Welcome to our website! Frank-Menchise.com (Page 21) 

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 The stories in this page might not be as amazing as we would like them to be, but they are real life stories. 

     This page will be about the town I came from, wine making the old ways (4)

 Wine making the old ways

WELCOME to my article, wine making the old ways

Dear readers, in our previous hubs we have mentioned several time that the first inhabitant of Genzano probably lived in the caves in the chasms below the town of Genzano. There are reasons to believe that it is true, just because this could be the only explanation possible that these caves were dug out from the first inhabitant of this region to shelter and live in them; but in my young days they were used to make wine, so let me tell you about how we made wine then.   


Dear readers I am really going to talk about wine making in Genzano, now don’t get me wrong but this is not the place where the famous wine Cinzano is made, so in this hub there is not going to be any, chin, chin; chin, chin Cinzano? But the reason I am writing this is that Genzano happens to be the place where I was born and lived my young life and therefore, I would like to tell you how and what we used to do then. So, let me take you to see another place at another time, because I would like you to see what I saw when I was young, so that you would understand the old way of life that we were living in Genzano in those times at a certain special time of the year, when it was wine making time. And I may suggest that perhaps my readers could compare the ways of living of those times with today’s ways of living, just to give this article an extra meaning so to speak.

One of the views in the chasm where we made wine. From our family cave in the chasm, we had this view on the other side of the chasm.  

       Welcome to our website 

My name is Frank Menchise

and we are going to write in next few pages about the town I have come form, Genzano di Lucania. And also the ways we used to make wine. 


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 Genzano and its caves

Where the first inhabitants used to live in the beginning and now they make wine

Even today, when I think about the town of Genzano di Lucania, and therefore the town where I came from, I cannot help thinking about the chasms and their caves at the time of wine making as a whole unit, and I cannot help thinking about the time of wine making in the chasms caves when I was young, because we were involved in wine making, since we had some vineyards and a large share of one of these caves, so we made our own wine in the cave. Nowadays, when I think of wine making I mentally recall what was going on in this chasm where we had our cave and we made our wine, so let me tell you how I feel about it, I feel that there was something very unusual and scenic about this chasm in this town, which I believe that people from outside and not familiar with the sort of set up would be amazed to see, if they could see it happening as it was happening when I was young. Because at the time of wine making the whole chasm seems to become alive in its unique way; with so many people going around in this archaic place, and you could feel as if you were living in another era; or perhaps you would thing that you were dreaming, or that you were living on a different planet.

If you look and try to imagine what’s going on at this upper end of the chasm, which is the beginning of the chasm situated next to the old town and this is where most of the caves are and therefore the busiest place at this time of the year. This chasm doesn’t seem to have a name nowadays, but I think that it was called Vallone St. Michele. (Chasm St Michael)

During most of the year this wild and dangerous place has been almost deserted, except for a few people passing in the ancient and steep stone paved main road, which was once very busy for centuries, because the town’s people of that time used to go to the fountain of ‘Capodaqua’ to do their washing, and also to fetch good drinkable water for their own needs in their houses; because the water of the fountain Cavallina which is/was the fountain situated in the town was not much good to drink, and at the same time, before the reticulated water supply came to town, this fountain Cavallina wasn’t big enough to supply the whole town.

But after they brought in the reticulated water supply to Genzano, I guess that this was early in the 1900, so soon after that the town’s people installed running water in their own houses as soon as they could afford it. And so the old custom of going to the fountain of Capodaqua to wash and bring water to town slowly died down. So nowadays the people of Genzano don’t go to the fountain of Capodaqua as much as they used to go, that is except at the time of wine making, because it is easier to fetch water from the fountain to the caves, than it would be to bring down the water through the steep road from town. So during the year, generally there are only a few people coming down the ancient road on their ways to some of their own fields or vineyards past the chasm, or just a few owners of the caves, who would be coming to the caves to take home some wine.

 Life in the chasms

Life and sounds in Genzano chasms when I was young

Now I would like to describe to you the scene in this chasm, in the same way as I have experienced it when I was young. So let me go back in time to the time when I was a teenager, to the interesting time when I was helping to carry the harvested grapes from the vineyards to the caves: Perhaps this is the best and possibly the only way to describe what it was like then, which also is how it had been for centuries before my time; but nowadays even this scene may be slightly different as even here things are changing, because they have made those narrow paths wider, so that they can go down the chasm with a tractor, instead of carrying all those heavy weights on horseback.

Now, at the time when I was a teenager I used to help at grapes harvest time, my job was that of a donkey-boy, while I was helping to carry grapes to our cave to make wine. So, I would have an ass with me to help me carry the grapes to the cave, in the morning I would go to the small stable to get the donkey ready, then I would go to the vineyard to load the donkey with grapes, and then I would drive the donkey to the cave unload the grapes and crush them with the crushing machine. In order to load the grapes onto the donkey, the donkey had a special heavy saddle fixed on its back, so that we could tie two large watertight wooden bins on her back, one on each side.

Those wooden bins would old about two bushels each, so the donkey would be carrying about 80 to 100 Kg. of grapes per load, depending on how packed down the grapes was in the bins. In my early youth there was no other way to carry the grapes down (or up) the chasm, in order to get to your cave and make your wine, as all heave loads were carried on horseback so to speak.

On the way down to the caves one had to be very careful with one’s own donkey or horse, as a fall of the donkey or horse could end in a major disaster, and as we went down the steep main road and turned into the paths of the chasm to reach our own cave, the paths would become smaller, so small that we had to find and wait in a wider bay, if somebody else was coming the opposite way, and also we had to be extremely careful when we were approaching some places where there were sheer drops of up to ten meter below us.

But not withstanding all the dangers and hardships of this wild place, the chasm would be crowded with people at this time of the year. People would be everywhere, and they would be busy to all doing different tasks, all depending on how advanced their grapes harvest or wine making would be, because in this geographic position and also the fact that it is a hilly country the grapes would not ripen all at the same time, but they would ripen according to the amount of sun the vineyards receive and the altitude.

Therefore, while some people, who would have their vineyards in a lower and sunny altitude would have already harvested their grapes and made their wine, there would be others that would be only starting, and they would be starting by going out with a saddled donkey to Capodaqua fountain to fetch water, (This is a fountain which I have already mentioned above and which I will describe to you later on) the donkey would have a pair of small casks tied on its special saddle, which the owners would take to the fountain and fill them with water, and then take the water to their caves for washing their vats and casks, so they would be ready to start the harvest of their grapes. There would be others that would have already done so, and they would have started to harvest their grapes and bring them in, as soon as the grapes would reach their caves they would be crushed with a Crushing Machine which would be sitting on a large vat. 

 Crushing Machine and sounds in the chasm

The Crushing Machine was a useful devise for wine making, which was becoming affordable to the small wine maker when I was young. It was very useful because it saved a lot of hard work; because before the Crushing Machine came out all the grapes that were brought in from the vineyards had to be thrown in a vat first, then when the vat was full, all the grapes juice had to be drained out of the vat and transferred to other containers, while a man or two would go into the vat with clean bare feet, to tread over the grapes until they were all crushed, and then the grapes juice had to be transferred back into the vat to become wine, you see, the type of wine we made over there needed to be together with the husks and stems to ferment, so all that work needed to be done.

Anyhow, when the Vat would become full of crushed grapes juice together with the husks and stems, it would be left to ferment for a week or so, during that time somebody would be checking on the progress of the wine, and once a day would be pushing down into the new wine the husks and stems that have arisen to the top, so that they will all ferment together until the new wine is ready. When the fermentation stops, then the new wine would be ready to be transferred into a clean sealed wine-cask. The large and already cleaned wine casks, which is a must to open up and clean them up as soon as they become empty during the year, at this time they must be rinsed out and resealed to take in the new wine. It usually will take an expert to reseal them properly, as they must be watertight to keep to new wine in without leaking. Now the Cooper who is the expert to do this job is called to reseal the wine-casks, and he would be very busy indeed at this time of the year. Of course there are some of the owners who felt confident enough to reseal the wine-casks, since they have seen the Cooper doing it so many times before, and therefore they felt that they did not require help from the Cooper, that is if the wine-casks were not too large and they would be in good conditions.

I would like to point out now that at this time of the year, the Cooper who is the expert that builds and fixes wine-casks is very busy indeed; but the poor guy during the whole year has not been doing much work, if he was lucky he could have done some work at a steady pace with his skew-axe during the year, like carving seasoned oak-tree-wood to make some new casks, or to fix and replace a rotten peace to the old wine-casks or vats, or just doing odd jobs in order to earn a living: but now being grapes harvest and wine making time he is very busy indeed, because there are a lot of people that require his expertise at this time.

The resealing of the wine-casks is/was a very noisy job; and since at this time of the year there would be always a few people doing it at the same time, because it is grapes harvest time and wine making time and it lasts only a few weeks, as a child I felt that the sound that they made was very peculiar but pleasant to me, and as a child I would even stop playing and listen to it for a while, since the acoustic of the chasm made the sound very interesting to me: The noise that they made when they struck with the hammer on the cask iron-hoops in order to tighten and reseal the casks run like this: The hammer would start the echo going when it hits the iron-hoop, and that sound will reverberate within the wine-cask itself, then within the cave and within the chasm in a very close chain reaction, which sounds like a very long continuous sound very much like a large bell, which starts with a high steel sound and ends with a low wooden sound.

It would usually be nice to be in the chasm at this time of the year, because during this time of the year there would be lots of people coming and going all day long, and they would be doing all sorts of activities in wine making, now most of these people would know each other, and being a friendly country place they usually would greet each other’s and exchange a few friendly words, most likely about their progress of their grapes harvest and wine making.

 The wine press and its crew

And last of all of these activities there was also the mechanical wine-press, which would be going around the chasm’s caves to press the remains of the grapes after wine making, in order to extract the last bit of wine from the husks and stems.

The wine-press could be hired complete with the crew, and the crew of the wine-press was a very noisy lot, as they were five or six strong men, which would be moving the wine-press from one cave to another wherever they would be required. They were a sight to see and to hear, as they were very vociferous while they were moving the wine-press through the narrow paths of the chasm, and they were shouting at each other in order to overcome their difficult task: Heave! Heave! Pull! Push! Heave! They would be shouting at each other. I suppose they would be already a bit drunk, even though it is still early in the morning, since they are usually offered a drink of the new wine, from the owners when they complete a pressing job, so they would be affected from the last drink of wine that they have had. Anyhow they would come to your cave when you were ready, and they would set their press in front of your cave, then one or two of them would go into the Vat to fill up containers with the dregs, and they would pass these filled containers to the others to fill up the press, and once that the press would be full, they would press the dregs through a system of livers, they would go around the press pushing these levers that would be attached to a huge steel nut on a long stem, and through these devises they would press the dregs dry.

Then they would release the pressure and open the press to empty it of the dry pressed dregs, and they would refill the wine press again and repeat the operation until all the grapes remains would be squeezed dry.

Once they had finished a job, they would pack the wine-press ready to move to the next cave, they would leave the dregs of the pressed grapes in front of your own cave to do whatever the owner’s wanted to do with them. So now there would be the smell of the fresh grapes’ dregs. By now the owner would have offered them a drink of the new wine that they had pressed. He would be almost praying them to drink, or at least to have a taste of the new wine. So after having a drink they are ready to go.

And off they go again shouting at each other: Heave! Heave! Pull! Push! Heave! As they move away from one cave to another cave. And so the chasm resounds with their voices above all other people voices, and the acoustic of the chasm which seems to help the scene makes it even greater.

And this is the way that I remember the chasm and the wine-caves at the time when I was young. And this is the place that some of the inhabitant of Genzano used to live a long time ago, but when I was young and even nowadays they are only used to make their wine, or they might even be left unused and all the wine casks and vats are rotting away; this is the new sign of the times since everything today is changing very fast, so we might have to say goodbye to the old times forever.