Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Making Wine in Dad's Cellar Was Grape Experience

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Making Wine in Dad's Cellar Was Grape Experience

Article excerpt

I cannot remember a time as a youth when I did not assist my dad in the making of wine. I must have been 3 or 4 years old when I was first helping him in our cellar in Verona.

The grapes had that sweet, sticky smell and touch. The white grapes were called muscatel and the purple ones, which looked black to me, were zinfandel.

This was back in the 1940s and '50s, and my father did not have a car or drive. He would solicit a friend, relative or neighbor to take us to the New Kensington rail yards, where about four refrigerated rail cars would be loaded with grapes from California.

The grapes came in 32-pound boxes, and the price was always negotiable. Part of the experience for my dad was the bartering. When the price was quoted after we got to taste the grapes, he would start to argue or walk away. Most of the time the price was lowered by two or three cents per pound, and as long as it was lowered, Dad was happy.

The price of the grapes included delivery to the house. We usually bought 40 of the 32-pound boxes, which descended to the cellar on a skid that was put on the outside steps. My dad had saved the money for them in a wooden box, 8 inches square, that he had fashioned himself. I'm sure he denied himself other pleasures during the year in order to have enough money to pay for the grapes.

We always needed to keep the cold grapes in the cellar for a few days, because they needed to turn to room temperature before we could grind them into barrels. The barrels were set up on pedestals about 8 inches off the cellar floor, their own little altar.

The cellar posed an interesting issue for some of us. The old house had no cellar until Dad dug one himself by hand. He was only 5-foot-3, and he planned the cellar's height with himself in mind. My mom was also short, so no problem for her either, nor for me when I began helping. …

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