by Pasquale Mosconi
bought California grapes, both Muscatel and Zinfandel, in
25-pound wooden boxes. He would buy the grapes to make
both red and white wine. The procedure was quite
involved. In the early days, we didn't have a mechanism
where you could dump the boxes of grapes into them and
grind them up. We would use a large wash tub and throw
the contents of a box of grapes inside there. With rubber
boots on, we would stomp the grapes until they were ready
to put in the barrels. Speaking of the barrels, Pop would
get charred whiskey barrels that would hold 50 gallons of
wine. The whiskey barrels came with ends attached on both
ends. He would knock the hoops, or "bungs" as
they were called, loose little by little until you could
take the end off of one of the whiskey barrels. The hoops
were put back on again so they'd be real tight and the
barrel wouldn't leak.
The making of wine started with the barrel in the vertical position with one end removed. In the early days when we'd stomp on the grapes in the tub, they would get dumped into the barrel.. Later on when we got this grinding apparatus to grind the grapes, we would put the grinder on top of the barrel and dump the boxes of grapes inside. Next, we would grind the grapes until the whole contents went into the barrel. After the 25 boxes of grapes it took to make a barrel of wine were inside the barrel, the grapes were allowed to ferment for about ten days to two weeks, depending upon the temperature down in the basement.
At the right time, with the barrel in the vertical position, withdrawing the liquid wine was the next step. Down at the bottom of the barrel was a cork that could be pulled out. A spigot would be placed in there and the liquid would be drawn off into tubs. The remaining contents of the barrel, which was called "mash", was put into a large cylindrical device called a wine press. Boards were put on top of the mash. The wine press had a big screw down the middle that would allow us to squeeze the contents of the mash. The wine would run down to the bottom of the wine press and get caught in pans. The mash would get squeezed until it was so solid that you had to chop it out with a hatchet. It would be thrown out into the garden and used as a fertilizer.
Next, the top was put back on the wine/whiskey barrel. Now the barrel was put in a horizontal position to store the wine. Pop would fill the barrel right up to where the wine was level with the bung. Each day as the wine fermented, it would kind of bubble up or boil. That would continue up to about three months when the wine was ready to drink.
Then a spigot was put in the end of the barrel. A quart of wine would be drawn off and be put in the refrigerator to cool for the evening meal. This procedure was done each year and was similar to the way the other Italian families or "paisanos" in the neighborhood would make wine. Making wine was a popular annual ritual that continued until Pop retired.
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