Pressed for details

by Kate C
Publish date
14 June 2011
Comments (1)

How do museum curators learn more about the objects in their collections? Often it’s a lot of detective work and research, but sometimes a lucky encounter can reveal the rich background that underlies the item in question. Recently, this was the case when curator Liza Dale-Hallett wanted to know more about a domestic wine press that was acquired from the Di Benedetto family after thirty years of wine-making in their Thornbury backyard.

The parts of the press were in storage and piecing them together was a puzzle. “I needed to make sense of how to put all that together, so I rang around wine-making suppliers,” explains Liza. When she reached John Mitris of Costante Imports, Liza learned that John’s father-in-law, Giovanni Costante, was an important pioneer in making and importing wine presses in Australia. The two men visited us to help assemble the Di Benedetto wine press and to talk about the tradition and local history of domestic wine making.

John Mitris and Giovanni Costante with the Di Benedetto wine press John Mitris and Giovanni Costante with the Di Benedetto wine press.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria

Giovanni explained that the 1960s Di Benedetto wine press, or torchio, is a traditional design comprising a wooden cylinder around a central shaft that holds a turning mechanism. The cylinder would be filled with grapes and stacked with wooden blocks. By turning the handles, the wooden blocks apply pressure to the grapes and the juice drains through a mesh filter into a wooden bucket.

John and Giovanni demonstrate wine press John and Giovanni show curator Liza Dale-Hallett how the blocks fit into the wine press.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria

Giovanni with wine press filter Giovanni shows Liza how the filter fits to the base of the wine press.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria

John and Giovanni with the long handles fitted to the wine press John and Giovanni with the long handles fitted to the wine press, demonstrating how two people work together to turn the screw.
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria

Giovanni began building presses much like this one in 1957 to supply the Italian migrant community that grew quickly after World War II. With a background in engineering, he salvaged some of his raw materials from unwanted metal from cotton gins and railyards. As his business expanded, the screw mechanism was superseded by a ratchet mechanism which takes up less room and is easier for one person to operate.

The press was used by the Di Benedettos each year and was central to a social event where the whole family would help out to press the year’s grapes. Giovanni explained this tradition is common in Italian families and reflects the importance of good food in Italian culture. “Australia is a sandwich nation. In Italy at 12 o’clock we all sit at the table. Two hours rest, then back to work. I never ate by myself when in the family.”

He ceased manufacturing wine presses about 12 years ago as the market dropped, yet in recent years, the business has witnessed a renewed interest in preserving food at home, thanks in part to the growing foodie culture and influence of European immigrants on the Australian palate. John explained that children of European migrants are also updating the family equipment to make it easier to use, and wanting to learn the techniques to keep the tradition going.


Origins: Italian migration

Costante Imports

Comments (1)

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Vikki Schipper 15 June, 2011 14:56
Might be old fashioned but it works. We use one just the same (with the ratchet mechanism) each year to press our annual Vintage. Cool ! It's Fun !!!
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