Wednesday, October 30, 2013


On the Amalfi Coast, October is the month for the vendemmia - the harvesting of the grapes. Carefully choosing just the right moment, when the grapes are ripe and the weather is kind, the vineyard owner organises his friends, brings along a few litres of last year's wine and plenty of food, and heads off at dawn to the vineyard. Using simple secateurs, or even just a knife, each grape-gatherer moves along the rows of vines, clipping and gathering, filling plastic crates with bunches of grapes.

The vineyard where I helped - yes, I clipped quite a few bunches of grapes! - is located on a steep hillside in the Amalfi Coast village of Furore, on seven terraces high above the sea. Around about noon there's a break for panini, pastries and wine from plastic cups. Everyone lolls about on the grass, chatting and resting from their labours. OK - I'll admit it - I did take a nap under the vines. But my more hardy companions carried on harvesting. The grapes must come in. There's a year's supply of wine to be made. And everyone who helped at the vendemmia will receive a share.

Harvesters at work.
Vineyard with a view.
Picking the grapes was all very well, but then the crates of grapes had to be carried down the hillside. There is no road access to this vineyard, just a very long and steep flight of broken stone steeps. Between the terraces themselves, there are mere suggestions of steps, and in one case, a ladder.

In the old days, strong local Italian labourers would take on this daunting job. These days, there are teams of young Ukrainians - the EU rules. The strength of these guys was astonishing. On each trip down the hillside they carried two crates full of grapes, weighing about 20 kg apiece - that's 40 kg loads. And they used the ladder, never missing a beat.

We picked about 75 crates of grapes that day, red and white varieties, which will make about 2,000 litres of wine. Once the Ukrainian ragazzi carry the crates up another 150 steps to the cellar where they'll be pressed, that is. God bless the EU.

Vino rosso on the vine.
 The beginnings of vino bianco.
Low hanging fruit.
Seven terraces.
Ripe and ready for harvest.

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