, because the town’s people of that time used to go to the fountain of ‘Capodaqua’ to do their washing, and also to fetch good drinkable water for their own needs in their houses: this fountain of Capodaqua is fed from a natural spring and it is also good to drink just as it is from the selected sprouts, it has existed for many centuries, it was enlarged in the sixteenth century after they found the Madonna (in one of our hubs we have written about this Madonna story and this is the link, The Madonna story,) so, this fountain has always been used from the town people and has been rebuilt in the early part of the 1800 for this use.
The reason why this fountain was so popular, it is because the water of the fountain Cavallina which is/was the fountain situated in the town was not much good to drink, and in those old days it was not as it is today; it is said that this fountain Cavallina was build, or perhaps it would more correct to say that it was rebuilt in 1860 or there about; here I insist that it was rebuilt and not built for the first time, because the spring that feeds the fountain has been there from the beginning of the world, as these things never change, at the same time, before the reticulated water supply came to town, this fountain Cavallina wasn’t big enough to supply the whole town.
But after they brought in the reticulated water supply to Genzano, I guess that this was early in the 1900, or soon after that the town’s people installed running water in their own houses as soon as they could afford it. And so the old custom of going to the fountain of Capodaqua to wash and bring water to town slowly died down. So nowadays the people of Genzano don’t go to the fountain of Capodaqua as much as they used to go, that is except at the time of wine making, because it is easier to fetch water from the fountain to the caves, than it would be to bring down the water through the steep road from town. So during the year, generally there are only a few people coming down the ancient road on their ways to some of their own fields or vineyards past the chasm, or just a few owners of the caves, who would be going to the caves and coming from the caves to take home some wine. Anyhow let me tell you how I felt and remember these things that happened in the chasm when I was young.
Life and sounds in chasms
Life and sounds in Genzano chasms when I was young
Now I would like to describe to you this scene in this chasm of those times, in the same way that I have experienced it when I was young. So let me go back in time, starting from the time when I was a teenager and working, we are talking here at the interesting time when I was helping to carry the harvested grapes from the vineyards to the caves: Perhaps this is the best and possibly the only way to describe what it was like in the chasm then, which also is how it had been for centuries before my time; but nowadays even this scene may be slightly different as even here things are changing, because they have made those narrow paths wider, so that they can go down the chasm with a tractor, instead of carrying all those heavy weights on horseback.
Now, at the time when I was a teenager I used to help at grapes harvest time, my job was that of a donkey-boy, while I was helping to carry grapes to our cave to make wine. So, I would have an ass with me to help me carry the grapes to the cave, in the morning I would go to the small stable to get the donkey ready, then I would go to the vineyard to load the donkey with grapes, and then I would drive the donkey to the cave unload the grapes and crush them with the crushing machine. In order to load the grapes onto the donkey back, the donkey had a special heavy saddle fixed on its back, so that we could tie two large watertight wooden bins on her back, one on each side.
Those wooden bins would old about two bushels each, so the donkey would be carrying about 80 to 100 Kg. of grapes per load, depending on how packed down the grapes was in the bins. In my early youth there was no other way to carry the grapes down (or up) the chasm, in order to get to your cave and make your wine, as all heavy loads were carried on horseback so to speak.
On the way down to the caves one had to be very careful with one’s own donkey or horse, as a fall of the donkey or horse could end in a major disaster, and as we went down the steep main road and turned into the paths of the chasm to reach our own cave, the paths would become smaller, so small that we had to find and wait in a wider bay, if somebody else was coming the opposite way, and also we had to be extremely careful when we were approaching some places where there were sheer drops of up to ten meter below us.
But not withstanding all the dangers and hardships of this wild place, the chasm would be crowded with people at this time of the year. People would be everywhere, and they would be busy also all doing different tasks, all depending on how advanced their grapes harvest or wine making would be, because in this geographic position on the hills of southern Italy; because of the facts that it is a hilly country and the altitude varies a great deal, the grapes would not ripen all at the same time, but they would ripen according to the amount of sun the vineyards receive and the altitude.
Therefore, while some people, who would have their vineyards in a lower and sunny altitude would have already harvested their grapes and made their wine, there would be others that would be only starting, and they would be starting by going out with a saddled donkey to Capodaqua fountain to fetch water, (This is a fountain which I have already mentioned above and which I will describe to you later on) the donkey would have a pair of small casks tied on its special saddle, which the owners would take to the fountain and fill them with water, and then take the water to their caves for washing their vats and casks, so they would be ready to start the harvest of their grapes. There would be others that would have already done so, and they would have started to harvest their grapes and bring them in, as soon as the grapes would reach their caves they would be crushed with a Crushing Machine which would be sitting on a large vat. The crushing machine was a new devise that was being used when I was young, before then the grapes were crushed by foot, and it was hard work for many reasons, as I may describe to you later on in this article
Crushing Machine and sounds in the chasm
The Crushing Machine was a useful devise for wine making, which was becoming affordable to the small wine maker when I was young. It was very useful because it saved a lot of hard work; because before the Crushing Machine came out all the grapes that were brought in from the vineyards had to be thrown in a vat first, then when the vat was full, all the grapes juice had to be drained out of the vat and transferred to other containers, while a man or two would go into the vat with clean bare feet, to tread over the grapes until they were all crushed, and then the grapes juice had to be transferred back into the vat to become wine, you see, the type of wine we made over there needed to be together with the husks and stems to ferment, so all that work needed to be done.
Anyhow, when the Vat would become full of crushed grapes juice together with the husks and stems, it would be left to ferment for a week or so, during that time somebody would be checking on the progress of the wine, and once a day would be pushing down into the new wine the husks and stems that have arisen to the top, so that they will all ferment together until the new wine is ready. When the fermentation stops, then the new wine would be ready to be transferred into a clean sealed wine-cask. The large and already cleaned wine casks, which is a must to open up and clean them up as soon as they become empty during the year, at this time they must be rinsed out and resealed to take in the new wine. It usually will take an expert to reseal them properly, as they must be watertight to keep to new wine in without leaking. Now the Cooper who is the expert to do this job is called to reseal the wine-casks, and he would be very busy indeed at this time of the year. Of course there are some of the owners who would feel confident enough to reseal the wine-casks themselves, since they have seen the Cooper doing it so many times before, and therefore they feel that they don’t require help from the Cooper, that is if the wine-casks were not too large and they would be in good conditions.
I would like to point out now that at this time of the year, the Cooper who is the expert that builds and fixes wine-casks is very busy indeed; but the poor guy during the whole year has not been doing much work, if he was lucky he could have done some work at a steady pace with his skew-axe during the year, like carving seasoned oak-tree-wood to make some new casks, or to fix and replace a rotten peace to the old wine-casks or vats, or just doing odd jobs in order to earn a living: but now being grapes harvest and wine making time he is very busy indeed, because there are a lot of people that require his expertise at this time of the year.
The resealing of the wine-casks is/was a very noisy job; and since at this time of the year there would be always a few people doing it at the same time, because it is grapes harvest time and wine making time and it lasts only a few weeks, as a child I felt that the sound that they made was very peculiar but pleasant to me, and as a child I would even stop playing and listen to it for a while, since the acoustic of the chasm made the sound very interesting to me: The noise that they made when they struck with the hammer on the cask iron-hoops in order to tighten and reseal the casks run like this: The hammer would start the echo going when it hits the iron-hoop, and that sound will reverberate within the wine-cask itself, then within the cave and within the chasm in a very close chain reaction, which sounds like a very long continuous sound very much like a large bell, which starts with a high steel sound and ends with a low wooden sound.
It would usually be nice to be in the chasm at this time of the year, because during this time of the year there would be lots of people coming and going all day long, and they would be doing all sorts of activities in wine making, now most of these people would know each other, and being a friendly country place they usually would greet each other’s and exchange a few friendly words, most likely about their progress of their grapes harvest and wine making, as we all know country towns are usually very friendly people.
The wine press and its crew
The wine press and its crew was a very interesting lot.
And one of the last of all of these activities of wine making there was also the mechanical wine-press, which would be going around the chasm’s caves to press the remains of the grapes after wine making, in order to extract the last bit of wine from the husks and stems.
In those times, the wine-press could be hired complete with the crew, and the crew of the wine-press was a very noisy lot, as they were five or six strong men, which would be moving the wine-press from one cave to another wherever they would be required. They were a sight to see and to hear, as they were very vociferous while they were moving the wine-press through the narrow paths of the chasm, and they were shouting at each other in order to overcome their difficult task: Heave! Heave! Pull! Push! Heave! They would be shouting at each other. I suppose they would be already a bit drunk, even though it is still early in the morning, since they are usually offered a drink of the new wine, from the owners when they complete a pressing job, so they would be affected from the last drink of wine that they have had. Anyhow they would come to your cave when you were ready, and they would set their press in front of your cave, then one or two of them would go into the Vat to fill up containers with the dregs, and they would pass these filled containers to the others to fill up the press, and once that the press would be full, they would press the dregs through a system of livers, they would go around the press pushing these levers that would be attached to a huge steel nut on a long stem, and through these devises they would press the dregs dry.
Then they would release the pressure and open the press to empty it of the dry pressed dregs, and they would refill the wine press again and repeat the operation until all the grapes remains would be squeezed dry.
Once they had finished a job, they would pack the wine-press ready to move to the next cave, they would leave the dregs of the pressed grapes in front of your own cave to do whatever the owner’s wanted to do with them. So now there would be the smell of the fresh grapes’ dregs. By now the owner would have offered them a drink of the new wine that they had pressed. He would be almost praying them to drink, or at least to have a taste of the new wine. So after having a drink they are ready to go.
And off they go again shouting at each other: Heave! Heave! Pull! Push! Heave! As they move away from one cave to another cave. And so the chasm resounds with their voices above all other people voices, and the acoustic of the chasm which seems to help the scene makes it even greater.
And this is the way that I remember the chasm and the wine-caves at the time when I was young. And this is the place that some of the inhabitant of Genzano used to live a very long time ago, but today they all live in the town; of course there are some farmers that live outside town in their own farms, because they have some farm animals to look after and work in the farms fields, but even these farmers don’t live in the caves any-more; anyhow these caves at the time when I was young were only used to make wine; today they might even be left unused and all the wine casks and vats are rotting away; this is the new sign of the times since everything today is changing very fast, so we might have to say goodbye to the old times forever. But it is always good to remember them.
Now we have to say that in the history of the places, every time that something happens it leaves its sign of those times and this is our heritage, so in our next article we will be talking about one of these heritage chapters of the town of Genzano.