It’s harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere of the wine world, and during the month of October wineries are busy picking, crushing, and fermenting grapes. They aren’t the only ones, just ask the strapping young lads in the photographs. You don’t need a fancy winery to make a good glass of wine. Wine aficionados can ferment their own grapes, even in the most unlikely of places, like a basement in urban New Jersey. This year I was unable to attend the crushing because I was busy cutting chickens and filleting fish in preparation for my second final at the French Culinary Institute. Lucky for me however, I had a photographer by the name of Cheena on hand to document the event. Soon enough this wine will be stored in our bodega in the cool corner of our basement.
When my grandfather came over to the United States from Galicia he didn’t stop making his own wine. He could no longer grow his own grapes, but he bought the grapes and made wine in his Newark, New Jersey home. The grapes were fermented and kept in oak barrels like he did back home. My family has kept up the tradition, but a few things have changed over the years. For one, they no longer use oak barrels, which are much harder to clean and manage.
Most memories of my grandfather involve him working, either making wine, harvesting grapes, blowing billows of smoke on the beehives before collecting honey, or working with the plow in the garden of his home . He worked almost exclusively with his hands, hands that are over-sized, a little contorted, and calloused from years of labor and long hours at the port as a longshoreman. When I was younger, his hands used to intimidate me, as well as his booming voice and conservative manner. You couldn’t stand up straight enough in his presence. Over the years I learned how to assuage this intimidating display of machismo, perfecting the technique with other haughty Spanish males. All you need is a big smile, a strong voice, and a pair of long, batting eyelashes.
It is inevitable that fruit ferments if you leave it out for too long, just like that half a bottle of apple cider that overstayed its welcome in the back of my fridge last week. When making wine the basic principles exist. You need to crush the grapes and release the sugar that helps in the fermentation. The skins of the grapes are what gives the wine its color and body, which is why you keep the skins when making red wine. For this process they mixed different types of grapes in order to give more complexity to the flavor of the wine. You should remove the stems because it can cause the wine to have a higher alcohol content and stronger flavor. I’m no expert of course, having missed many of the wine making myself, but I can say that I am quite the expert at drinking their wine. I have done so for quite some time, enjoying the fruits of their labor with many a meal.
In Spain making homemade wine is similar. Below are some pictures of our neighbor making his wine in his backyard bodega. He also ferments the grapes in these plastic containers and then he ages the wine in metal containers. He used to use oak barrels like the ones behind them.
My cousin’s husband told us a story that stuck with him when he visited Galicia for the first time. I may get a few details of the story mixed up, but the basic idea is that while exploring he was introduced to a man who washed his hands with wine instead of water. He poured wine over his hands and scrubbed as if wine were just as abundant and free flowing as running water, and in this town it might very well be.