Sunday, October 5, 2008

bottle neck

We are back from our hiatus. Too many things to do, and not enough time to do them is the cliched mantra of these last thirty days. The weather here in Vermont shifts back and forth between hot and humid, and rainy and wet. The hurricanes traveling across the ocean, whirling dervishes of wind and disturbance from South Africa take aim at the Carribean islands and the Gulf coast, always threatening coastal Texas and New Orleans. We get the run-off of extravagant winds and rain bringing tempestuous unpredictability to our northern reaches.

These wild days remind me that I need to bottle my wine. The end of the season is fast approaching and I think my fledgling wine has had plenty of time to sit and stew. It’s probably a good idea to get the wine transferred to glass bottles so it can settle and relax in the wine rack next to the wood rack in our barn-garage before the cold frost blankets the ground. Frost, that net of shimmering white crystals, so pretty in Harvest moonlight, in the brightness of the next day is revealed as a cruel trickery. It leaves a trail of blackened stalks and vegetation.

I have collected used wine bottles from the restaurant and they sit in boxes waiting to be washed, their old labels scrubbed off. Here are the remains of good wines—bottles emptied of Aglianico from Campania, Ciro from Calabria, Primitivo from Puglia, and Nebbiolo Langhe from the Piemonte. Here’s sturdy dark glass from an old-style Chianti producer. The remains of good wines. I want my wine to be cloaked in respectable, heavy glass. Even though my wine is a small wine, I hope it will rise to the challenge of a good vessel.
On a sunny day, I set up the galvanized metal washtub with water warmed from sitting in the hose. The cases of used bottles get filled with water themselves then packed into the tub, the water inside keeping them from bobbing up. I’m looking for the minimum of work here, imagining the old labels gently sloughed off the glass on their own.

There is no such luck. Some labels are adhered with an industrial substance that is tighter than two coats of paint as they say in these parts. When I think the bottles have had enough time to soak, I see that my job will not be so easy. I must scrub and pick and scrape to get some of these labels off, and still the glue sticks and makes the bottles look pocked and dirty. I start over. I soak the bottles in really hot water in the sink in the kitchen. This works a bit better.
Since I have lost all our Barbera wine to my naïveté, there is only the Nebbiolo to bottle, and that is cleverly contained in the bucket with the spigot in a sterilized solution in the kitchen sink. I soak the bottles once again along with the clear plastic tube that came with my winemaking kit. The bottles and tube get rinsed in cool, clean water, then are set out to air dry. We lift the wine container onto the top of the tall trash can in the kitchen. Previously, the wine has been sitting undisturbed all summer in the pantry with an occasional “barrel” tasting to make sure it would really be worth all this trouble.

I attach one end of the tubing to the spigot, the other goes into the neck of a bottle. I hold on tight and open the spigot. I’ve not chosen the best of places to conduct this procedure as I can’t see how quickly the wine rises in the bottle. Too dark down there on the floor with a dark brown-green glass bottle even thought the lights are turned on. It is after sundown afterall.

Unexpectedly (yet expected all the same) the bottle overflows. There is cursing, more spillage, and hands and fingers that are not fast enough. This happens over and over again as the bottles get filled, a puddle of ruby liquid at my feet. My fingers are saturated with wine, and I lap at my hands (I contemplate licking the floor) because I don’t want to lose one bit. The wine tastes good. Not perfect, but good. I am completely surprised, unbelieving, so I want to keep tasting to be sure. The wine is light and clean. Given the problems I had earlier with the pretty bacteria, I figure this is one of those small tragedies converted into a miracle. The wine bottles, varied in shape, stand tall and look like they are marching across the floor toward to the door and the wine racks in the barn where they will fine and settle for as long as they last.


WhiteRiverChronicler said...

All hail the return of fuoricitta!

Deirdre and Caleb said...

Thanks for thumbs up! d