ABOUT THE INFORMANT:
My informant is a father of three who lives just outside of Boston with his wife of over 30 years. He is originally from Cambridge, MA, but moved to central MA when he was younger. Graduating from Tufts, Northwestern, and the getting his PHD at MIT, he is an engineering professor.
Interviewee: I’m gonna tell you about making wine.
Interviewee: It would always be in October, mid-October or so. That’s when the grapes were in season. We were in Cambridge and we would come home from school. I was like in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade. Kindergarten through third grade we would do this.
So we would come home from school and the crates of grates would be stacked up against the house. And you would know that that was the day.
Interviewer: Did you know that it was gonna be that day? Did you know it in advance?
Interviewee: No, you didn’t know that that was the day until you saw the crates coming home from school.
My grandfather would go to the rail yard. It was over by Lechmere were Science Park is. East Cambridge. So he would go to the train yard and go to the trains that would bring in the fruits and stuff in. So he would get his whole stack of grapes.
Interviewer: When did he immigrate to America from Italy?
Interviewee: He must have been in his 20’s, right? So like early 1910’s because he was born in 1890.
So those crates would be stacked against the wall. And you could actually stick your fingers against the grapes and pull them out and eat them. That was always the first order of business. And my grandfather would actually encourage us to because they were so sweet and fresh.
So then my father would come home from work. And then my two uncles would come. And they would have to get the grapes into the cellar. So they would take the cellar window off. And then they would slide the grape bushels in through and get them down into the basement. There would have to be someone in the basement side too. Making sure the crates got through the window.
The next order was to grind the grapes. The grinder originally was a hand ground machine. So you would have to dump the grapes and then hand grind them. Then you put them in a crate to ferment after.
But my father put a motor on the grinder so you could do it in one night. And at the time we lived on the first floor, my grandfather lived on the top floor, but we were on the first, so it would smell like grape juice. Because we were doing it in the basement, so the whole house would smell like grapes. It was exciting. And so sweet.
A week or two later, my uncles would come back with my father and grandfather. And now they needed to put the ground grapes from the barrel into the press. So in order to turn the press it was kind of like a screwdriver on the side. And the juice would just flow and flow. But they would take turns, turning the press, making sure they could get every last bit of wine out of it.
And my grandfather would collect them in these special tin buckets that he would then pour into storage barrels. And the press, that had like a screen on it, to collect the debris and chunks of grape. So you had to open the press and then clean it off after every single batch. And two people would have to try and turn the screwdriver handle to get every last bit of out of the grapes. And the juice would go into the storage barrel.
Then, they would take the ground grapes and press them. Just to get all of the wine out. And we would watch them and just drink grape juice all night. We could actually get a little buzz. Just because it had been sitting there for a couple of weeks, fermenting.
My grandfather had these gallon jugs,like glass jugs, and he would fill them up with wine. You didn’t buy wine ever. Even after we moved to Medway, he would just load us up with wine when we saw him.
He had this house in Nantasket, on the beach, that he bought when I was like 1. He would move there for the summer in May and we would move in the summer. And we would have to move all of these jugs and jugs of wine. And sometimes we would have to go to Cambridge to give him a refill.
We would use it for everything though. Cooking and drinking. It went to the whole family. At Christmas people who didn’t have their wine would get more. He would take you down to the basement and fill you up.
Eventually the barrels got old and let air in, in the end you could only cook with it. It wasn’t as flavorful because the barrels were old.
But those were exciting weeks, watching them press the wine, the smell of grapes in the house.
This clearly brought my informant back to his childhood, specifically before he moved from the immigrant neighborhood of Cambridge that he lived in with the rest of his family. The smells of the grapes circulating throughout the house, “lasting for days,” is definitely a memory of nostalgia for him. But there was definitely a sense of tradition here. Wine is clearly important to his grandfather, and therefore to the rest of the family as it was a patriarchy. As a little boy, there is definitely something striking about watching any older man partake in a sort of tradition or ritual together. Every little boy wants to do what the big kids do. My informant certainly enjoyed being part of the ritual, drinking the freshly pressed wine, eating the grapes, even if he could not really help.
For his grandfather, this is most likely the continuation of the old world brought to the new world. I would not be surprised if he did the exact same thing growing up with his father and so on and so on. Sure he had to adapt, going to the train yard to get the grapes, putting the motor on the grinder, but I’m sure that the tradition and ritual are very constant.
It is also interesting that this wine flowed through this family. It did not stop and start with the men. Nobody bought wine ever. His wine was the whole family’s. A sense of belonging and identity, this is his family’s wine, all through a drink.