It's wine-making time in Pittsburgh. The leaves are changing color, there's a cold snap in the air and the smell of grapes fermenting is everywhere in the Strip District.
As early as 6 a.m., you can see the cars and pick-ups rolling up to the Consumer Produce Company. Everyone is waiting and looking for Ronnie. He is the one who doles out the grapes, the jokes, the advice, and handshakes. Twelve buyers have come. Ron Casertano herds everyone into the showroom where he lets the old man and the young man, the girls and boys all taste the grapes. He explains that yes, the grapes do more than they did in 1960 when you first started making wine, but they are beautiful, fruitful and will make terrific wine. The old man, the young man, and the girls and boys make their decisions and buy their grapes. They buy them by the bag, the box, the crate, the lugs. The crusher starts up, the grapes go in and the juicy must comes up. Espresso pastries and homemade wine are all passed around. The Italian language floats around the loading dock along with the bees who, I think, also want to just taste the grapes.
Mickey, one of my friends, reminds me of my past. He reaches me in my present and gives me hope for the future. I'm reminded of the quote that says, “Una famiglia è forte quando gli uomini anziani fanno vino che sanno che mai degusteranno.” A family is strong when old men make wine they know they will never taste.
You can get an entire history of the Italians in Pittsburgh just by standing on the loading docks: the hard work, the discrimination, the love, the faith, the families.
I invite you to come to Pittsburgh Strip district. Visit the Italian shops. Visit La Prima espresso. Visit Enrico biscotti. Visit Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. Visit Consumer Produce. Say hello to Ronnie. Connect with your past. Root yourself and your present. Dream about your future.