The vendemmia is the busiest time of year for the cantine and it’s best to watch the proceedings from a safe distance to avoid all the equipment that’s snaking over the ground! The cantine usually take on extra people to help over the grape harvest and everyone works incredibly hard to get the grapes in while they’re perfectly ripe – each grape variety is harvested at slightly different times starting – in Umbria – around the end of August. Up at dawn and finishing as the early autumn light is fading -you learn never to invite a wine grower to any events in this period – they won’t accept!
We went to watch in September 2009 and it was fascinating to watch the mixture of old tradition and new technology working hand in hand! Health and Safety kinda takes a back seat when all thoughts are towards getting the harvest in, and the grapes into the vats!
In the picture you can see one old hand pulling the grapes from the tractor-trailer with a wooden hoe into a stainless hopper which separates the grapes from the the stalks and leaves and then the grapes go one way through a large pipe into vast stainless steel vats, the rest gets spat out into a skip. Notice what the ol’ man is standing on? Safe huh?
The large pipe is hoisted by hand up a step ladder and fed into the top of the vat, then the grapes are pumped in and left to rest for a few days. We were surprised to see that at this stage the red grape juice was white- the colour comes from the skins – the longer it stays in the vats the stronger the colour. We saw a vat that was filled the day before (they take HOURS to fill!) had the lightest tinge of pink. We tried some of the grape juice and it tasted wonderful! Smooth almost viscous, delicately flavoured. It has a hint of what’s to come months and years down the line when it becomes the delicious local wines of the Montefalco area – the fabulous Montefalco Rosso, the wonderful Montefalco Sagrantino – aged in oak for a year before continuing the ageing process in the bottle, the rich Merlot, the plummy Cabernet Sauvignon, the classic Sangiovese, lovely on its own but also forming around 70% of the Montefalco Rosso (with a minimum of 10% Sagrantino and the rest made up of grapes of the wine-makers choice, it ensures that every Montefalco Rosso is unique to its own cantina.) The crisp whites of the area – Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino, We also tried some grapes that will become the fabulous dessert wine, Passito, it was amazing – the Sagrantino grapes slowly dry on racks in a well-ventilated loft space – where they remain for around 3 months losing something like 70% of their juices. We tried just a couple of the grapes and you could really taste the wine that would develop, just from that little taste! There is some white Passito too, Grechetto & Moscato are a couple that come to mind, both delicious and as with any real Passito, they’re not sweet wines, but dessert wines – a subtle difference, but one worth noting! The Passito is normally paired with either dark chocolate or strong cheeses. Either one is excellent – my personal preference is for a lump of parmigiana – the more aged the better – and a glass of the Sagrantino Passito!
After all that difficult observation, watching Roberto and the others hard at work at Cantina Dionigi, we were exhausted and needed a glass of wine or two to relax ourselves again! Luckily, there was plenty of wine to choose from, and myself, Mark and my Mum sat and took a well deserved rest sitting out on their wonderful terrace!