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02/14/2007

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Robert Scarola

Praising The Grape
Robert Scarola


I come from an Italian family, and my grandfather used to produce his own wine in his basement. Though he lived in Ohio, every year he somehow managed to get grapes from Italy. All my uncles would show up on a weekend, and disappear into the cellar on Saturday morning with six cases of beer and a huge basket of food. They wouldn’t come out of the cellar until Sunday night, still half-bagged, laughing, waving their purple hands in the air, and making jokes in Italian. They spoke a rapid Italian that left me clueless. Except I knew they had just had a blast.

On our next family get together, my older brother and I would sneak down the cellar stairs and prowl around the five or six oak barrels that had magically appeared out of nowhere. We would sniff the incredibly rich, fragrant, lingering air of crushed grapes. And kick at the sawdust covering the red stains on the floor. “This is where Grandpa’s wine comes from,” my brother, who was two years older, would say, knowingly, as we ran back up the stairs.

At Easter, Christmas, and our once-a-month Sunday visit to my Grandparents’ farm in Willoughby, Ohio, in the early fifties, my Grandmother would lay out a feast, and my Grandfather would sit at the head of the sixteen-foot long dining room table. We would all pass our wine glass to him, and he would fill each one from the jug he kept beside him on the floor. No one said a word until he raised his glass. Then we drank. And ate. And drank. And ate. It was a typical “heart-healthy” Italian meal of spaghetti and meatballs, roasted chicken, fried smelt, Sicilian pan-crust pizza, olive-oil soaked salad, homemade sausage, thick sweat bread, deep-dish lasagna, and, for dessert, chocolate or lemon cake, Neapolitan ice cream, honey-dipped cookies, and espresso coffee. I am convinced my grandparents lived to be 89, and I am still here today, in large part because all of us, kids included, drank my Grandfather’s wine with those meals.
Despite this cherished heritage, I personally know very little about the production of wine.

I’ve visited a number of wineries in California and Oregon. I’ve swirled and sniffed and tasted and spat, nodded, and grinned while the attendant spoke of “deep body, exciting blend of smoky oak and rich berry, good robust challenge to the palate,” etc. as he poured another taster. But, I freely admit that I’ve never really understood what it takes to produce excellent wine.

Well, lucky me. And lucky all of us who are not experts in the world of wine. Steve Yafa, a man I’ve known and admired for many years as a writer, has decided to become a vintner. In his terms, a man who “raises” wine. Not in place of writing, but in addition to it. It may even be more subtle than that. Somehow, the process of raising wine seems to inspire Steve’s writing about it. And his writing about wine seems to inspire his raising of it. I think all of us who know Steve are watching with fascination and, yes, even awe, as he takes on the burdens and joys of actually producing a Pinot Noir with his own hands. And living to tell about it.

Not just tell us about it, I should add, but energetically engage us in the event. The truth is that it’s as much fun to read what Steve has to say about becoming and being a vintner as it will no doubt be to drink his 2006 production.

If you’d like a hint of what I’m talking about, just ponder the name of Steve’s wine, SEGUE. The allusions are enticing. Obviously, Steve segued in his own life from Writer to Vintner. But less obviously, though certainly intended by Steve, wine also segues for us, the readers, as he writes about it.

Steve takes us on a tasty journey from vine to grape, from grape to truck, truck to bins, bins to carefully sorting human hands (I think “cellar rats” are human, anyway?), from those hands to fermentation tanks, to barrels, to bottles, to glasses, to lips, to… well, that great feeling of having just tasted a little of Nature’s true essence. It’s a Segue that Steve literally makes come alive for us in his writing about the wine-raising adventure.

Steve clearly loves what he is doing, and gives us the chance, through his writing about it, to love wine-raising with him. To Praise the grape, even if only vicariously. Thanks, Steve, for bringing all of your many talents to not just raising wine, but to writing about it in a way that lets us share the adventure without having to scrub out the barrels.

I’m looking forward to trying the 2006 production of Segue. I want to see where Steve will take me this year, then next year, and the year after. And, knowing I can expect the same talented effort in Steve’s “raising” of the wine as I experience in his writing about it, I expect to, surely, year after year, be in for a delicious surprise.


Robert Scarola
Kohala Coast
Big Island, Hawaii
March, 2007

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