Annual Wine Making Tradition and the Special 2009 Vintage

26 Sep, 2009 | by
Topics: Favors, Reception

Grape Header

Wine-making has been a family tradition which stretches back to my early childhood.  I look back fondly on those years when my dad would solicit my mother and my sister and me to help out with the process.  Back then, we used a rather draconian device, powered by shear brute strength, to turn a hand crank.  The crank was connected to a series of gears which would mesh together and ultimately pulverize each and every grape.  The crushed grapes yielded juice which would be collected and ultimately funneled into a barrel, ready to undergo the natural fermentation process.  It was a very effective approach for a few years but as the quantity of grapes increased and the longevity of the tool deteriorated, my father upgraded his processes.  I’ll cover some of those enhancements in a moment. 

As the years went on, the annual tradition became relegated to more of an independent affair.  My father would immerse himself (rather obsessively) into his hobby as both my sister and I toiled away with school and our own extracurricular activities.  The tradition would only be reinvigorated back in 2004, when the festivities evolved into a great excuse to get together with family and friends.

The annual gathering has acquired something of a carnival-like atmosphere.  Obscene quantities of food and drink, frenzied displays of soccer prowess and relaxing by the bonfire, are all in keeping with the event’s zeitgeist.  The main event, of course, is the reinvented process through which the grapes are crushed.  With feet!

My father has made many improvements to his wine laboratory over the years.  The most notable addition was that of his grape-processing area.  It was constructed with nothing more than cement and is perfectly square in shape.  It’s maybe 4 ft wide by 4 ft high with a large iron stake anchored directly in the center.  The stake is threaded and is maybe an inch in diameter and has a large lug nut at the top.  I’ll explain where this comes into play later.  The interior is obviously hallowed out, and was designed with the quantity of grapes he generally purchases in mind. 

Once the vessel is loaded up, there’s really no “best” way to stomp the grapes.  Everyone has his or her own style.  It boils down to “how long” and not so much “how” it’s done.  When my father did his thing all alone back in day, the process took anywhere from 3 – 4 days to complete, with a lot of effort required.  Even though our annual grape-stomping party focuses on having fun, it also serves a very practical purpose:  The more people involved in stomping, the quicker the process goes.  For example, over the last few years, I’d say the crushing process has been reduced to 1 – 2 days, with minimal effort.  Most of the crushing is done on the first day, which is completed during the actual party itself.  The following day my father will go solo, as he often does, to crush anything that might have been missed.  He’ll then drain the grape juice into an adjacent barrel.  There’s a release valve at the bottom of the vessel which enables that to happen. 

However, once that’s done there’s still a lot of juice remaining in the stems, etc.  In order to get every last drop of juice out of those grapes, he’ll then throw anywhere from 4 – 6 thick blocks of wood on top of the grape stem pile.  Each block is positioned in such a way where they cross one another in a uniform manner.  This creates a balanced pressure point on the pile.  He’ll then use a massive wrench to tighten the lug nut on the iron stake I mentioned earlier.  With each turn of the wrench, the pressure on the pile is exponentially increased, causing the excess juice to drain.  Once the vessel is completely drained into the barrel, the barrel hole is left open.  As the fermentation process begins, impurities rise to the top and exit the barrel.  Within 3 – 4 months, the process usually runs its course.  It is bottled accordingly and stored in the very same room.  My father proudly refers to the finished product as “Home-Made Portuguese Wine”. 

Special 2009 Vintage:
The supply typically lasts the entire year; however, this year’s vintage will hold a particularly special meaning, so additional grapes were purchased.  Why “special,” you ask?  Well, this year’s batch will be served at my wedding next year.  Commemorative wine bottles, both red and white, will be at each of the reception tables.  The labels will have a unique flair that will represent the equally unique personalities that Kathleen and I have — not to mentioned pay homage to the wine steward himself.  We’ll be sure to share the label design in a future post.  Until the next time, enjoy the photos!

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Stomp those grapes!

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The magic of grapes…

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Stomp!  or else…

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Enjoying life…

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Red is our favorite color…

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Peace man…

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Relaxing by the bonfire…

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Even the dog wants in on the action…


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