September is here, so we are slowly getting ready for one of our favorite escapes, the vendemmia/ grape harvest in Toscana. And while we’re at it, we save the dates in the calendar – well, the usual wonders: the winetastings, the community harvest and the exploration of the cantine, the local fairs honoring Baccus, the mystery tours and the pranzoni – all the incredible food of the season.
This year, due to hot weather and climate particularities, the vendemmia takes place sooner than usual. Forecast says historical low harvest but some extraordinary grapes to be expected in very limited quantities. Heat waves and extreme weather grew smaller, atypical grapes, and quality variations are significant from even one wineyard to another. Follow the program of cantine aperte – the cantines open for public to take part in harvest-related activities – here. There is also the Slow Travel Fest taking place in our beloved Abbadia Isola. Via Francigena revelation walks, late night music and drinks with locals coming from miles away, discovery of the tunnels under Monteriggioni and everything else here .
Vendemmia, quickly narrated
There is no other event that brings people together and brings out the best in people like the vendemmia. Not even a countryside wedding.
Vendemmia is the ancient word Italian use for grape harvest, and since it relates to one of their greatest loves – wine and winemaking – it is a very dear word. Everybody joins in the wineyard works and the gatherings after. There is an omnipresent respect for the grapes and an immense sense of purpose and joy oozing from the vineyards. The whole village helps the farmers with their harvest, taking turns, each day another vineyard. Of course big producers hire their seasonal help, but it’s the small farms that you want to join. No money and hard work, and only big lunches on site and the promise of a sincere tablewine to share with friends in the months to come as a reward. It is a tradition that goes on for millenia.
Time of vendemmia
As a general rule, it takes place starting the second half of September. But nature, weather and terroir have their own say each year, so nobody can really predict the day of the vendemmia a long time ahead. Big vineyards have more scientific means of measuring grape sugars and determine best harvest time. But the small ones do it simpler: everyday tasting of grapes and a village council among neighbors’availability.
How it’s done
Grapes are hand picked with garden shears or a small knife with a hooked point, put carefully into wicker baskets and then stored into larger containers, usually plastic ones, where the fermentation will take place. The magic comes from tannins and dolcezza – the care of handling the grapes so as not to break the skins and start fermentation sooner than planned. Once all grapes are gathered, they are squashed with wooden poles. Small farmers don’t take away i raspi – the stems, and this adds up to the wine tannins, so this is where the home wines get their unique taste. Smallest producers use hand crafted devices to crush the grapes. There are many local methods for this, but barefeet crushing is not one of them.
The must is left to ferment until no more bolle are present – until there is no more bubbling. Then the young wine is transferred into damigiana and it stays there until you need a bottle of wine for the dinner table. 🙂