David Rosengarten Shares Some Island Antics


My trip last year to the Oldways conference in Pantelleria, Sicily, was unusually packed with thrills, with beauty, with fascinating people, with great Italian food.

But the one thing I shall never, ever forget was the flavor of the Zibibbo grapes on Sept. 13, 2012.

We were driving back from lunch to our Pantelleria hotel on a hot, sunny afternoon. It was harvest time, and our car kept getting slowed down by various

independent grape-growers in trucks, hauling tons of just-harvested grapes on the road. These were Zibibbo grapes, Pantelleria’s most famous, known elsewhere as Muscat of Alexandria….but not capable anywhere, outside of Pantelleria’s volcanic soil, of reaching the same degree of wild flavor, captured very well by Moscato di Pantelleria, the island’s most famous wine.

Frankly, however, the wine can’t compare with the feast we were about to have. Just a few miles from the hotel, about 50 of these traffic-creating trucks had pulled into a large reception area, where each farmer’s grapes were about to be weighed, purchased, and crushed. We followed our collective nose, and pulled off the road, into the area, to explore further…..half-expecting to be thrown out.

No one seemed to care. The grape-farmers were taking some kind of break, waiting for the reception of their grapes, huddled together shooting the breeze and smoking cigarettes in the pristine air.

We drove right by them, to the most remote spot of the reception area—jammed with abandoned trucks, and with mountains of Zibibbo grapes glistening in the sun. The grapes were sticky. The aroma was practically overwhelming…..like falling into a field of ambrosial flowers….as was the temptation to stick in your hands, grab a few grapes and gobble ‘em.

We looked around. We calculated our odds. We leapt. We gobbled, from a dozen different trucks, each Zibibbo grape more dizzying than the last.

I shall drink Moscato di Pantelleria for the rest of my life…but my life won’t be complete until I return to Pantelleria in some September, and figure out how to be a grape thief once again.

-David Rosengarten

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