Wine Cellar Initiation: Coming of Age Ritual

The informant is Italian, on her mother’s side, and still retains close ties to her Italian roots. She was born in Pennsylvania, where she spent most of her childhood.

I interviewed the informant on pieces of folklore that she might have experienced in her life. I asked her if she could think of anything in her life that could be considered folklore, any family legends, jokes, or rites of passage. She said she thought she might have something that could be considered a rite of passage ritual, but she wasn’t sure. I told her to tell me anyways. The ritual she described is recorded below:

“I was born in Vestaburg, Pennsylvania, where most of my extended family lived too. My grandfather had a wine cellar—he made wine. All of his grandkids—and his kids—weren’t allowed in the wine cellar. But around 16 or so, he would invite them down to the wine cellar for a glass of wine and this was kinda like when they were considered to be an adult.”

I then asked her some questions about this coming of age ritual.

Me: Did everyone in the family go through this, then?

Informant: All the kids did, my grandfather’s kids—my parents—and then us grandkids too.

Me: So this was kind of a big deal right?

Informant: Well, yeah, but mostly just because we were finally allowed into the wine cellar. I don’t think my cousins or me and my brother really cared about the wine at all.

Me: Was there any other aspect of importance placed on this ritual? Maybe something you get from looking back on it?

Informant: It made us kids feel special. Certainly, after being admitted into the wine cellar, we felt more grown-up and we thought that we finally had our grandfather’s approval.

Me: Approval of what?

Informant: Well, of basically life. We saw being allowed in the wine cellar as his recognition that we were finally becoming something—somebody—worthwhile.

Me: Yeah, so this ritual was mostly about gaining approval and recognition of worth?

Informant: Exactly.

Me: Do you still remember it because it was such a big part of your growing up?

Teresa: I think so. It was such a big deal in the family that I think it would be very hard to forget.

After learning about this ritual, I see it in the same way my informant does. It is very much a coming of age ritual, when a child is deemed worthy of becoming an adult. It is also interesting because it is closely tied to the fact that her family is Italian. What’s more appropriate for an Italian than being allowed to enter the family wine cellar on the brink of adulthood? Perhaps this is another reason why this ritual was performed: it allowed an Italian American family to stay close to their Italian roots.