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La Vendemmia




This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections Initiative, Industry Canada.


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“La Vendemmia” or the grape harvest festival is another annual community event held to celebrate Italian culture, this time the festivities surround the traditional art of winemaking. The article below was originally published in the October 2001 issue of Il Postino.
La Vendemmia: A Celebration of Italian Winemaking
By Colin Donelle

Between September 21st and 23rd “La Vendemmia,” the 5th annual Grape Harvest Festival, took place in Ottawa’s “Little Italy.” The weekend showcased the hugely popular grape-stomping competition, a tour of some local winemakers and various opportunities to indulge in harvest foods and wines.


Photo: Joe Cotroneo  

On September 21st participants in the festival were given the opportunity to witness the winemaking process at Preston Hardware’s grape warehouse. During Preston Hardware’s harvest season, the winemaking process consumes over 20,000 crates of California’s finest grapes.

The following day a tour of “Little Italy” gardens, grapevines and winemaking facilities took place. The participants were given a history of St. Anthony’s Church, including its importance to the Italian community. The tour continued to the backyard of the Pietrontonio’s, where Joe Pietrontonio had transformed his garage into his own private winemaking facility. Guests were allowed to view the machinery used, taste this year’s grapes, and sample a little wine produced from last year’s crop.

“This is my second year as part of the tour,” Pietrontonio explained. “My neighbour [Peter Harris the tour organizer] asked and so I allow people the opportunity to witness this part of our culture.”

Pietrontonio also gave a live production of the winemaking process.

The tour allowed for Harris to showcase his own garden, as well as Mac MacDonald – a wine guru who teaches a winemaking course at Algonquin College – to speak briefly about his expertise. Many of the guests had or were planning to establish their own vineyards and MacDonald was able to answer their many questions.

“These people came because they were interested in this culture and I’m just trying to educate them on this and its relation to wine,” said MacDonald. He added that most of the people were older and were very focused in their questioning. After all, “educated people seek education” he asserted.

The highlight of La Vendemmia was the grape-stomping competition at Trattoria Caffé Italia. Groups, mostly composed of local businesses, were given 90 seconds to produce as much juice as they could from the allotted boxes of grapes. In the background played Italian dance music, which MC Jim Watson referred to as “similar to Wierd Al Yankovic.”

At its peak the competition drew close to 100 people, many of them simply coming off the streets to find out what the commotion was about.

One such viewer, Tony Turner, came for the “promotion of Italian wine and culture” and remarked about the relaxed atmosphere and the friendly environment.

La Vendemmia ended on September 23 with a finale at Sala San Marco Banquet Hall with a huge feast celebrating Italian culture, harvest foods, and of course, various wines.

The popular grape-stomping competition attracted a crowd of onlookers.

The success of this celebration has been in its ability to attract not only the Italian community, but also those from outside “Little Italy.”

“That’s what we have always strived for,” remarked Harris, “the ability to be able to draw in more people to continue the growth of everyone’s culture.”

The huge support of local businesses was also remarkable. Still, Harris would like to see an increase in numbers as the years go on and hopes to achieve this through even greater support from the community and by possibly adding chef demonstrations and workshops.

“We have the basic model to work with, but we must always strive for more in order to better educate and better celebrate this culture.”
Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
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