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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

“It’s time.” The call from Uncle Charlie that I had been anticipating came last Thursday. The grapes that we had crushed 13 days ago have reached the ideal level of fermentation. The grapes are now ready to be “pressed.”

As I arrive at Uncle Charlie’s, I eagerly begin my assignments as his apprentice.

But this year is going to be different.

As we don our aprons and gloves, he informs me that he has decided that, after a half century, this will be his last year making wine. “Are you ready to assume the mantle of family winemaker next year?” he asks.

I have been anticipating this question since last year, when he intimated that he wasn’t sure how long his (still healthy) octogenarian body could continue. I was eager to carry on the centuries-old family tradition, but unsure if I had acquired the necessary skills at Uncle Charlie’s apron strings.

I had decided that my performance during the 2009 winemaking season would be the determining factor. If, upon its conclusion, I felt comfortable with my acquired skills and could make the long-term commitment, I would carry on. The moment of truth had arrived.

But first, on to the tasks at hand.

I carefully watch and listen at the side of the master craftsman. Unexpectedly, chapters of our family history emerge. At each step, as I engage in the manual, labor-intensive aspects of the winemaking, I find myself ruminating on the historical and emotional significance present in the tools and vessels I am working with.

The first task is the preparation of the oak barrel used to store the fermented grape juice. Uncle Charlie shares its history with me; I find myself evolving into the willing family historian. This particular barrel has been in use since Grandpa’s cousin Nick started making wine in the States over 60 years ago. His legacy is carried on in this inanimate object, which suddenly takes on a historical and emotional attachment for me.

The second step entails the transferring of the juice from the holding tanks to the barrel. Over 75 percent of the juice was extracted through the crush. We use metal pots to drain the juice and transfer it to the barrel. These two copper pots were handcrafted in Italy for my grandmother as soon as her husband sent word from the States that, after 14 intermittent years, she and her four children would be reunited with him. Unsure of what awaited her in the States, but certain that she needed to provide food for her family, this devoted, asthma-afflicted woman felt that the most important assets for her transatlantic trip were cooking utensils. Again inanimate objects take on a historical and emotional attachment.

On to the third step, the pressing of the fermented grape pulp and skins. The last 25 percent of juice extraction consumes 75 percent of the time commitment (and effort) this day. I transfer the crushed grapes to an ancient press, a good portion of which was handcrafted by my grandfather, and manually squeeze out the remaining juice. We use a battered, well worn funnel for this transfer. Uncle Charlie shares its history with me; I continue my evolution into the willing family historian. My grandfather was a gifted craftsman who was never able to ply his talent in the States. However, he handcrafted the exquisite object of art that I was now holding in my hand to assist in winemaking. Another inanimate object takes on a historical and emotional attachment.

Our labors completed, I sit down with Uncle Charlie, over lunch prepared by Aunt Terry, to recap the day and to consider his proposal. He looks at me with anticipation. I look back at him with trepidation. Filled with the emotions evoked by my trip back in time, I break the ice. “I’m ready” I declare with certainty.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.



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