Grape harvest

 

Italy is, of course, one of the most important wine producers worldwide. The importance of grapes in its culture cannot therefore be underestimated: for millennia, harvesting time has been the unofficial marker of the beginning of a new life cycle. 

Harvesting grapes meant starting the process that beget not only wine itself, but a whole new season of work and commerce. Even the leftovers from pressing found valuable uses as animal food or fertilizer, not to mention the grapes used for typical Fall recipes, or the must employed to make jams and preserves. Until the 1950s, all of the above was more than enough to excite the populations of rural areas into action, as haste was paramount to make the best of use of the short span between full ripeness of the grapes and their spoiling. All the harvesting, moving, pressing and barreling was naturally done by hand (and feet), hence everyone from children to elders lent theirs to complete work in time. This meant the unusual collaboration of normally insulated families, meeting much more people than it was common and take advantage of being assembled next to each other. Harvesting time, traditionally starting on Saint Martin’s day (November the 11th), thus became the date for many beginnings. Reopening of schools and tribunals, payment of land leases, markets and more all happened on this day, almost as if it was a sort of new year’s eve. And how could people not to celebrate such an occasion? 

While each region has – as always – its local variations, harvesting work was generally accompanied by huge square dances, communal singing, charity to the poor, baking contests and more. An important tradition was to run plain water through the pressed grapes to extract their concentrated juices and make a very light drink called acquaticcio. This was considered a rare delicacy, although it only had a three-days life before going sour. Some grapes were also dried indoors to make raisins for cooking and to be eaten on January the 1st , as a propitiatory rite to “call” money into one’s life – the tradition remains in the form of eating lentils “for luck”.