Grape Harvest in Italy: Memories of Tradition and Life at Home

Here in the province of Vicenza, it is vendemmia, or grape harvest in Italy as a whole.

It depends on the regions and. the grape variety to be harvested but we can say that September and October really mark the months of vendemmia.

There are areas where the harvest begins in mid-August and will end in mid-October or even beyond. But what I want to talk to you about today is not the “technical” part of this moment, but the atmosphere in the cellars.

Visiting Italy During Harvest

If you come to Italy at this time of the year and traveling by car to the rural areas, you will find dozens of tractors on the streets: large, small, new cutting-edge models, but also old tractors full of rust. Those ones can tell you ancient stories just by looking at them.

Fortunately, today harvest has made great strides from a technological point of view. The harvesting machines help the farmers to reduce the enormous effort of harvesting with arms raised for hours and hours.

At the same time, considering the rise in temperatures in recent years, the grape harvesting machines help speed up the process in the vineyard and avoid unpleasant problems in the vineyard. One of these problems is certainly fermentation. Imagine harvesting by hand, in a vineyard far from the cellar, under the sun of in August and September. The temperature can reach 30/32 ° C (86/90 ° F). What most likely can happen is that, due to the high temperature, fermentation is triggered. And fermentation in the vineyard is not desirable if you want to make a quality wine.

© Unsplash

Technology Helps

Therefore, harvesting using technology helps a lot. The grape harvesting machines today collect the bunches from the plant without damaging it and in a very delicate way. This allows a high-quality raw material to then proceed with the processing in the cellar.

I know, it’s not as romantic as harvesting by hand.

However, in many areas of Italy, many micro-wineries still managed by the family, continue to harvest by hand. They call family, acquaintances, and friends together for help.

This was my harvest….

My grandfather’s name was Gaetano. He had vineyards, but just for passion and family tradition. He made the wine for himself and for the family. He actually worked in a school, but our roots are peasant and he always wanted to keep this tradition alive.

My grandfather looked after the fields all year round: from pruning to harvest. He did everything. He drove off with his tractor, old and rusty and spent hours working in the vineyard.

But the harvest was the hardest and at the same time the most festive period.

When the grapes were ripe, he began to call various relatives and friends to help him harvest.

Women wore a handkerchief to cover their heads to avoid getting their hair dirty.

grape harvest in Italy
© Archivio fotografico Museo della Civiltà Contadina, San Marino di Bentivoglio (Bologna)

An Early Morning Start

Everyone arrived in the morning at 7:00 am, equipped with scissors, change of clothes for the evening, and a bottle of water to quench their thirst during work.

Typically in the morning, there was a light fog that enveloped everything. It was the humidity from the night that still made everything muffled. But the sun’s rays were visible, and everyone was expecting a warm and sunny day.

© Unsplash

The tractor ran between the rows, everyone working with their arms raised for hours in the sun, but we were always chatting.

© Dal Maso winery

Vineyard Chatter

The rows were full of noise of men and women chatting all the time. Husbands and wives would argue; friends talked about what was happening in the village; and men discussed. topics heard in the town square.

© Unsplash

Lunch Time!

Then the bell tower rang 12 o’clock. Lunch time.

Everyone went home for lunch. There were those who stayed for lunch with my grandfather Gaetano and my grandmother Rita. She prepared pasta for everyone and lunch was ready.

Pasta with meat sauce, bread, coffee, and sometimes even a homemade dessert made the night before.

While everyone ate at home, my memory shifted to the row of gloves and overalls hanging on the gate of the house to dry them. They wore the stains of grapes, sweat, and earth. They smelled of earth and dust, but there was something sweet that vaguely recalled the sweetness of grapes.

The voices coming from inside the house were soft but never tired.

At 1:30 pm lunch ended and everyone put on their overalls or handkerchiefs on their heads, gloves, and off to the vineyard again.

Memories of Fermenting Must

When the tractor was full, my grandfather took it to our underground cellar to make wine for our family.

The scent of the fermenting must is a vivid memory of my childhood … and also the midges that surrounded the house (😊 laugh))

Evening came at 5:30 pm and by then, my grandfather and all the others were starting to get tired. The voices grew fainter and the women talked about what they should prepare for dinner.

They left the field with the tractor full of grapes, but the work was not finished. For many of them there was also a few hours of work in the cellar to start processing the grapes harvested during the day.

© Unsplash

Grape harvest in Italy means a new cycle.

The harvest, today as then, follows the same rhythms.

Technology may have brought great help to the work in the vineyard, but the emotions, fatigue, and expectations of this event have not changed.

The harvest includes the work of a whole year: a year perhaps made up of atmospheric difficulties. As often happens in Italy in recent years, some areas are hit by hail or strong winds.

Every bottle has a story to tell…

Despite everything, the harvest is both the end and the beginning of a new cycle.  The cycle in the vineyard ends, but the life of a new bottle begins. Within itself, it tells those who are willing to listen, the story of this event so significant for everyone.

When you buy and open a bottle of wine, think of the hands that picked that grape, the history, and effort. Then there’s the winemaker whose dream is for his grapes and wine to reach your table.

Think of the children who perhaps took part in the harvest after school– more as a game than as a job, but who put their time and joy into it.

Think of the land of that vineyard which the grapes come from. Trampled on by tired legs, but those grapes listened to words of joy, gossip, and chat between friends.

Think of that bottle of wine with its aromas and taste, It derives from this magical moment, unique and unrepeatable — returns every year, but is never the same.

My grandfather has now passed, but in vendemmia, I still remember him and his white hair getting on a tractor, his work, and heading towards the vineyard – and my beloved grandmother and her handkerchief tied on her head sitting next to him.

Remember that each bottle tells a story just  like mine.

Each bottle contains the story of a family.

Patrizia Vigolo

Contributing Wine Editor

Ciao a tutti! My name is Patrizia and I live in Vicenza located in the beautiful Veneto region. I am an AIS sommelier and WSET 3 certified. I have more than 10 years’ experience in the wine industry as sales director for several Italian wineries. Outside of work, I love to visit wineries, read, cook, travel, and spend time with my family. I love wine for many different reasons. One of the main reasons is that wine makes people meet and share experiences.: A glass of wine with friends, family or colleagues can make your day. In a glass of wine there is a story: the story of a family, tradition, and territory. I think a glass of wine can be an endless story to discover. You will never, and I say never, find two wines similar. I love to think that for every single situation, there is the right wine. Follow me if you want to learn more about Italian wines and tips about the amazing wine world. Cin Cin!

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