All photos/art by Reena Bammi
My great-grandpa Guiseppe Frontierro made wine back in Sicily, and the tradition traveled with him to the wharves of Gloucester, Massachusetts. He employed his grandchildren to stomp the grapes right on the waterfront. It’s been said that he kept the spirits of the fishing fleet high with his wharf wine.
After he died, the tradition stopped for about 30 years. It was resurrected 10 years ago by my uncle John Misuraca, Giuseppe’s youngest grandson, and his lifelong best friend, Anthony “Minit” Militello.
Each year on the last Saturday in September, my entire family and several members of our extended family, plus neighbors, friends, and friendly passersby, gather in Uncle John’s garage in West Gloucester to stomp grapes and make wine.
For one day, the garage becomes a magical place, where tradition thrives and wine is a connecting stream that brings the generations together. Now the celebration rivals Christmas as the holiday our families hold dearest.
As winemaking brings each of us home, it has become a holiday that is our very own, one that cannot be duplicated by any family we may marry into.
At noon on that festive day, family members arrive to fill their bellies with tripe, homemade sausage, and pasta sodden with Aunt Sandi’s tomato sauce — a recipe she learned from my grandmother, and one so revered that it rivals any piece of fine jewelry as my family’s most sacred heirloom. For the first few hours we hug, eat, and share stories. Great-aunts Katie and Mary tell of growing up on Gloucester’s fishing wharves. The youngest generation listens with rapt attention to tales of their great-great-grandparents emigrating from Sicily to make their living at sea and on the working waterfront.
After nearly three hours, we’ve consumed about seven gallons of the previous year’s wine and enough food to feed a small militia. It’s time for the work to begin.
And work we do. For the next four hours the women don kerchiefs and aprons to stomp out the blood of these grapes — more than 800 pounds of them. The men pull the stems and strain the juice, while the children play and the elders call out encouragement and sing songs in the mother tongue. The end product is poured into a large press to strain out every last bit of juice; then it’s transferred to glass tanks for a year-long fermentation.
This wine will rarely touch the lips of those outside the bloodline that created it. Each year we make at least three vintages, but one of them is always a Cabernet, a vintage that Anthony and Uncle John have mastered — a family wine brimming with the very essence of fatto con amore — Sicilian for “created with love.”
This recipe, Salsa di Militello, is part of the annual celebration, brought to the United States from Trappeto, Sicily.