HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN WINE
I am talking not of a puny wine-making kit with a bottle of grape juice from the local chemist, but of the real macoy.
First you need a reasonably large field of vines well exposed to sunshine.
I'd arrived in Sardinia the day before to explore with Maximiliano Troncia (Massi for short) the scope for organising wine tours in the area.
'Tomorrow I am helping my uncle make wine,' said Massi over dinner. 'You can come and see how it is done.'
Uncle Peppe suggests that we have a bottle of his wine with our dinner so that I can taste it in advance. I am impressed. In an English supermarket I can imagine it selling for well above the current entry-level £4.50 to £5.00 mark. On top of the agreeable taste, it has the merit of being fully organic. All that Peppe puts on the vines is 'Poltiglia Bordolese' to combat fungus growth. This is permitted even by organic certifiers.
It is 95% Cannonau. The remaining 5% is from San Giovese and Montepulciano. Cannonau is the main grape grown in the area. Most of the wine produced here is red wine, but even the white that they produce tends to be made with Cannonau grapes, just kept very little in contact with the skins. Some Vermentino is also used locally to make white.
Peppe does not sell his wine. 'I only have enough vines to make about 700 bottles each year - just enough for family and friends,' he explains. 'Still, a lot more than what you would get from a home wine-making kit,' I muse to myself.
In the field the next morning friends and relations are gathered round, gathering. It is a social event. Pepe places a grape into an instrument that looks like a hand microscope and squeezes. He peers through the eye-glass.
'Perfect, 21', he says.
'21 what?' I ask.
'21% sugar.' He passes the instrument to me. 'Here look through the eye-piece. You see that grid. The numbers on the right are the sugar levels.?'
'Oh yes, right between 20 and 22.'
'Commercial growers get paid 5-15% less by the local co-operative for grapes whose sugar level is below 20 or above 22. 21% is optimum for the type of wine we make here with our Cannonau grapes.'
In the afternoon, Massi took me to his uncle's cellar in town. Harvesting had been competed. All the grapes had been transported there and were being emptied, crate by crate into a portable crusher that straddled a large vat.
Stems out into waiting crates.
Grapes into the vat.
Everyone kept a beady eye out for defective grapes. Peppe picked out a bunch.
'These have a fungus,' he said. He threw them into a waiting bin. He picked out another bunch. It looked nicely formed.
'What's wrong with those?' I asked.
'Taste - they are not ripe enough. One litre of juice from them would spoil 100 litres of good wine.'
The vat takes as much as it will hold (allowing for expansion produced by fermentation). The crusher is moved to a second vat. Before continuing, Peppe says 'Break-time - Time for a taste.' He pours from the fibreglass tank into some glasses. Lovely ' just as yesterday.
Soon there are no more grapes to crush. Peppe drives another instrument into the sea of grapes. 'This is more accurate for measuring the sugar level', he says, but I needed an immediate indication this morning. We all look expectantly. '21,' he says, 'Perfect!'
The grapes would now macerate for 8 to 10 days in their vats, then would be pressed and put into glass fibre containers to continue fermenting. Around January we should have confirmation of the quality of the wine.
'Many Sardinians produce their own wine,- but not all strive so carefully for quality. Harvesting and juice-making is done in a day, but the work is all the year round - tending the vines, pruning excess grapes (to avoid too low sugar levels), being careful not to prune too much and not being left with enough grapes, always responding to nature's path.
We have another taste and Massi takes me back to the hotel.