Spring has come early this year, and the fruit trees are abloom in Chianti, adding splashes of pink and white to the hillsides. Beautiful to look at, and a sign things are coming back to life. If you have followed me over the years, you will know that my father was an archaeologist, and that because of that I grew up spending summers in Tuscany, and moved here as soon as I finished college.
Dad was of course Not Tuscan; he grew up on a farm in Vermont, and though he left the rural life behind, he never forgot it, and once when we visited my maternal grandparents, who lived in Springfield VT, in March -- I must have been about eight -- he looked out at the snow-covered ground, checked the thermometer, muttered something about the sap running, and called a friend who had stayed on the farm. We put on our boots and coats, and were soon driving up a slushy dirt road into the forest, while he explained that sugaring was a seasonal activity, which only took place during the early spring when days were above freezing, while the nights were not, and the sap flowed abundant in the maple trees. I listened without really understanding, Pennsylvania city boy that I was -- in my experience maple syrup came from a glass bottle, and I had never thought about how it got there -- but things became much clearer when we reached our destination and Dad's friend was in the farm yard, hitching a sledge with a large metal tank to a horse. They shook hands while I wondered what was going on, and then we set off into the woods, where all the maples had buckets hanging from taps driven into their trunks. And I found myself wading through the snow to the trees, taking the buckets, removing the lids (and ice if there was any), and pouring the sap, which I tasted, and found to be sweet, into the tank. It was quiet work, the snow muffling our footsteps, and as we wound our way through the grove the horse began to lean into the harness as the level of the sap in the tank rose.
The air had that bluish cast it gets at dusk when it's cloudy and there's snow on the ground by the time we got to the sugaring shed, a weathered wooden building with a slatted cupola that was emitting clouds of steam, and I vaguely remember looking in, seeing the glow of the fire under the evaporator and the bubbling sap. Dad's friend told me that it took 10 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup (Wickipedia says it takes more, from 20-50 depending upon the sugar content of the sap, and that maple syrup is about 66% sugar), and I thought about that as we headed home, me holding the bottle of syrup he had given us. That evening we had sugar on snow, a treat from my father's childhood:
He set the syrup to boil on the stove, and while it was concentrating further filled a baking pan with clean snow. When the syrup was reduced in volume by about 50% he poured it in strips on the snow, where it hardened instantly. Home made maple candy!
Memories of simpler times.
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.
NO STAR goes to wines that are correctly made but nothing to get excited about.
ONE STAR goes to wines that are good. TWO STARS go to wines that are very good to excellent. THREE STARS and a POINT SCORE (90-100) go to wines that are superb to extraordinary. And I will give pairing suggestions, which I consider much more important than the scores.