Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Salvatore Renzulli...1939...the year I was born

Until prohibition in 1920 my grandfather produced, bottled, and sold his Father & Son brand wine to the nearby cities of Philadelphia, Camden, and Wilmington. As a young boy I can remember a few of the remnants of that enterprise still on the farm. One was a large wooden barrel with straight sides and an open top that stood about 10-12 feet tall with a diameter of about 5-6 feet.. A small open door on the bottom was just large enough to allow me to crawl inside to hide from the wild Indians I was fighting.

Another was a large (remember the sizes I recall were that of a young child) press that today I would estimate was 4 or 5 feet high. The photo below is a much smaller version that has survived the many years; my father used it to press the hams dry when he made prosciutto and salami.

Every year my father and grandfather would make 4 or 5 barrels of wine, which were kept in a small alcove with a dirt floor in our cellar. It remained in the barrels, coming upstairs in a plain gallon bottle to be consumed with every meal. I would occasionally help myself to a taste using a Mason jar lid. I thought it was cool, but the truth is, I didn’t like it. Unfortunately one year, I was a teenager at the time, my father messed up and all the wine ended up as vinegar. In a fit of anger he opened all the taps and let the 3 or 4 barrels of wine drain onto the floor. The basement never smelled the same after that, and he did not make wine again until some 15-20 years later. I still have the wooden taps they were used in the barrels.

My father resumed his wine making in his late 60s, and continued until just a few years before he died at age 82. He always made the maximum amount allowed by law…up to 200 gallons a year, giving a lot of it away to family and friends. Like so many Italians and Italian-Americans, wine was in his DNA…it was simply a given in his life. He is gone now, beyond my reach, but not my memory, and I drink a small glass of red wine with my lunch every day to pay homage to him.

About a year ago someone brought us a bottle of wine, a label I did not recognize, and as soon as I opened it the aroma of the Niagara grapes immediately brought me back to our farm, the grapes, and the wine. It was the first time in years that I experienced that fragrance.

Commundardo and Spartico in the wine cellar, circa early 1970s


Susan G-E said...

What an interesting story. Thanks for sharing your memories of your father's winemaking - love the barrel taps!

Gus said...

My grandfather and my uncles made wine, and some beer too. At Christmas they gave away a LOT of it, but wine was available at the table on a daily basis. Guess my child comes by her limocello making genetically, huh?


William F. Renzulli said...

It's in the genes!