A wine harvest lunch
There are two things that I love about the vendemmia, the grape harvest: the conversation between the vines and the lunch that follows.
The vendemmia in Tuscany usually begins in that magical moment between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, when the grapes are ripe but not too much and perhaps a bit of rain has swollen them nicely. I have always wanted to do a vendemmia and finally jumped at the chance when some friends who have a beautiful winery near the Etruscan coast mentioned they would be doing their harvest late this year, right when I was on holiday nearby at the seaside.
Mulini di Segalari is a small, organic winery between Bolgheri, the town of Super Tuscan wines, and Castagneto Carducci, set in some of the most beautiful landscape you can find in the whole of Tuscany. The sea is just five kilometres away and the landscape is a mixture of dotted olive groves, combed vineyards and wild, bushy woods. It’s heavenly.
The place is brimming with life. Wild flowers and herbs grow amongst the grape vines and wild guinea fowl are doing their morning ritual of combing the grass between the rows of vines for insects. A rushing brook nurses the edges of the property with the gentle sound of trickling water and pheasants every now and then fly out of the bushes. The grapes show all the evidence of the presence of a group of orphaned baby wild boars who have nibbled at the lowest bunches with muddy snouts.
The fresh morning air and light is invigorating in this place. After a freshly brewed coffee and a tour of the winery – a humble little property that Emilio & Marisa bought in 2003 as a pile of stones and lovingly restored to a simple, rustic farmhouse and cellar – we’re ready for the harvest.
The two kittens, Garibaldi and Anita, and the Maremma sheepdog, Ginger, follow us to the Cabernet vineyard to keep us company for the morning. Ginger does her job, staying close and carefully vacuuming up the grapes that have dropped on the ground. Anita the kitten chases lizards and butterflies in between naps and is never too far either.
The harvest is really a great social event, one of the best ways to get to know people better. Voices carry through the rows of vines as if in a natural auditorium; the topics range from daily chit chat to life stories. As we work our way along the rows, cutting bunches of grapes, the morning air begins warming up, crates fill and my stomach begins to rumble. This is when the conversation naturally turns to food.
“I’ve prepared tacchino tonnato for lunch today,” begins Marisa. “Do you want to hear the recipe?”
I’m already drooling. It’s a recipe from the Silver Spoon cookbook and we’re comparing notes.
“Sauté some chopped onion, the zest of 2 lemons and add a whole can of tuna in a pot. Add a turkey breast to the tuna mixture and add some water or, better, white wine and cook for about half an hour. Then take out the turkey and leave it to cool. I then blend the tuna mixture and stir in my handmade mayonnaise and there’s the sauce!”
She’s made hand made mayonnaise.
“And do you want to know what I’m making for the first course?”
“Spaghetti with tomato sauce and wild herbs from the field.”
And she really means herbs from the field. Back at the house, preparing lunch, she gathers wild mint, wild oregano, sage, chives, rosemary, calamint, everything she can get her hands on from outside; herbs that I didn’t even recognise in their wild forms. It looks like a bouquet of flowers. It all gets chopped down finely and added to a simple tomato sauce at the last minute of cooking, before coating the spaghetti and serving.
I couldn’t think of a better lunch on this unusually warm autumn day, but all of this, of course, is made infinitely more amazing by eating outdoors, underneath a canopy of grape vines with a couple of bottles of hearty wine and friends.