Perhaps my favorite annual ritual in Italy is that of going around buying wine in demijohns directly from the producer and bottling it myself. It is a process that feels intimately rural, exquisitely traditional. Before wine became the billion-dollar snooty affair that it is, wine was simply something that everyone with a vineyard produced, one of the most characteristic agricultural products of the entire Mediterranean. You grew your grapes, you harvested your grapes, you stepped on your grapes, you let the juice ferment, and then you bottled it. And like magic, you had wine.
The process may no longer be quite so earthy, but buying your wine in volume does retain some aspects off this ancient ritual. I was initiated into this rite by my father-in-law, who nine years ago first took me on the annual pilgrimage through the local wine cellars tasting that year’s vino and choosing which variety to bring home in the standard 54 liter demijohns that in the early Italian spring can be seen in the back of every open-bed truck in the land.
Once you get it home, and once you have established which lunar cycle you are currentlly in (NB: sparkling wine should be bottled during the waning moon), there is the long Saturday morning of bottling. You siphon the wine out of the demijohn into your bottles with a special hose and nozzle, clamp on a crown top or pound in your natural or plastic corks, and set the bottles aside for the year’s consumption. It’s natural, hands-on, invigorating, and cheap.
I love it. And today I just bought one demijohn of Lambrusco, one of Prosecco, and one of local Cinque Terre white. Alla nostra!