As a kid I well remember that our family had never tasted Chianti from Tuscany.
It's been an eventful week at the Wine Cellar.
I received a visitor from Switzerland who is a friend of wine salesman Gavin Gracey and his wife, Katheryn. He is a well-known chef in Europe and also worked for a time in the United States.
We began talking food and wine, and it reminded me of my many lengthy family trips to Italy. We recalled the vastly different wines and cuisine that exist not only from nation to nation in Europe, but from region to region, sometimes less than 50 kilometers apart.
As a kid I well remember that our family had never tasted Chianti from Tuscany; only our own regional red wines graced the table. This was true well into the 1970s, when it was rare to find delicacies from one region consumed in another. In fact, much of the wine we drank was bartered for services from neighbors.
My uncle was a very good mechanic and he survived many cold nights with cheese, vegetables, fruit, chickens, eggs and wines that he received in exchange for his skills under the hood of neighborhood cars and tractors. This scenario, especially during and just after World War ll, was repeated endless times throughout Europe.
Gavin's Swiss friend told me that it is not uncommon today for him to drive from his place for perhaps two hours and taste delicacies that are not found in Switzerland, a treasure indeed for a professional chef. It was an amazing afternoon.
The second fun adventure came from a man who just turned 90. He told me he started making wine with his father when he was about 10 years old. In the days of Prohibition, he said, one could "legally" make red wine if it was sacramental and could be documented as such. His uncle was a Catholic priest in San Francisco who had the ear of the higher-ups and off the family went, full bore, into the wine-making business.
We sat in the corner of the Wine Cellar as he astonished me with stories of Napa and Sonoma and the types and amount of wine they would produce. As Italian-Americans, his family hooked into many churches around the area and began to build up a side business as well. To get around the law, he said with a twinkle in his eye, the church "sanctioned" many "picnics" during which the wine was consumed and purchased quite openly. Supposedly the federal agent in the area was also Italian-American and groaned, rolling his eyes as the events went along.
No one was busted throughout Prohibition on the wine scene, so his father decided to go one step further. He sold grapes to home winemakers under very funny circumstances. Evidently, the father put out a pamphlet through reciprocity clubs and churches to sell grapes and enclosed a warning that read, "Do NOT juice this wine, do NOT place the juice in a clean container, do NOT add yeast or you will be making an alcoholic substance." At the bottom of the pamphlet it also said, "We sell containers and wine yeast as well."
The best part of all: The man said he would give me a bottle of wine his father made so we could taste it together. I can't wait.
Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.