Harvest Moon.

I once met an elderly lady who lived in a minuscule Alpine village of which she was the only permanent inhabitant. Well into her seventies when we crossed paths, she was busy chopping down a young spruce tree, manoeuvring an axe with the flair that comes with practice. She politely waved away my offer for help and, having thinned down the branches, she started dragging the trunk with one hand, walking. My dog decided to sit down to admire the spectacle and, if ever I saw a look of admiration on a German shepherd dog, that was the day. “They’re easiest to cut down when it’s full moon” she explained as she legged it up the trail. “It’s the harvest moon”.
Fifteen-or-so years later her words came back to me, as I entered the A4 motorway on a lovely late summer evening. A huge, pinkish moon was rising above the motorway, just before my eyes. Harvest moon.
September 29th, 2018 was the last day of summer, as far as we were concerned. Trying, and failing, to shake off a Neil Young earworm, T and I pulled up for coffee at a bar like dozen others in rural Piedmont, that part of the region where rice paddies are a dime a dozen and where the weather is either fog or heat. Even the word for the humid heat sounds oppressive. Afa.
It was warm, today, but not stupidly so, which was a good thing, for we were about to add another tack to a ritual that had been running, in this country, for at least 25 centuries. Grape harvesting, or vendemmia.
T and I went to school together, and later shared a room through university. Two years ago, he’d only know how to open a bottle of the stuff. Now, this was his second harvest.
A trickle of friends arrived at the vineyard. They were, at their core, friends from high school, with whom we’d kept in contact throughout the years. Two have brought along their wife and husband, one his dad. It was a diverse bunch, as well: T, born in Sri Lanka; R, hailing from Romania; me, living abroad. It also was the most overqualified bunch of grape pickers in Novara province. One of the fathers even used to design nuclear reactors. Despite that – how many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb? – we made good progress, filling basket after basked with grapes. Erbaluce, Nebbiolo, Bonarda.
It was, though, tough work. This year, say in unison T and M, his second-in-command, has been good: cold when it needed, hot when required, rain just so, no hailstorm. A far cry from 2017 with frost in April, drought in June and hail in August. Yet, not everything was hunky-dory. It’d rained three times in the last few days, rolling sessions of thunderstorms that didn’t give enough time to the fruit to dry up. The result was that, here and there, individual grapes swelled up until they burst open, causing the ones around them to rot. We spot those rotten fruits from their colour, a light purple, and by their sickeningly sweet smell that attracted legions of fruit flies. As we cut through the unusable grapes, I asked T how much he thought he’d lost. “200 kilograms”, he replied, approximately 5% of the total. Gone in the time it took for some rain to fall down.
Once dusk fell we were back at the cantina, to feed the gurgling machine that squashed the grapes. Stalks flowed out of one end; wort pumped out of another side, into a towering crowd of steel tanks. One ton and a half had been harvested for the day, 600 litres of wine once all was going to be said and done. The evening fell as we finished the work, stopping then to taste a sip of the wort. One year from now, if nothing – freeze, heat, bacteria – got in its way, it’d be joining the bottles from the 2017 vintage in the nearby cellar.
That, however, was the future. For now, we knew that, tomorrow, we’d be back for more of the same.
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22 Responses to Harvest Moon.

  1. lexklein says:

    I love the story of the axe-wielding older lady. She may even stay in my memory when I see next fall’s harvest moon. I also think I’d rather chop down a spruce tree than spend a day picking grapes; my back hurts thinking about it. Sounds (and looks) like a lovely day and reunion, though!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. varasc says:

    Nice reading as always Fabrizio!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So beautifully written, as though I had picked up a chapter of prose. And oh those gorgeous grapes! There is nothing like the satisfaction of eating fruit as one picks it, still alive. I would have been eating more than I picked most likely. Not many grapes here in Sri Lanka, as I am sure T must have mentioned.

    Wonderful photos and read.

    Harvest moons are always so spectacular. Love the opening memory. Funny how someone we meet briefly can say something that remains with us for years….


    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Hi Peta,
      thanks for reading! Funnily enough, T moved from Sri Lanka aged 0 and some months, and has never returned; come think of it, I’ve seen more of the country than he did… Anyhow, eating those grapes was a joy! Somehow the ‘skin’ is a bit thicker than the kind of grapes normally sold as food, but the Erbaluce (the white-golden one) was almost impossible not to pluck…


  4. Since you assured Lexie it wasn’t too hard on your back I think I’d have enjoyed this. I worked on a tobacco farm in New Zealand once long ago and loved being outdoors all day, topping the plants, and then later tying the leaves. And not stupidly hot (what a great way to put it) always helps though I like hot weather. This was a lovely read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • awtytravels says:

      Hi Alison, thanks a lot for reading! The good thing was that the vineyards are on flat terrain, and wide enough for a van to drive through. I’ve got friends whose ‘yards run up the hills, and T has two, recently planted so not yet capable of bearing fruits, that are literally covering a steep flank… not looking forward to them two!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bama says:

    Apart from the story of the old lady, one thing that caught my attention was all those different types of grapes that you mentioned. In Indonesia people just call them anggur (grape). On the other hand here we have many names for what you call rice in English. If it’s still a plant we call it padi, when it’s harvested we call it gabah, when it’s separated from the husk we call it beras, and when it is cooked it’s called nasi. I guess this shows when a crop plant is an essential part of a culture, the local people may have different names to call it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave Ply says:

    That’d be quite the jump, going from knowing only enough to open a wine bottle to cultivating grapes and making the brew. Are you learning the process beyond the picking?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. J.D. Riso says:

    There’s something magical about Harvest Moons. They stir up something primitive, awe in the passing of the seasons. As I read this, I cold smell those grapes and the autumn air. What an memorable way to spend a trip to see friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      You’re right! I remember discussing the lady’s words with friends “in the business”, and everyone agreed with her. Incredible. It was indeed a great weekend, one that I shall do again.


  8. You have an excellent and entertaining writing style! Thanks for following my blog. I haven’t posted one for a long time, but you have inspired me to get back at it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great to see your post from nearby, it would be great to taste the end product. I love this ear-worm, it always transports me to a place unknown. It will come to no surprise that (western) Slovenians nicked the word for it: we call it vandima.

    Liked by 1 person

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