Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Vino Veritas

  • You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. Psalm 4:7
In my last post, Biblical Enology, I mentioned how the Scriptures often speak of wine in a positive light (unless, of course, it is imbibed in excess quantities or to the point of addiction), and how the fruit of the vine was a major part of biblical culture. Like the rest of the Mediterranean basin, my homeland of Italy also has a rich viniculture, boasting of some great wines which, in my not so humble opinion, are preferable to the over-rated vintages of its next door neighbor, France. Some of my favorite Italian reds include: Piedmont wines from the north, particularly the three “B”s, Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo; any decent Chianti from Tuscany; Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the heel of Italy, and Nero d’Avola from Sicily.

The previous post also mentioned that I would be thrilled to carry on the tradition of my grandparents’ generation and keep some vineyards, but that is not in the cards, at least not now. But I have been making wine lately, even if the process has nothing of the thrill and romance (and hard work) associated with growing one’s own grapes, crushing them into must, fermenting, clarifying, aging and bottling. A few years ago I described my winemaking process to my elderly Italian cousin, who together with her husband had been tending Zio Nino’s old vineyards until she herself passed away last year. She stared at me incredulously and said, “It sounds like you are buying bulk quantities of already made wine and putting it in your own bottles!”

It’s not quite like that, but she probably wasn’t too far off the mark. This is how it works: A group of friends and I periodically venture over to Annapolis Home Brew (, a wonderful establishment that supplies all the ingredients, equipment and accessories a vintner could ask for, including wine presses and crushers for the professional or old fashioned folks like my forbears. For amateurs like me, they have complete wine making starter kits. Once armed with all the equipment and paraphernalia, all you need are ingredients, which also come readily packaged in kits consisting of vacuum sealed containers of juice, yeasts, clarifiers and other ingredients designed to enhance and preserve.

Though we aren’t doing anything close to stomping grapes with our feet, it’s a lot of fun, and what makes it particularly enjoyable is the friendship and camaraderie of the group. We call ourselves the “winers”. Despite the obvious double entendre, I don’t think it is applicable in our case. We are a group of fifty-somethings who are generally at a contented stage of life, grateful for God’s grace, for our wives and our (mostly grown) children, for our church, and for the friendship we share.

The winers are (clockwise starting on the left: John , Tommy, Leo, Buck, Dave, Glenn and Gordon (our gracious host).

When we aren’t carefully reading instructions on the wine kits, checking specific gravity or sanitizing bottles prior to filling and corking, we are gathered around the table, lifting a glass of either our own vintage or something purchased commercially. Our conversations range anywhere from theology to philosophy, from history to politics, from geography to personal application of that Sunday’s sermon topic. And amidst everything else, we are poking fun at each other and having a good laugh.

We are all aware of the irony that our church tradition would have frowned upon our gathering just a couple decades ago. Yet even while we have since learned to better understand and appreciate the grace of the God who gives us all things richly to enjoy, we are also careful to avoid excess or do anything that might cause us or our brethren to stumble. We watch out for each other and, just as an extra safeguard, we all have wonderful wives who keep us honest. This is still another evidence of the grace of God, who has filled our hearts “with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.”

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