Wednesday, October 14, 2009


A summer we didn’t really have is gone. Time flown, I’m wondering where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing since our last post. Sometimes living gets in the way.

Fall has settled in now on our pie-shaped piece of meadow and wood. The leaves have started to change to the reknowned oranges, golds, and reds. Yet--even though it is already October, out the windows of our house I can still see a lot of green, and the gardens are still producing valiantly: roses, phlox. rudbeckia, tomatoes, radicchio, zucchini, and Piemontese beans.

On these gray heavy days of late, I can almost imagine we might be in the Piemonte in northern Italy. The woodsmoke hangs and the air is raw just like there at this time of year. The wild-gatherers bring exotic mushrooms to the restaurant—this week white combtooth. And yesterday, our grapes arrived from the market in Boston.

The grapes are from Boston this year because there is a dearth of grapes here inVermont. All of sudden, everyone wants to make wine. People are begging, borrowing, trading, making promises they must keep for a few slugs of grapes. I, too, have negotiated, and if the weather cooperates, harvest here in Vermont will begin any day now, and I will pick up a case or two of Marquette, so that I can begin learning to make wine from a grape I have planted heavily. There is a frisson in the air between the local wine makers, the anticipation of harvest and the pressing. We are very careful not to reveal where we have acquired our bounty—we don’t want to lose our access; we don’t want our gracious vineyardist to be inundated with requests for next year. We protect our sources, so that we can assure ourselves that again, we will get to make wine.

Our Boston grapes are plump and healthy: two slugs of Sangiovese, and one of Barbera, all grown in California. I have gone easy on the amount of grapes to make into wine this year as the goal is to make wine cleanly and properly, to learn the most from a little. Since we have so much work to do still on preparing our cellar—all our time has been devoted to the actual vineyard itself—we don’t have enough space for proper storage for a larger quantity. So, we go to a friend’s cellar who has been making wine for the last seven years to crush, test for sugar, test for acid, and prepare the yeast. When I make my own wine from my own grapes, I will use less intervention. I will rely on wild yeasts that grow on the skins of the grapes and in the seeds, and I hope that the acids will be balanced because of how I’ve cared for the soil. But for now, since I don’t know the growing conditions of these grapes, I will use cultured yeast, the point of this excericise not only to make drinkable wine, but to learn more deeply the chemistry of how to make wine, so that by the time I do have my own harvest, I will understand more intuitively the process. I will know it in my muscles and bones, in my tastebuds, what the must will do, what the must needs. I am learning by osmosis.

We are a fine group, three couples, cranking the crusher, blending grapes, taking notes, practicing the science. We taste other people’s wine while we work-a Marquette made only an hour and a half away from here. Late afternoon turns into evening, and we adjourn upstairs into the warm kitchen to prepare dinner and watch our cultured yeast grow and bubble near the stove. We eat a beautiful meal of grilled chicken, flattened and pressed by bricks in that old Italian style, served with roasted beats and squash, a spinach salad with fennel, almonds, and pears. We finish with plums poached in a little of the Marquette served with fresh whipped cream. A dish in Italy bawdily called Cosce di Monaca—nun’s thighs! All the while we taste through a varied and staunch line-up of wines: Grecchetto from Umbria for the white, Aglianico from Basilicata, Sagrantino again fromUmbria, and to finish, a Brunello. Well, not exactly to finish, there is still the small Venetian glasses of Vin Santo to end the meal with the plums. Holy wine for a holy dessert.

Roger and Deb, our hosts, send us home with a mason jar of fresh grape juice crushed from the Alicante grapes Roger is using in a blended wine he will make this year, so that tomorrow morning, we will have the juice with our breakfast just like countless families in France and Italy who will start their mornings with fresh grape juice during the crushing of the harvest, and have started their mornings during this season just like this for hundreds of years.



MaggieB said...

Mmmmm.... Deirdre, any events wine events planned for November? We were thinking of driving up to Vermont on Friday Nov. 13th... Will you all be away? I think I saw that the restaurant is closed then... Thanks!

Deirdre and Caleb said...

Maggie--Nothing in November...tho I do know of a dinner on Monday the 16th. We're doing something with one of our distributors. I'd be happy to ask him if we can include you if you guys thought you could stay up through Monday pm....

Let me know! Hope to see you soon:)