Harvest time in the Villa was a very exciting time for everyone. Quite often, it lasted for several days. The time spent preparing and eating the harvest was very much considered an annual celebration during which families and friends would gather together. At this point in history, it was one of the rare moments when men took part in what the women and children were doing. Those were years in which many families lived in the countryside and struggled to survive off their crops. School also started later in the year, and these days usually marked the end of the summer holidays drawing to a close for many of the children. Feeding off the excitement, most of them ran and chased each other through the farmyard or tried to offer their help with their little bare feet tucked into the wine vats. But it was primarily the young women’s job to lend a hand with pressing the grapes in the wine vats. With their skirts and aprons grasped in their hands, they waded up to their bare knees in clusters of grapes that had been emptied into the large tub after being brought up to the Villa on overflowing carts pulled by horses or cattle. In fact, it was often cows and bulls who pulled the big carts uphill because horses were considered dignified animals that not everyone could afford. The clusters of grapes from the vats were emptied in the large holding tank, and then the work of the women began. As they pressed the juice from the grapes, they pressed an almost intoxicating perfume into the air. Everything, including work, was lightened by popular folk songs of times that are now long gone.
From the holding tank, the freshly-pressed grape juice emptied into a pipe that carried the juice underground under the dusty road. It emptied into large containers in the basement before being poured into the large wooden barrels that once completely filled the large cellar. In that area, wine was considered to be one of the products of the earth that were meant to be shared. The wealthy landowners of the surrounding countryside and nearby cities of Treia and Castelraimondo made wine as a product for their own consumption. It was not produced for wide-scale profit as it is today. The wine was intended for use by the landowner and farmer who drank it with their meals and who, every now and then, took the opportunity to enjoy a few other sips throughout the day.
Guests can tour the large, perfectly-preserved and restored historic cellar, and the marble spouts that once poured the fresh wine into large barrels are still clearly visible. Entire days were spent to produce the wine. In fact, quite a bit of time passed during the process. The pressing of the grapes was followed by fermentation, which was certainly not like it is today. Only a few people were allowed to inhale the aromas from the barrels to determine when the fermentation was complete. Each time, it was like waiting for the birth of a child. Nearly every moment during the other seasons was spent preparing for the finished product in some way, whether it was pruning, tying and bending the shoots, hoeing the soil, protecting the plants from inclement weather, or protecting the grapes from natural predators such as birds.
The fields around the Villa in the summer were dotted with scarecrows made from household rags. These scarecrows were the only protection from birds who were in constant search of grapes to eat. Before each harvest, the farmers had to wash and repair the wine containers from the previous year such as vats, barrels, and glass bottles: another process that went on for days and days. Only after all these duties were complete could the harvest be carried out. The farmers expected a beautiful sunny day and worked from sunrise to sunset. On harvest day, the supplies needed to be gathered first: ladders, baskets, shears, but above all hands, hands, and more hands. Then, off they all went to collect the precious grapes, discarding those that were not ripe. The vineyard was picked clean: not even a single small bunch of grapes was left behind. The workers all ate lunch together sitting on the ground among the rows in the vineyard. Songs and laughter chased away the hard work. Next, everyone would hold their breath with anticipation during the weeks of fermentation. Traditionally, the first wine was tasted with chestnuts in San Martino on November 11. Most of the wine was reserved until New Year’s Eve dinner, though, because they were thought to bring prosperity. Clusters of sweet white grapes were left hanging on poles to dry for weeks and weeks. Even the “mosto” was kept and used. Mosto was the liquid that was left over after the grapes were pressed – seeds, skin, stems, and all. It was cooked down to a sweet, tangy syrup that was used to make soft breakfast loaves for the children as well as many other desserts and foods. Even today, around the time of the grape harvest, we like to put at least a couple of clusters of grapes in a large wicker basket on the table. Together with our guests, we love to relive a tradition and the flavors of the grape harvest that have been a bit lost over the years. It evokes thoughts of a different way of living on La Villa – the way we like it the most. This is another way for us to help make you feel at home.