Genzano caves, where they make wine
Some typical wine vats
Genzano wine making the old ways
WELCOME to my article (15), wine making the old ways
Dear readers, this is another chapter of my life story, and we are going to talk about wine making the old ways. Anyhow, we want to point out that wherever you go in the old continent, there are local things that are unique to that place only, and for this reason it can be interesting. In our previous articles we have mentioned that the first inhabitant of Genzano di Lucania lived in the caves in the chasms below the town.
You see, when I was young, I remember the elders saying that some people were living in the chasm caves when themselves were young. It must be true, because this is the only possible explanation that the caves were dug out in the chasm, so that they could have a shelter and live in them. But in my young days the caves were used to make wine in them.
WINE MAKING IN GENZANO CHASMS CAVES
Anyhow, I want to tell you my life story, and take you to see another place at another time, because I want you to see what I saw when I was young, so that you would understand the old way of life that we were living in this old town of Genzano, especially when it was wine making time. We know that this is an old way of doing things and making wine. But I can suggest to our readers that they can compare the ways of living of those times with the ways of living that we have today, anyhow, I believe that everywhere you go, there are unique things in their own ways, so, let us talk about Genzano and its wine caves, the way I saw it happening when I was young.
Genzano history and its wine caves
Today when I think about the town of Genzano di Lucania, I cannot help thinking about the chasms and their caves at the time of wine making; because I found that interesting, you see, we were involved in wine making, since we had some vineyards and a large share of a cave, so, we made our wine in this cave.
Nowadays, when I think about wine making I mentally recall what was going on in this chasm, where we had our cave and we made our wine, so, let me tell you how I feel about it. You see, I feel that there was something unusual and scenic about this chasm in this town, which I believe that people from outside would be amazed to see, if they could see it happening the same way I saw it happen when I was young. Because at the time of wine making the whole chasm seems to become alive in its unique ways; with so many people going around in this archaic place, and you can feel as if you were living in another era; or you would thing that you are dreaming.
If you imagine what’s going on at this upper end of the chasm, which is the beginning of the chasm situated next to the old town and this is where most of the caves are and therefore the busiest place at this time of the year. This chasm doesn’t seem to have a name nowadays, but I think that it was called Vallone St. Antony.
During most of the year this wild and dangerous place has been almost deserted, except for a few people passing in the ancient and steep stone paved main road, which was once very busy for centuries, because the town’s people used to go to the fountain of ‘Capodaqua’ to do their washing, and also to fetch good drinkable water for their own needs in their houses: this fountain of Capodaqua is fed from a natural spring and it is good to drink; it has existed for centuries, it was enlarged in the sixteenth century after they found the Madonna, see, The Madonna story. Anyhow, this fountain was used from the town people and has been rebuilt in the early part of the 1800 for this use.
The reason why this fountain was so popular, it is because the water of the fountain Cavallina which is the fountain situated in the town was not much good to drink, and in the old days it was not as it is today; it is said that this fountain Cavallina was rebuilt in 1860 or there about. It was rebuilt, because the spring that feeds the fountain has been there from the beginning of the world. Anyhow, before the reticulated water supply came to town, this fountain Cavallina wasn’t big enough to supply the whole town.
But after they brought in the reticulated water supply to Genzano, early in the 1900, or soon after that, the town’s people installed running water in their own houses as soon as they could afford it. And so, the custom of going to the fountain of Capodaqua to wash and bring water to town slowly died down. Nowadays the people of Genzano don’t go to the fountain of Capodaqua as much as they used to go, that is except at the time of wine making, because it is easier to fetch water from the fountain to the caves, than it would be to bring down the water through the steep road from town.
Aerial photo of Genzano town
Wine casks in cellars or caves
Life and sounds in chasms with wine caves
Life and sounds in Genzano chasms when I was young
Now I want to describe to you this scene in this chasm, in the same way that I have experienced it when I was young. So, let me go back in time, starting from the time when I was a teenager and helping to carry the harvested grapes from the vineyards to the caves: Perhaps this is the best way to describe what it was like in the chasm then, which was how it had been for centuries before my time; but today this scene can be different since things are changing, because they have made those narrow paths wider, so that they can go down the chasm with a tractor, instead of carrying those heavy weights on horseback.
Now, at the time when I was a teenager I used to help at grapes harvest time, my job was that of a donkey-boy, while I was helping to carry grapes to our cave to make wine. So, I would have an ass with me to help me carry the grapes to the cave, in the morning I would go to the stable to get the donkey ready, then I would go to the vineyard to load the donkey with grapes, and then I would drive the donkey to the cave unload the grapes and crush them with the crushing machine. In order to load the grapes onto the donkey back, the donkey had a special heavy saddle fixed on its back, so that we could tie two large watertight wooden bins on her back, one on each side.
Those wooden bins would old about two bushels each, so, the donkey would be carrying about 80 to 100 Kg. of grapes per load, depending on how packed down the grapes was in the bins. In my early youth there was no other way to carry the grapes down (or up) the chasm, to get to your cave and make your wine.
On the way down to the caves we had to be very careful with our donkey or horse, as a fall could end in a major disaster, and as we went down the steep main road and turned into the paths of the chasm to reach our cave, the paths would become smaller, so small that we had to find and wait in a wider bay, if somebody else was coming the opposite way, and also we had to be extremely careful when we were approaching some places where there were sheer drops of up to ten meter below us.
But not withstanding all the dangers of this wild place, the chasm was crowded with people at this time of the year. People were everywhere, and they were busy doing different tasks, depending on how advanced their grapes harvest was, because in this geographic position on the hills of southern Italy; because it is a hilly country and the altitude varies a great deal, the grapes would not ripen all at the same time, but they would ripen according to the amount of sun the vineyards receive and the altitude.
Therefore, while some people, who had their vineyards in a lower sunny altitude had harvested their grapes and made their wine, there were others that were only starting, and they would be going out with a saddled donkey to Capodaqua fountain to fetch water. Here the donkey had a pair of small casks tied on its special saddle, which the owners would take to the fountain and fill them with water, and then take the water to their caves for washing their vats and casks, so, they would be ready to start the harvest of their grapes. While others were harvesting their grapes and bring them in, as soon as the grapes would reach their caves, they would be crushed with a Crushing Machine which was sitting on a large vat. The crushing machine was a new devise that was being used when I was young, before then the grapes were crushed by foot, and it was hard work.
The grapes crushing machine
Crushing Machine and sounds in the chasm
The Crushing Machine was a useful devise for wine making, it became affordable to the small wine maker when I was young. It was useful because it saved a lot of hard work; because before the Crushing Machine, all the grapes that were brought in from the vineyards had to be thrown in a vat first, then when the vat was full, the grapes juice had to be drained out of the vat and transferred to other containers, while a man or two would go into the vat with clean bare feet, to tread over the grapes until they were all crushed, and then the grapes juice had to be transferred back into the vat to become wine, you see, the type of wine we made over there needed to be together with the husks and stems to ferment, so, all that work needed to be done.
Anyhow, when the Vat was full of crushed grapes juice together with the husks and stems, it was left to ferment for a week or so, during that time somebody would check on the progress of the wine, and once a day would be pushing down into the new wine the husks and stems that have arisen to the top, so that they will all ferment together until the new wine is ready.
When the fermentation stops, then the new wine is ready to be transferred into a clean sealed wine-cask. The large and cleaned wine casks, which is a must to open and clean them up as soon as they become empty during the year, at this time they must be rinsed out and resealed to take in the new wine. It takes an expert to reseal them properly, as they must be watertight to keep to new wine in without leaking. Now the Cooper who is the expert to do this job is called to reseal the wine-casks, and he is very busy indeed at this time of the year. Of course, there are owners who are confident enough to reseal the wine-casks themselves, if they are in good conditions, since they have seen the Cooper doing it many times before.
Now, I want to point out that at this time of the year, the Cooper who is the expert that builds and fixes wine-casks is very busy indeed; but the poor guy during the whole year has not been doing much work, if he was lucky he could have done some work at a steady pace with his skew-axe during the year, like carving seasoned oak-tree-wood to make some new casks, or to fix and replace a rotten peace to the old wine-casks or vats, or doing odd jobs to earn a living: but now being grapes harvest and wine making time he is very busy indeed, because there are a lot of people that require his expertise.
The resealing of the wine-casks is a very noisy job; and since at this time of the year there are several people doing it at the same time, because it is grapes harvest time; as a child I felt that the sound that they made was very peculiar but pleasant to me, so, I would even stop playing and listen to it for a while, since the acoustic of the chasm made the sound interesting to me: The noise that they made when they struck with the hammer on the cask iron-hoops to tighten and reseal the casks run like this: The hammer would start the echo going when it hits the iron-hoop, and that sound will reverberate within the wine-cask itself, then within the cave and within the chasm in a very close chain reaction, which sounds like a long continuous sound very much like a large bell, which starts with a high steel sound and ends with a low wooden sound.
It is nice to be in the chasm at this time of the year, because during this time of the year there are lots of people coming and going all day long, while they are wine making, now most of these people know each other, and being a friendly country place they greet each other’s and exchange a few friendly words, most likely about their progress of their grapes harvest and wine making, as we all know country towns are usually very friendly people.
Anyhow, we have made our wine, drained it from the vat and filled the wine casks, and last thing to do was to call the wine-press to extract the remaining juice from the grapes.
Typical man powered wine press
The wine press and its crew
The wine press and its crew were a very interesting lot.
In those times, the wine-press could be hired complete with the crew, and the crew of the wine-press was a very noisy lot, as they were five or six strong men, which were moving the wine-press from one cave to another wherever they were required. They were a sight to see and to hear, as they were very vociferous while they were moving the winepress through the narrow paths of the chasm, and they were shouting at each other to overcome their difficult task: Heave! Heave! Pull! Push! Heave! They were shouting at each other. I suppose they were already a bit drunk, even though it is still early in the morning, since they are usually offered a drink of the new wine, from the owners when they complete a pressing job, so, they are affected from the last drink of wine that they have had. Anyhow, they would come to your cave when you were ready, and they would set their press in front of your cave, then one or two of them would go into the Vat to fill up containers with the dregs, and they would pass these filled containers to the others to fill up the press, and once that the press was full, they would press the dregs through a system of livers, they would go around the press pushing these levers that would be attached to a huge steel nut on a long stem, and through these devises they would press the dregs dry.
Then they would release the pressure and open the press to empty it of the dry pressed dregs, and they would refill the wine press again and repeat the operation until all the grapes remains would be squeezed dry.
Once they had finished a job, they would pack the wine-press ready to move to the next cave, they would leave the dregs of the pressed grapes in front of your cave to do whatever the owner’s wanted to do with them. So, now there was the smell of the fresh grapes’ dregs. By now the owner would have offered them a drink of the new wine that they had pressed. He would be almost praying them to drink, or at least to have a taste of the new wine. So, after having a drink they are ready to go.
And off they go again shouting at each other: Heave! Heave! Pull! Push! Heave! As they move away from one cave to another cave. And so, the chasm resounds with their voices above all other people voices, and the acoustic of the chasm helps the scene and makes it even greater.
And this is the way that I remember the chasm and the wine-caves at the time when I was young. And this is the place that the inhabitant of Genzano used to live a very long time ago, but today they all live in the town; of course, there are farmers that live outside town in their own farms, because they have farm animals to look after and work in the farms fields, but even these farmers don’t live in the caves any-more. Today this wine making does not happen much, but it is always good to remember.
Now we have to say that in the history of the places, every time that something happens it leaves its sign of those times and this is our heritage, so, in our next article we will be talking about one of these heritage chapters of the town of Genzano.
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