Friday, October 1, 2010

Harvest 2010 at the Iuli Estate, Part I

My real adventure in Italy started in 2004 when I asked an estate in Tuscany if I could ‘come over for the harvest’. A naive, yet enthusiastic wine lover, I had romantic visions of ‘harvest’, just like everyone else; picking ‘fruit’ and long luncheon tables outside overflowing with the bounty of the growing season. I imagine scenes of women picking grapes with long dresses and aprons, and men in overalls and straw hats. Clearly I had seen too many films.

The harvest is absolutely the most beautiful time of year in Italian wine country, and the lunches are long and home cooked at the smaller, family run estates, and you can still find men in straw hats, but really that is about it for the ‘romantic’ part. The days are long, hard and hot, and it seems like the rows of vines are endless. At the end of the day your back is aching, you are covered in bee and mosquito bites, and your hands not only seem to be permanently died purple, you're sticky from head to foot!

For the producer the harvest is essentially quick, yet careful decision making and intense time sensitive labor to get a years work safe and sound into the cellar. One stroke of Mother Nature, like hail, too much rain, or a sudden extreme change in weather, and a year’s work can be lost at this incredibly crucial period.

To better understand all of the work and time that goes into your bottle of wine, I thought I would share with you a day of harvest at the Iuli estate where everything is done by hand by friends, family and a few employees.

1. Towards the end of August and the beginning of September, the grapes will start turning from red/purple to almost black, or dark dark purple. This is when Fabrizio Iuli needs to carefully walk all of his vineyards to check the ripening, and simply taste his fruit. Iuli’s ‘analysis’ consists his own palate as well as asking the other farmers, and locals if they’ve tasted their grapes, and what their thoughts are:

A number is factors will affect when the trigger is pulled to start the picking:
  • Sugar and acidity levels
  • Grape quality
  • Current weather
  • Weather forecasts (if there is a lot of rain in the forecast, it is better to pick early than to risk loosing an entire crop due to rot and/or mold)
A number of factors also determine when each of the different vineyards on the same estate are ready, as they do not all ripen at exactly the same time, and even moreover, different sections of the same vineyards will often ripen at different times. Here are just some factors;
  • grape variety, different varieties ripen at different speeds. For example, whites before reds, and Barbera before Nebbiolo.
  • vineyard location, disposition and altitude
  • soil type
Above all, at an estate where wines are made naturally, and with as little technology as possible, the harvest will start when the vigneron tastes his grapes and decides it’s time.
2. The crates are laid out in the rows ahead of time, and teams of two take one row at a time. The harvesters know which grapes to pick, and which to discard, as well as how to handle the fruit. The crates hold only 15 kili of grapes, and do not get filled to the top in order to keep the fruit from crushing itself. A tractor and another team of two will then drive up and down the rows collecting the filled crates to bring back to the winery.
3. The crates are then dumped into the de-stemmer while Fabrizio sorts again to double check the fruit selected in the vineyards is all healthy and nothing un-wanted makes it into the tanks.

4. The de-stemmer gently removes the berries from the stems, the berries get then softly pumped into the cellar into temperature controlled steel tanks, and the stems get shot out the other end. The stems will then be utilized as fertilizer in the vineyards.

5. Every crate is then hand washed to remove the sugars from the grapes to oxidation or premature fermentation while the grapes are waiting to be de-stemmed then next time the crate is filled.

6. The crates are then loaded back onto the truck and placed again in the next vineyard that is ready to be harvested, which may be the next day, or the next week, depending on the vintage.

7. The grapes on the other hand are now safely in the tanks in the cellar where they start to go through natural fermentation with indigenous yeasts.

To be continued….

Thursday, March 25, 2010

La Americana (in Piedmont)

American tourists, we don’t necessarily blend in anywhere we go; fanny packs, T-shirt and shorts, tube socks and sneakers as a ‘travel uniform’, asking to take all of our left overs ‘to go’ (even if we are staying in a hotel), being the most obnoxious and loudest during transit in public transportation, finding humor in David’s nudity, and asking if they make Brunello in Chianti, and pretending to speak Italian by saying ‘pizza and pasta’ with a ridiculous accent that makes me scrunch my face up in pain. Living here in Piedmont almost full time I am no longer considered a tourist, but at the same time – can not hide the fact that I am 100% Americanissima in a region (Monferrato) where I may quite possibly be the only full time red white and blue ex pat.

I hence have on a weekly basis experiences that are life altering, beautiful, educational, but above all incredibly humorous. If you’re looking for political opinions and observations this is the wrong blog. Here you will find comical opinions and observations on food, culture and mostly wine, all based in and around my life at the Iuli winery in the small town of Montaldo in the province of Alessandria in Piedmont.

The name of my blog, ‘La Americana’ and the blog itself are born from the obvious… being ‘THE American’ among a large group of Italian friends and colleagues. I am a novelty, time after time referred to simply as ‘La Americana’, without my proper name coming anywhere into discussion. Upon meeting new guests, before I can reach out my hand to introduce myself I am interrupted by, ‘Ahhhh, you are the American’. Upon answering the office phone, doing my best to pronounce, “pronto” with an accent, am responding, “yes, I am La Americana.” When producer friends are asked to send their web designers or printers text in English, they quickly put me in CC explaining they don’t need to use their hired services for a translator because they have ‘AN’ American. This is stated in the same way one would explain that they don’t need directions because they have ‘A’ GPS system, or explaining to the butcher that they don’t need their Speck sliced because they have ‘A’ machine at home.

I am questioned, ridiculed, challenged, admired, insulted and at times even ‘mysterious’ (mysterious really only to children under the age of 12) all because of one simple fact that before now was completely superfluous to me, I am American. In conclusion (for now- I tend to babble) there are just two many things that happen to me on a daily basis that I need to share – because life is too short not to find romance, lessons and best of all humor in everything we do!