Just past the cemetery where previous generations of our ancestors are buried, the "Benvenuti a Linguaglossa" sign came into view, so I knew we would soon be in the welcoming company of our Sicilian relatives. After a heartwarming reception at our cousin Concetta's home, our visiting Australian cousins and our local Sicilian cousins arrived to commence the first reunion of relatives from three continents. As we sat at Concetta's simple but welcoming kitchen table, talking, drinking espresso, and eating biscotti, I was reminded of those Sunday meals with my relatives gathered around my grandmother's dining room table in Pennsylvania. It was like going back in time.
After a relaxing night at the simply appointed but comfortable Villa Refe along Via Mareneve with Mount Etna looking down on us, we headed to the heart of town known as Quattro Canti (Four Corners) for breakfast of cappuccino and sweetened ricotta pastries at the Simpaty Bar. When we arrived at Concetta's house, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we would be heading to the vineyard to pick grapes and make wine. It was Vendemmia, the grape harvest and winemaking season. We would take part in the ancient tradition that was so much a part of my Italian culture — one in which both my Uncle Tony and I participated at my grandfather's house. My grandfather had continued the tradition of making his own wine in his cellar every fall, and would call upon all the family members to help in the process. My uncle was especially thrilled at the prospect of participating in the centuries-old tradition in the town and possibly the same location where many generations of our ancestors made wine. After harvesting all the grapes, we retreated to the trellis-shaded Villa Giulia adjacent to the indoor grape press to relax and socialize with our Australian and Sicilian cousins. But when Uncle Tony realized he could participate in crushing the grapes as well, he quickly donned the stivali rubber boots and jumped into the large concrete grape press. I was able to observe through the small side window the broad smile on my uncle's face as he crushed the grapes.
When the meal was ready, we gathered around a large table shaded by a grapevine-covered pergola adjacent to the wine press enclosure to eat sausage, roasted red peppers in olive oil and garlic, and large green Sicilian olives accompanied by loaves of crusty bread and unlabeled bottles of homemade wine from the previous year's pressing. The meal was followed by desserts, oh, the desserts — tiramisu, cannoli, softball-size crème puff pastry. It was a perfect ending to a spectacular day at Villa Giulia. The task of winemaking had been transformed into an enjoyable social and family event much like at my grandparents' house when I was young. It was a very emotionally gratifying experience to participate at Vendemmia in the very same town that my grandparents did a century ago.
Phillip Leyman writes from Chester County.
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