Winemaking is a Bruno Family Tradition

Il giornalista Al Bruno descrive il suo orgoglio per la produzione vinicola familiare. La sua famiglia originaria di Pratola Peligna, vicino L’Aquila, in Abruzzo. In questo articolo descrive la famiglia e la parentela. I suoi antenati ebbero le vigne e tutta la famiglia doveva lavorare nei vigneti. Quando il padre venne a Buffalo, New York, portò il talento e l’abilità per fare il vino abruzzese. Al fece il vino con il padre ma con il rimpianto che la famiglia Bruno non produca più vino. 

Dating back to the early 1900s, the Bruno family was primarily concerned with well-maintained vineyards, producing fine wine for sale and for family consumption and subsisting on vegetables like tomatoes, corn, potatoes, onions, and green peppers grown on their other, non-vineyard farmlands.

My great-grandfather, Loredo Bruno, had five children (all deceased): three daughters, Annuncia, Calarice and Lucia, and two sons, the older Antonio and the younger Liberato, my grandfather. Nonno and Nonna Anna were father to Elio Bruno, my “papa.” My father had two older brothers, Giovanni and Cosimo and two sisters Aquilina and Silvia. Aquilina and Silvia are both still living along with several cousins in Italy.

My father’s family lived in town at 48 Via Pasubio, not more than three blocks from La Madonna Della Libera, the Catholic Church, in the town in Pratola Peligna in the province of L’Aquila in the Abruzzi region. The family home was a small, cement-block unit with a kitchen and two tiny bedrooms connected to a 20-unit, block-long housing complex. It was crowded conditions for two parents and five children to endure in that small house, but they managed. 

The street, Via Pasubio, was not really a street. It was an alleyway that separated these cement fortresses much like the vivid images portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie, “Godfather II,” when Michael Corleone fled the U.S. and was living, for a brief time, in Sicily, strolling through his old neighborhood. The complexes were built in the late 1800s, gray housing monuments built for posterity, and the alleyway was only eight feet in width, barely fitting a small, compact vehicle through the tiny path. Those alleyways were originally built for horses and small carriages. 

The Bruno family home had a small basement, “la cantina,” for winemaking and storage. They also owned a donkey and would raise a piglet each year for the slaughter and roast, with peppers and onions, for the Easter celebration. Another annual tradition for the Bruno family. 

By the end of every October, Nonno Bruno would produce an enormous vat container of wine, 200 total cubic feet of wine, for sale and to sustain the economic needs of a family of seven in those early days in Italy. Agriculturally, the Bruno family owned four acres of farming land that they utilized for their vineyards. They owned a fifth acre that they exclusively designated to grow and harvest their own vegetables for subsistence.

My father would work the farmlands with his papa and two older brothers when it came to stripping old vines, weeding, plowing, and tilling the multitude of rows of vineyards on those four acres. They would not forget about the importance of tending to their own acre for their vegetable yields. Nonno would deploy his three boys in the early morning on different acres, depending on what work was a priority, and sometimes together, especially at harvest time when they had to work and pick fast, before the produce would rot.

Winemaking was a community affair from its creation to its enjoyment. The Italian model called for winemaking and fruit production and everyone was involved, even Nonna and the daughters – especially at harvest time, according to papa. 

The winemaking lessons that papa learned in sunny Italy were on display here in American when he and others like him immigrated. “From canning garden-grown and curing meats to home brewing wine and spirits, the first generation harvested and processed their food in the same manner they would in Italy,” writes Melissa E. Marinaro in her article, “The Tradition of Winemaking in the Italian American Home.” It was a matter of all-hands-on-deck as everyone had a role in the wine and fruit production. Marinaro writes: “Each generation of the family helped with food production in some way or another, and homemade wine was no exception.” Italian clans prompted winemaking in American cities, preserving Italian culture and tradition.

When papa joined mamma and me in May 1957, he brought with him a bucketful of winemaking and fruit-producing schemes and techniques he wanted to establish with Italian family and friends on Buffalo’s Lower West Side. Papa was looking for the magic to reproduce the robust taste of Abruzzi fine wines in Italy. There was always a raging debate over the best winemaking techniques and processes. There was never a real consensus, just more arguing, it seemed!

We made our wine at our home at 513 Prospect Ave. on Buffalo’s Lower West Side. Papa and I would go to the Clinton Street Market and buy 20 dark red and five white grape cases in late September and October in the early 1960s up until 1975. It was tradition to crush and process the grapes in the basement with mamma’s or another family member’s help. The process was work, but it was fun, too. The smell of crushed grapes had a pleasant, enticing aroma to me. Winemaking was culturally prideful. When it came to winemaking, I did it all with papa, including hauling the cases of grapes from the car to the basement. Soon, I became the primary crusher and papa would do the grape pressing and funneling the juices into wooden barrels.

“Nearly everyone I speak with has a story about wine: loading and unloading boxes of grapes from a vehicle and crushing grapes with Nonno; betting glasses of wine on a Bocce game. It’s a tradition recalled with fondness,” remembers Marinaro. The stories are all different from family to family, but those winemaking times were more special and more memorable than we realized at the time.

Regrettably, what once was an Italian tradition and trademark is no longer for the Bruno winemaking family. Not here in the U.S. nor Abruzzi where the winemaking originated and continued for decades. However, as the recognized writer and journalist of the Bruno family, it is my duty to retell the tradition and passion for winemaking that our family history holds. While the Bruno wine may have stopped flowing, the memoires and stories have and will not.