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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Giordano

The wine of Minas Gerais at the beginning of the 20th century

A small work entitled Memories of a Carpenter was recently incorporated into BVReppucci. It was written by Luís Gonzaga dos Santos, prefaced by Aires da Mata Machado Filho and published in the city of Belo Horizonte (State of Minas Gerais) in 1963. The author wrote it (he was born in 1898 but I was unable to ascertain the date of his decease) when he was around sixty years old, between late 1959 and mid-1961, as a tribute to his “old and beloved father”. He decided to write the book in order to record the memories that he kept from the time when he lived in his hometown, the city of Diamantina, where he lived from birth until 1944, and “asking God to enlighten my memory so that, in this modest home, far and away from all who are dear to me, I can write as a hometown friend to my friends of the old times, especially to those who, like me, due to financial difficulties were forced to leave and not able to follow the progress of our much-loved land. Nevertheless, we keep in our hearts the nostalgic feeling for everything that we’ve left there ”.

Aires da Mata Machado Filho was extremely surprised when he read the originals brought to him by “Luís Gonzaga dos Santos, a carpenter officer who retired from the hard work of reading. In fact, he didn’t read much as the only education he had, came from the primary school and from the school of life”, as he writes in the preface:

“I was wildly surprised right on the first lines. The man writes as if speaking. The direct language has no fripperies. And what a meaningful testimony! A world of observations and living elements for those who study sociology, social history, style, and especially for those of us interested in mankind, in the interpretation of reality, in the understanding of life. [...] Certain things in life threw him to a nearly miserable condition. He moved to a bumpy ranch next to a cemetery where he took his family's grievances that led him to the condition of extreme poverty, up to the point where he owed his own hair. Lonely and secluded, living under other people’s roof out of charity, he began to think about life, remember his teachers and his father, the good times when he was a boy and a teenager, the different life in his land, so he experienced an overwhelming need to run away from the present and remember the past . That's what he told me in his own words and which I wanted to reproduce.”

After writing a few dozen pages, Luís Gonzaga names the following “A parenthesis” and says:

“This book will now have to address subjects that will interest readers a lot, as they deal with some facts unknown to many. Having to refer to people related to them, I firstly want to inform you all that I descend from black Africans and Indians from the forest of Philadelphia, as told by my parents, and they were my great-grandparents, all slaves and blacks, but since my childhood I’ve never felt a slight inferiority complex. So, without being afraid of offending or flattering anyone, I continue my book knowing that I’m saying the truth and trying to avoid, as much as possible, mentioning the names of the people connected to the facts. I apologize and continue with my book. ”

However, the reason for incorporating the surprising memorial report written by the Afro-Diamantina carpenter into BVR was the tiny picturesque (but relevant for Brazil’s wine history) chapter, reproduced below:

Our long yearned Wine

The city of Diamantina, despite being known as a city with little industry, was once among the best wine producers, with excellent pure grapes. For many years, it was one of the most profitable industries. With the money from that industry, many children from Diamantina were raised and were able to go to school, especially those who studied at our seminary. Dom Joaquim was one of the people that were very interest in our land’s vineyard. The wine of the Palace used to be sought with great interest by faraway people due to its excellent taste and to its careful production. With his famous wine cellar, Dom Joaquim supported part of the priests, several vineyards and although ancient, the manufacture process always contained barrels of wine from any period the customer wished to have. If customers were celebrating a wedding anniversary, then they would order a wine from the time of their wedding for the celebration and to offer to their friends. The same for the graduation of young students: parents looked for the wine of the year when the young man was born, doctors, teachers, etc., so the wine of the Palace became very important on those occasions.

The Seminar and the Missionary Ranch also kept excellent vineyards and produced excellent wines. The wine produced by father Lacoste was very famous.

Father Lacoste, a high missionary priest, was of French nationality and lived for many years in the city of Diamantina. He planted some of the vineyards with extreme affection. He would rather give a glass or bottle of wine than a bunch of grapes. He would even fire a weapon to scare away the grape thieves. He was an exemplary and hardworking priest, a great friend of our land and never forgot his religious activities. Father Gaspar, whom I miss a lot, continued his work. We also had other producers, such as Mr. Sebastião Rabelo, Mr. Ricardo something and Mr. Almeida. At Santa Casa, sisters under the direction of benefactor Mr. Cosme, at Nossa Senhora das Dores School, was also cultivated a huge vineyard and was produced a large quantity of wine, which was carried out by competent professionals such as Mr. Pedro Italiano, Agostinho de Abreu, Misael Santana; the latter also produced his own grape juice, the “garapa de uva”, as it was called. The wine industry had its good times in Diamantina, but I cannot fail to censor, with good reason, our fault for not being persevering people. We are weakened by any new difficulty and so that source of wealth for Diamantina gradually ended up and today there are only few people who still dedicate themselves to such industry. Currently, when it’s harvest season, we can see grape-filled trays on the streets looking for buyers. Many sell the grapes to industries that produce the wine with the sole purpose of selling it and nothing else, therefore bringing to an end our much appreciated wine from Diamantina.

Translation by Mônica H. Reppucci.

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