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Wine: Easy to Drink, Hard to Make (10)


Hewn out of granite outcrop, Senhora da Estrela stands 8 metres, or 26 feet, high near the summit of the Estrela mountains

Last Friday was the Dia das Bruxas, or Day of the Witches, which is also used to describe Halloween; it was Friday the 13th. It does not mean bad luck, Caladon said; it is a day of significance. For some, it is a dia de azar, or day of bad luck.

One explanation is that when the Nordic and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Friga, the goddess of love and beauty, was turned into a witch. With vengeance, she called a convention for Fridays of 11 other witches and the devil, totaling 13, and cursed humans. This legend has spread throughout Europe, Friga being called by different names in different cultures.

Some Portuguese cities and towns celebrate Friday the 13th with a festa of witches, sorcery and bonfires, but only goodwill to humans. Montalegre in Tras-os-Montes is one where the celebration is called Noite das Bruxas, or Night of the Witches.

Dia das Bruxas was the first day of school for Caladon at E.B.I. Cordinha. Parents were invited for three hours of a welcome presentation from the head teacher, awards to worthy students and an informative classroom session with the student’s year head. Because Huw and I attended last year, we knew what to expect. I was not as nervous. Professora Isabel Rosa is Caladon’s head teacher again. She is a dedicated Mathematics and Science (primary school teachers teach both subjects) teacher who spent much time and energy with Caladon last year. In her classroom, I filled out several forms. Then, she came around with small blank pieces of paper.

Last year. I was completely befuddled as to what to do with it. With my eyes, I searched the class to copy what others were writing. I realised that they were writing a name. But whose name and for what reason? Huw, Caladon and I thought that they were voting. I asked a mother sitting near us. She said, “Pessoa”. She kept repeating it and growing more embarrassed each time she said it. Neither Caladon, Huw nor I knew that she was saying, “Person.” Even if I had understood her, I would not have known that we were voting for someone to be a Class Parent, who helps out with class activities. This election is an example of a tradition that is so known by the Portuguese that they are not considering the possibility that it does not exist outside of Portugal or E.B.I. Cordinha.

Last year, Isabel insisted that I write a name, so I wrote my own. Isabel tallied the ballots on the blackboard. I received one vote and some tittering. This year, as she gave me a torn-off piece of paper, she told Caladon that I should not do that again. I hid the paper under my books. However, Isabel, again, insisted that I write a name. She continued to walk around and collect ballots. I stage-whispered, “Nao sei”, or “I don’t know”. “Da-me um nome,” or “Give me a name.” Thankfully, Beatrice, one of Caladon’s colleagues, came over and whispered several sentences in his ear. He asked her a question. She feigned exasperation, and everyone around us laughed good-naturedly. She whispered a name to him. He told it to me.

He told it to me, and I had no idea how to spell it. My Portuguese spelling is not good. So, at first, I wrote “Elise.”

“No, no, Caladon exclaimed. He crossed it out and turned the paper to the other side. He said that it began with “A.” So, I wrote “Alise.” It was too late for any more changes. Isabel came and took the ballot.

Back in front of the classroom, she unfolded a ballot and wrote “Yvonne”; she unfolded another ballot and wrote “Alice.” Of course, that is how I should have spelled Beatrice’s mother’s name! When Isabel read my ballot, she faltered for a moment. Would she return my ballot to me and command me to write the name correctly? Would she call me to the blackboard and tell me to correct the name in front of the class?

No, she did neither. Caladon whispered to me, “She accepted it.”

Phew!

This year, I did not embarrass myself as much as last year. Next year, I shall remember, “Alice”.

*** *** *** ***

To My Son, Nephew and Nieces,

A few days ago, I celebrated my 59th birthday in a grand antique house, where I look out at its castle-like wall as I write you. It is a fairytale house on top of a huge granite rock. I am enjoying every minute of living here.

I believe that, now, I am old enough to impart some advice about life to all of you. Jean-Paul and Jazmyn, you are starting new schools for high school and another middle school, respectively. And, Caladon and Angelique, you are beginning sixth and fifth grade, respectively.

All of you are facing the new challenges of harder schoolwork and longer study hours. At this point, you are revisiting topics and seeing how they relate to other topics. You are learning why you have been taught particular science, mathematics and English ideas and learning them more in depth. You are learning how to think for yourselves!

Open yourselves up to new experiences. Play chess. Write a sci-fi story. Take a horse-riding lesson.

You can choose to be happy or sad. Be happy. Smiles stimulate energy; frowns sap it.

Harness the vitality that is your heritage as a young person. Your minds, spirits and bodies need challenges to help you grow. You may want to look older, act older, get older. Don’t rush it. It will happen. In the meantime, treasure your youth and excitement about every new day.

Try your hardest. Persevere.

To thine own self be true, as Shakespeare wrote 600 years ago. It is timeless advice. By being receptive to new experiences, persevering and using your energy, you will learn to know yourself. You will find your passions around which you can build your lives.

When you turn 59, please pass your advice about life onto your children and nieces and nephews. I wonder how it will differ from this….

I love you!

*** *** *** ***

I invited our friends, Peter and Ute, to come to my birthday dinner. On that day, I got up at 6 to begin cooking relleno, which is a Belize chicken soup, black and sensuous, eaten only in the Yucatan. Marie, my mother’s friend, gave me red and black recado spice for the relleno. I have never seen black recado for sale anywhere in New York or San Francisco. The whole chicken is smeared with red recado, which is annatto, after being stuffed alternately with a mixture of diced egg white, cooked pork mince and onion, and egg yolks, one for each person. A pork cut also is covered with red seasoning and dropped into the soup. The black recado is dissolved into the soup. It has a distinctive smoky flavour.

Relleno is eaten with corn tortillas, which are delicious eaten hot and smeared with butter. The aroma of corn tortillas when they are cooking on the griddle is uncontested with any other smell for me. It means childhood and home and family, and years and years of good company and food, and stories and laughs on my birthdays. Mommy bought me two 5-pound bags of masa harina (add water to make the tortillas) when I was in New York. This is another staple that I have never seen for sale in Britain or Portugal. I have seen it available on Internet, but the shipping costs were prohibitive.

So, I started cooking early on Sunday morning. Huw and I decided to buy frango de campo, or poultry of the countryside. We thought that it would have more flavour. I began to strip the wrapping from the bird when its two feet protruded from the bottom of the tray. I admit that it was the first time that I had ever handled a bird with feet. The feet almost seemed wrong. They were so unexpected and new to me.

I decided to saw them off but cook them in the relleno. Then, I picked up the bird to rinse it under the faucet, and I had another surprise. Folded ever so neatly under its body were its neck and head! Because of the feet, these parts seemed more natural to me. Again, I thought that I would remove them but cook them.

I tried one knife, then another. We do not have our heavy-duty knives with us. When Huw woke up later, he said that I could have used a pair of scissors, but that would not have worked either. I simply smeared the bird with red recado. Then, I refolded it in the pot. Huw removed the upper parts when the relleno was cooking and the parts had softened. Caladon, who was far away in his bedroom when I told Huw about the bird parts, asked whether I had cooked the feet and head. He does hear what he feels is relevant to him. I told him what we had done with them. As it turned out, those parts and others were saved for Peter and Ute’s three husky Estrella dogs.

Before we ate, we gave them a tour of the house, which they were visiting for the first time. They were enchanted by it. Peter and Ute had never eaten relleno. They loved it. Afterwards, we had a selection of Portuguese cheeses, which were delicious. We finished the meal with a lemon posset, which was a simple but elegant pudding made with three ingredients -- double cream, sugar and lemons from our tree. We drank a Dao wine called Flor de Nelas and wine from Peter and Ute’s grapes. Caladon had cola.

After the meal, we walked to our house and showed them the progress. When they last saw it, the interior had been ripped out. Now, two of the three floors had been laid with concrete, room demarcations were clear, and many of the window holes had been made and looked out on our glorious view of the Caramulo mountains.

It was a great birthday celebration. There is so much to enjoy now and so much to look forward to in the future.

*** *** *** ***

Two hundred and fifty grapevines!

Huw and I were so impressed with the number when he counted and marked them on the map of our land. Last year, I was so afraid of doing something wrong with the grapes that I let many dry up on the vine. I thought that I had to wait until the autumn to pick any.

Then, one October day, we arrived at our quinta to find that all of the grapes had been picked by whom or what, we had no idea. So, we wrote off last year’s grapes. This year, we had the vines professionally pruned and planned to make the most of them.

We also have learned more about our grapes by tasting them and asking Peter and Ute. The small white ones that I discovered toward the back of our property are Muscatel. We have been picking and eating them since August. They become brown and brown-speckled, and they are sweet sweet sweet. I love the taste of them. I made several litres of juice from them and 1 kilo of jam. However, they are so sweet that eating them is the best way to have them.

In the center of our second terrace, there is a row of vines of plump red grapes that we had assumed were for winemaking. Peter, however, said that they are Americano grapes, which are not used for wine because of the high ethanol level. So, I made many litres of juice and 2 kilos of jam for which these are well suited. The taste is very much like the jam and juice of a well-known American company.

To make juice, I used 2.5 kilos, or 8 bunches, of grapes to get 1 litre. I washed the grapes, picked them off their stalks, and placed them into a pot with enough water to cover them. I placed the pot on a medium heat until the fruit began to break open, 20 to 30 minutes. Then, I squashed them through a sieve with the back of a spoon.

To make jam, I cooked down the fruit, as I had done for the juice, but I added no water. After putting the fruit through a sieve, I added the same weight of sugar as the weight of the grapes before I cooked them. Because the grapes, especially the Muscatel, were so sweet, I resisted adding as much sugar. On the first try, I ended up with runny Muscatel jam. The consistency is acceptable but, as I said before, those grapes are not jam-making grapes. On the second try, I added sugar little by little to the red Americano grape. It took me longer to make it, and I used nearly as much sugar in weight. There is no getting away from it. Sugar helps the jam to set.

Because of the extra time I took with the Americano grape jam, the sterilized jam jars in their pot of boiling water had cooled down. I did not realise it and put the jam in them. As a result, the dimple in the center of the cap had not dimpled, indicating that I had a sealed jar. So, we have three jars of jam in the refrigerator rather than in a cupboard now.

I, first, started making jam in Chepstow, where we had a bountiful apple tree. Our neighbour had a quince tree. And we foraged for fruit in the parks. Jam-making was one of those activities of which I had no knowledge and Huw had been doing for years. I love the process of making jam and the thought that I am preserving a fruit until the dead of winter when the taste of the jam will bring back memories of summer. And, it is so easy.

During my breaks from work on the land, I eat one or two bunches of the Muscatel. I am trying to parcel out the picking, so that we are not overwhelmed at the end of the growing season in early October.

Imagine, I am eating a bunch of grapes as a mid-morning snack!

For years, I joined the boycott of grapes in support of California grape pickers who, I believed, were being exploited. Cesar Chavez, the renowned union leader, had rallied me and everyone I knew to his cause. I never bought grapes and, if they were being served at a party, I did not eat them and thought ill of the host for serving them.

When the boycott ended, it took me awhile to adjust to it. I still avoided grapes, which also seemed expensive. Now, I eat them with relish. This year’s grapes are last year’s plums. We had a bountiful harvest from a seemingly unending quantity of wild and planted plum trees.

Now, I am about to embark on the task of making my own wine. I have never made wine. Huw has made wine from various fruits. I have never made beer. Huw has all his beer-making equipment in storage. At one time, he and his friends actively made their own beer.

My only experience in making an alcoholic drink is making ginger beer twice. The first time I made it was in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Scotts Valley, California 12 years ago. My sister- and brother-in-law, Jayne and Gareth, and Huw and I were eating dinner at home at Christmas time when we heard a bang.

Being his first time in America, Gareth thought that it was a gunshot. We walked them round the back of the house to the heating room, where I had stored the ginger beer in bottles. It was a good laugh and no ginger beer that time.

So, my experience in making alcoholic drinks is abysmal.

I have gotten past the fear of it.

I also have gotten past the intimidation of making wine from my vineyard. It sounds such a big task. I have known only one other person to have a vineyard. Her name is Molly Burrell.

Molly, a woman of class, was a veteran reporter at the Long Beach Press-Telegram when I was there in 1981. She was an excellent newspaperwoman, thorough and dedicated. As one of only three veteran women reporters, the younger women looked up to her. She decided to retire a few years later, and some of the newspaper staff decided to throw her a surprise party at a fish restaurant on the water. We patted ourselves on the back while we waited for her. And waited…and waited.

“Did you invite Molly?”

“No, I thought you had.”

The guest of honour had not been asked! We raced downstairs to a pay telephone to call her. Still not knowing that it was her party, she refused at first. The reporter offered to pick her up and persuaded her to come to the restaurant. It was a later lunch than we had planned but what a story!

Molly and her husband bought a small vineyard in Northern California. Her plan sounded so romantic…making wine. I had no questions to ask of her because I knew nothing about the process.

How many grapevines? What kind of grapes? What equipment would she use?

I did not see a vineyard in my future.

Today is the first day of October. It has been raining hard the past several days. Once again, I feel as though I have been caught out by the abrupt weather changes here. Suddenly, it was not stifling hot. Huw and I were working five hours in the morning and leaving for lunch after 1 p.m. We had begun to work in this rhythm when it rained hard.

While we wait for a break in the rain, we have bought some wine-making equipment, mainly a pressurized 150-liter storage vat, or cuba inox. It took some time for us to decide on the size. We figured we would have 800 bunches of red grapes and deduced that we were underestimating the number. At 8 bunches per liter, we thought that we would fill a150-liter vat. Also, we thought that our grape yield would increase in time. We will see.

We also bought a pair of vine cutters for Caladon. Huw and I will use our secateurs. We bought disinfectant for the tank, and we bought 20 5-liter vacuum-packed bags and cartons. Ute and Peter have said that we can borrow their esmogarador through which we will squeeze the grapes.

.

We attempted to buy yeast. Ute said that, this year, they would use Bordeaux yeast, They never have used wine yeast before; it is a way of assuring that the wine would have a more rounded taste. Being a beer maker, this addition made sense to Huw. Both of us researched wine yeast on the Internet. Everyone said the same thing. Grapes have a natural yeast, which is the powdery blush on them. However, adding yeast is an insurance against bad-tasting wine. Huw and I, each, found the same distributor in the U.K.

We drove to the library in Oliveira do Hospital to order the yeast online. (Understandably, the owners of this storybook house would not reinstate the land telephone line for our six months here. Portuguese Telecom, or PT, offers a minimum one-year contract.) At the computer, I went to Amazon.co.uk, which does deliver to Portugal. Unfortunately, the company that produces the yeast does not. Also, other companies refused to ship to us. Was it unfortunate?

After we bought the storage vat at a farm shop, I asked whether there was yeast for wine. We had not seen it for sale anywhere. The shop worker did not understand the concept. She asked two people in the shop who pointed to disinfectant for the tank. As it was, I had to make up a name for it. I called it “formento para vinho” because “formento para pao” is yeast for bread.

Huw reckons that people who are making their wine in the same place year after year are exposing their grapes to the same tasty bacterial environment. This makes sense to me. They do not need additional yeast.

We decided to make our wine without the extra yeast. We will taste our grapes with their own natural yeast first.

In the meantime, it has been raining hard for seven days through the start of October. I do not remember this happening so soon last year. At the beginning of October last year, we were making piles of bramble and other cuttings and, then, burning them. This year, it is too wet for fires. Steve, our project manager, had his house flooded for the first time in five years. Last night, we had thunder and lightning, and we lost power after eating. Caladon and I went to bed; Huw was in bed already. The streetlamp opposite Caladon’s bedroom toward the back of the house also had gone out. We could see the lightning dancing around the granite rocks.

It was a dramatic end, hopefully, to this wet weather.

Today, I harvested all the onions and boiling onions, which made a bucketful, another bucket of tomatoes, which was most of them, all the bell peppers, of which there were two, all the beets, of which there were three, and five butternut squash, of which there were lots more. I also picked two plastic bags full of white grapes, some of which were rotting on the vine. It took me three hours to do all that picking. I have some canning to do. The tomatoes are mostly cherry tomatoes, which are tasty in salads. These, however, will be made into sauce. Huw plans to pickle the boiling onions. I will make several more litres of grape juice.

When I walked down to the fourth terrace picking grapes, I saw that the ground had been churned by wild boar. I think that they have eaten some of the grapes. I say “think” because things change so rapidly on the land. Some of the grapes have dried up like raisins. I cannot be sure whether time or pigs swallowed the fruit.

I believe that the boars came in through an opening in our stone wall, where we usually keep a metal drum on its side. I took it out when Caladon and I walked down to the river this summer for a day in the water. I never put it back.

I am becoming anxious. I want to pick the red grapes before the boars come back, before the rains return, before the grapes shrivel.

*** *** *** ***

Slim pickings.

I dropped more on the ground than I put into my bucket yesterday.

Four days ago, the rains stopped on Friday after seven days. On Saturday, we helped Ute and Peter pick the grapes of a friend, Antoinette, in Seixus. It was one and a half hours of great fun. It was sunny, and most of her grapes were good because they were sweet and firm. There were sections on her 12 terraces, where the grapes had not gotten enough sunlight and, as a result, they had a dusty white fungus. These rejected grapes tasted bad. They constituted one-quarter of her crop.

Caladon, Huw and I confirmed that we were selecting good grapes. We did learn, however, that green grapes on a red bunch are not good. The local cooperative, who buys from grape growers for wine-making, reject green grapes.

After picking Antoinette’s grapes, we went to Peter and Ute’s where they moved on to the second stage of the process. Set up in a shed was the 1000-liter open vat, or dorna. On top of it sat the grape squeezer, or esmagador. First, we placed the 50- or 30-liter buckets on a scale and recorded the weight. Each bucket weighed 20 to 35 kilos.

Then, someone climbed on the ladder beside the vat and tipped the contents of the bucket into the squeezer. The tipper, then, turned the handle of the squeezer and, into the red vat, fell a hard rain of red juice making a delightful splashing sound as it met the awaiting must.

Anna Martina, who came to Portugal from Holland 15 years ago with her friend, Antoinette, joined us with her team of helpers: Nuno, an outgoing young man who later dressed for dinner with a diamond stud in his left ear, and Ricardo, a quiet young man with an earplug in one ear. In two hours, we finished weighing. Peter and Ute had picked and weighed their grapes on the previous day. The combined effort of everyone felt satisfying. When she first arrived, Anna Martina said that people organized large meals for the grape pickers. She said that it was a wonderful tradition that, sadly, is not done anymore.

I am not convinced that the tradition has disappeared completely. I do know that there are fewer Portuguese living here and more Dutch and British. Portuguese meals will not be as large because of the empty seats at the table belonging to relatives in Angola, Mozambique, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, France, Brazil, the United States and the United Kingdom.

We, expatriates, are creating our own traditions.

After weighing the grapes and emptying them into the dorna, Ute and Caladon, who had been talking and working in the kitchen, suggested that we go out for a meal. So, this, we did.

At the family-owned Casa de Grelhadao, or the House of the Grilled, in Villa Franco da Beira, I had the most rewarding feeling of being a part of the wine to come and of all the people there.

Two days later, on Monday, Huw and I and Caladon, and, later, Peter and Ute picked our grapes. One-quarter of Antoinette’s grapes were bad; three-quarters of ours were bad. Many of our grapes had the white fungus. It broke my heart. Two weeks earlier, those grapes were firm and healthy. We picked too late. We had 11 buckets; we used only four.

However, this year, there was no way around it. It was only two days before we picked our grapes that we realised that we needed a dorna, or vat, for the grapes. On Sunday, we went to Camp Cheio, a farming shop in Oliveira, where the clerk said the shop would be getting more on Monday or Tuesday. We, then, drove, to Seia to Muito Menos, where we bought a 500-litre vat.

We pulled our wine-making materials together on the run this year. We did not know what we needed for the process.

After picking at our quinta, Peter and Ute came back to our house for a meal. And so, the tradition does live on.

*** *** *** ***

Walking round the village, the smells of wine-making in all its stages are all around us.

At first, we smelled disinfectant as people prepared their barrels and vats for the grapes. Then, we smelled grape must and, then, alcoholic grape juice.

Peter and Ute stomp their grapes with their bare feet. So, we did the same. Twice a day, we washed ourselves and, especially, our feet meticulously. We did not use any creams or lotions.

There is a crust that forms on the surface of the grapes that must be broken with your feet. You do a march, with knees kept low, around the edge of the vat and then toward the middle. Between 15 and 30 minutes later, the job is complete for another morning or evening.

For seven days, we did this. Huw and I visited a rural shop in Viseu. They were selling the yeast that we had attempted to buy from a supplier on Internet. Should we or shouldn’t we? While we stood there debating in our minds, a customer approached and, decisively, picked up a wine-making product. It was the gluey mass that is used to make a door in wooden barrels, he said. Then, he counseled us as to what to do next. With the ease of a professor, who is well-versed in his subject. he asked us questions and drew diagrams, the latter of which tipped me off that he was an engineer.

Antonio took the yeast out of my hands and returned it to its shelf. “You don’t need this.”

He asked whether we had added metabissulfito, the sulphur compound. We had done so on the previous day. We had estimated that we had 75 litres of wine. A chart at Muito Menos had directed that 10 percent of the litre measure should be added in grams. We added about 7.5 grams using a cooking measuring teaspoon.

We calculated that 1/8 of a teaspoon equals .5 grams. Therefore 1 teaspoon equals 4 grams, and 2 teaspoons equals 8 grams. Because Americans cook by volume, I had the measuring spoons and a conversion table,

Why add metabissulfito? Peter said that it stops the fermentation. I don’t understand; Peter said that he doesn’t understand. We did it because everybody, including Professor Antonio, do it. However, Antonio also advised us to add the tartaric acid at the same time. We had been holding out on this, thinking that it came a step later.

Antonio worked out some calculations. He told us not to add any more than 12 grams of metabissulfito. Then, he said that we needed to test our wine with a hydrometer every day. When the instrument read 4 to 6, it would be ready to transfer to the cask. He said that any number higher than that would result in a sweet port-like wine.

We had hemmed and hawed about buying a hydrometer, partly because we did not know how to use it. On Antonio’s direction, we bought one and an accompanying plastic measuring cylinder.

So, we left the shop armed with these two pieces of equipment, a plastic wine pitcher and some more knowledge. I felt better. Shortly after we got home, we dashed out to the garage, where we are making the wine. We scooped out some wine with a measuring cup and poured it into the narrow cylinder. In went the hydrometer, which floats higher or lower depending on the density of sugar in the liquid. The instrument measured “0”.

So, there was not a lot of sugar in there; water measures “0”. We deduced that we should have transferred the wine immediately after adding the sulphur compound. Our wine tasted more like wine than grape juice. We did add the tartaric acid as Antonio had directed us.

Should we add sugar? That night, I wrestled with this question. If we did add sugar, how much should we add? I thought that we might test adding sugar to a small amount. While I did these calculations, I fell asleep.

The next day, neither Huw nor I talked about adding sugar. We marched out to the garage to transfer the wine into the stainless steel cylinder with lots of knobs on it. We placed the plastic pitcher under the vat spout, and … nothing came out.

Huw leaned into the vat, removed the filter and cleaned out the must. He also removed the outer part of the spout and did not replace it. The liquid trickled out fine. I held the large filter over the top opening of the steel cylinder. There was no trickle. One drop per second came down.

We removed the fine mesh filter that we had added to filter. What did we do then?

I rushed to the kitchen to get the mesh strainer that I had used to make grape juice. So, we spent five hours transferring the liquid from vat to cylinder. We, even, squeezed out the must in the end to make a total of 60 litres of wine.

When I finished squeezing, my fingers were dimpled as though I had been in a bath for hours. Once again, my nails carried that purple hue in the corners and where I have bitten the skin. Maybe, it will disappear in a few weeks.

The wine is now sitting there. I am not sure what is happening to it. I do not know whether a valve should be opened to release carbon dioxide or whether our wine is past that.

I shall ask someone, Peter or a stranger who seems to know what he is doing. As Ute said:

“Wine-making is an art.”

It is both a science and an art. I am intrigued by it. We have made lots of mistakes this year. I am eager to taste their effects on the wine. We will learn more as each year goes by.

*** *** *** ***

Okay, so we thought that we would leave the wine alone for four months and then bottle it.

No way. This wine-making has gotten under my skin. We saw Ute and Peter, who said that we should be able to hear the wine bubbling away. I did not recall hearing anything when we transferred the wine. Previously, yes, we heard the wine percolating in the stomping vat. This lack of recollection and the “0” rating made us consider adding sugar to kick-start the yeast.

I slept on it.

The next morning, I sampled a tiny amount of the wine, which tasted sour. The sample also surprised me because it was thick and left legs on the side of the measuring cup.

Later that morning, when Huw and I went to the garage to add sugar, I pressed my ear up against the metal container. I heard the soothing sound of bubbling, of fermenting, of active yeast!

Should we still add the sugar?

No. Yes. No. Yes.

We poured out 4 ounces of wine and stirred less than half a kilogram of sugar into it. Then, we added the mixture to the wine in the steel cylinder. Huw picked up the container and slightly shook it so that the sugar solution would be dispersed throughout.

A trickle of wine ran out of the door area. Enough, we said. We have done enough. For now.

I feel as though the wine is a child. We are its parents and worried whether we are caring for him or her well.

There are so many steps in this process, so many places where you could go right or wrong. I do not know how much better I am prepared for next year.

I know that I have to be more honest with people about my lack of knowledge of wine-making. I could use advice from the older people in the village. Part of my reluctance in asking is my grasp of Portuguese. The other part is that I am so ignorant of the subject matter that I do not know what to ask.

Our neighbours near the Palheiras, or the huge granite rock of dozens of abandoned granite shelters, had told me that the weekend we picked our grapes was a good time. They said that there would be no rain. One of them is an older man who we have seen throughout the village going to or coming from work on a parcel of land. We have, always, said “Bom dia” or “Boa tarde” to him. I sense that he holds many secrets to the art of wine-making, and he would be happy to share them. In the future, I shall approach him in improved Portuguese.

*** *** *** ***

#babyboomersredefineretire #Belizeculture #livinginPortugal

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