Harvest time on the Amalfi Coast

An ancient rite behind long-standing peasant traditions. On the Amalfi Coast, the grape harvest brings families and all residents together.

December 3rd, 2020. By Anna Volpicelli, photos by Salvatore Guadagno

The taste of the earth, the sensation of touching its fruits with one’s hands. The feeling of smelling its living scent, with its bouquet of olfactory nuances, freshness, and genuineness. 

People who work in the fields know how important waiting time is. They have learned to listen and cultivate the patience that Mother Nature teaches. They have been educated to understand her language, go along with her rhythms gently and respectfully, and juggle the weather conditions beyond any control. Still, above all, they have cultivated a deep gratitude for her gifts, which are celebrated as a time of celebration. 

It is the grape harvest, an annual event linked to work in the vineyard, but also a ritual embedded in the agricultural traditions of the Amalfi Coast, which carries with it great historical, anthropological, and social value, as well as in-depth knowledge of its territory. 

From generation to generation

It is one of the oldest agricultural traditions that, over time, have been handed down from generation to generation through precise working methods and peasant wisdom. Of course, over the years, technology has evolved, speeding up and facilitating some processes. What has remained unchanged is the intimate and profound relationship with the land, the manual dexterity of harvesting, and, above all, its strong power of aggregation. 

Harvest time for us is a celebration in which my whole family is involved, plus my three workers. It is a time of aggregation, where we celebrate being together, where we pick grapes wrapped in the warmth of the sun, where we share food and drink, especially wine,” Luigi Reale, owner of the Reale Andrea farm in the village of Gete, one of the thirteen villages in the municipality of Tramonti, tells us.

A special vintage

Beginning in late September and ending in early November, the 2020 vintage was unique in weather conditions, with long periods of rain and the circumstances imposed by the pandemic. “This year,” Reale continues, “was a special vintage. We focused more on quality instead of quantity.” 

Luigi Reale, his wife, his son Andrea, and his brothers Gaetano and Emanuele are all involved in the family business, including the land, a restaurant, and a small bed and breakfast. The farm sits on 3 1/2 hectares of land, including vineyards and olive and lemon groves. 

Specializing in organic farming, every treatment is done naturally, without damaging or altering the essence of the harvested fruits. Four labels are produced each year, including the white Aliseo, whose grapes are gathered on the hills of Tramonti, in two centuries-old vines, binacazita, and biancolellaare typical vines of the Amalfi Coast, which produce DOC wines with the sub-category of the Tramonti area.” 

On the Coast, wines are conceived more in Tramonti, Furore, and Ravello, resulting in unique bottles. “Getis, our rosé, which won the 2014 Wine Oscar, comes from a vineyard 500 meters above sea level. We produce about 5 thousand bottles, characterized by 80 percent per’e’palummo and 20 percent dyer. Usually, this type of wine harvest is done in mid-October.”


The flavor of contemplation

The real flagship of the winery is Borgo di Gete, a pure dyer, IGT colle di Salerno, which originates in that handkerchief of land surrounded by the beauty of the Lattari Mountains in the municipality of Tramonti. This type is part of the area’s indigenous vineyards planted free-range in the early 1900s. “It is a selection we make in our vineyard, including the oldest vines in the area, which range from 100 to 150 years old.” 

This important red comes from a long process that includes 15 days of fermentation, 24 months of aging in the barrique, and 24 months in the bottle. It has limited production of about 2,000 bottles a year. “It is a meditation wine, where you savor the history of a long farming tradition, which leaves in your mouth the taste of the memory of a strong emotion, which should be savored slowly. It is a complex wine that goes well with meat or cheese dishes, such as pecorino.” 

Cardamone red comes from a district in the hamlet of Gete, famous for growing vines since the time of the Maritime Republic, cultivated using the traditional ray system. “It is a wine with an intense color with violet reflections that has long aging periods, 80 percent in steel and 20 percent in wood.” And this blood of the earth is mainly consumed to celebrate the harvest season. “During the harvest, I prepare baskets to take to the fields, where I put sandwiches in bulk, a spicy provolone cheese typical of the area, and a bottle of Cardamone, which is then divided among all of us.”

The excitement of the cellar

Having passed the moment of joy at the end of the Harvest, we enter one of the most delicate moments of the harvest season: cellar time. “Wine has the same expectations and requires the same care as the birth of a child. When the grapes arrive at the winery, it is an anxious time for me because I have a series of babies to care for. Wine is a living body; losing control in these ten days risks the whole vintage. At this time, I even wake up at night to go down to the cellar to check the temperature. And the same happens with bottling. If you get something wrong, you can’t correct anything anymore because the cork has been closed.” 

An emotion of solid joy repays a long and longed-for wait celebrated at the table. “When everything is over, I gather my family and workers for a big lunch. We prepare a plate of casatielli and potatoes as they used to, with a three-hour cooking time, enriched by a finish of smoked provolone cheese. We usually serve sausage and broccoli for the second course, followed by a dessert. A good red wine always accompanies all this.” 

The winery also organizes wine tourism activities characterized by wine tours. Participants are greeted at the winery with a glass of wine and then taken on a tour to discover the indigenous free-range vines, continuing to the Rock Chapel, located 100 meters away from the winery and dating back to the 13th century. 

The tour ends with an extensive lunch where they are made to taste along with the wine and typical local products. “Given the ongoing pandemic, fewer foreigners and more Italians participated in our wine tours this year. They were good moments to introduce Italians to the wonders of this territory.”

The choral wine of Furore

From Tramonti, we move to Furore, where the grape harvest has an ancient flavor. “Harvest time involves a large part of the population of Furore,” Andrea Ferraioli, founder of the prestigious Cantine Marisa Cuomo, tells us. “At this time of year, there is an increase in employment because everyone participates. We directly involve 121 families.” 

Considering the village has just over 600 residents, it is a high figure. “It is a tradition that has been perpetuated for centuries, which today is also experienced as a celebration because people can spend time together in the vineyards. Of course, you work hard, but the fresh air you breathe, the sun’s warmth that warms the spirits, and the joy of together repaying the effort.” 

The winery owns vineyards in Furor and 13 municipalities along the Coast. A territory that is spread over 40 hectares of vineyards. The work of Ferraioli and his wife, Marisa Cuomo, is yet related to wine production but also the restoration of mostly abandoned land. 

We recover these lands, clean them up, save them, and bring them back to life. Our reach, however, is not limited only to the vineyards because we also recover and fix the neighboring lands, which are about 20 meters away from the vineyards. And this is a real land preservation operation because fires, which are typical, especially in summer periods, do not find land to burn and stop. And the vineyards are not affected. Our work positively impacts the coastal landscape and the life and economy of the local farmer.

The female entrepreneurship

Cantine Marisa Cuomo was born in the early 1980s as a wedding gift from Andrea to his wife, Marisa. “It was a surprise for everyone, not only for my wife. My gesture of love opened the door to innovation in viticulture, pioneering female entrepreneurship in the sector,” he tells us. “Marisa is a strong woman not only physically but also mentally. I always say that she carries the company’s name and cross. She has done a job that few men have been able to do.”

An extreme territory

Ferraioli defines the territory of the Amalfi Coast, especially the Furore area, as a territory of survival where the farmer made it all up. In the 6th century, farmers began to build the first terraces. Later they built vines on the rock walls. “Thanks to their work, today we find ourselves with many vines that come out of the rock, called walls, and rest on these structures made with chestnut poles, according to the pergola training system, which supports the vines.” 

From an extreme territory came heroic wines recognized internationally for their quality. During the 50 days of harvesting, the people of Furore work on vertical lands, where entire families harvest the grapes, which they arrange in large baskets, which are then transported either by hand, along paths dotted with steep steps, or with animals, as happened in the past. 

The Harvest is tiring, and Andrea and I have always been there. It is a time of great anticipation, joy, and much anxiety,” Marisa Cuomo tells us, smiling. “Today, I mostly take care of the cellar”.

The rediscovery of native wines

From this passion, three brands, Doc Costa D’Amalfi, Marisa Cuomo and Fiorduva, were born, resulting in nine bottles, Costa D’Amalfi Rosato, Rosso and Bianco, Furore Bianco and Rosso, Ravello Bianco and Rosso Riserva, Furore Rosso Riserva, and Bianco Fiorduva. The Bianco Fiorduva has won many awards over the years, including the 2006 Oscar as the best Bianco d’Italia, “Tre Bicchieri” Gambero Rosso, Medaglia D’oro selezione del Sindaco, Città del Vino and Miglior Vino Bianco 2012, Gusto Cortina Wine & Food Festival award. 

When we began this adventure, I created a catalog field in which I surveyed all the types of grapes found in the Amalfi Coast territory. We rediscovered 28 types of white grapes and 14 types of red, which were then included in the 2001 specification. I firmly believe that today we must not run after the grape variety, but after the territorial heritage because this is the real wealth.” 

A legacy of the Amalfitan territory that has been found in the difficulty of the area’s vertical structure, its source of success, and has been able to transform, thanks to the wisdom, passion, and foresight of those who live there, a challenge into a great opportunity. 

Vendemmia in Costa d'Amalfi, le botti di vino in cantina
Photo of Salvatore Guadagno

The pride of their children

We have always been linked to integrated viticulture, a type of vine cultivation aimed at the defense of grapes and plants for which a series of practices are applied to promote an optimal state of the crop.” Anchored in the rocky uniqueness of the Furore area, Ferraioli, together with Cuomo, have recreated the area’s natural landscape beauty in their winery. Carved into a rock, a row of barrels rest quietly protected by solid and silent walls. Some of them, the younger ones, have even been given grandchildren’s names. 

My grandchildren have written their names on the barriques with chalk; we are waiting to see how they will grow and mature. We are waiting to find out how they will taste,” Ferraioli says. And it is precisely this pride, born of deep rootedness to their territory imbued with notes of awareness of their strength and work, that has led to the Amalfi Coast being a Unesco heritage site and which has been able to innovate with intelligence and respect for ancient peasant traditions, including those of the grape harvest.