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All Hail St. Martin

St. Martin as he gives his cloak to a beggar.

On November 11, St. Martin’s Day, ogni mosto diventa vino (every grape must turns into wine). All over winemaking Italy, St. Martin’s Day marks the moment that grape must becomes vino novello, or new, ready-to-drink wine. But since we live in Martina Franca, this particular saint’s day is a much bigger deal than just drinking fizzy new wine.

St. Martin is one of several patron saints here. You’ll see him depicted on horseback on every civic and religious edifice in town, usually with his cloak, which he famously cut in half to give to a beggar when he had nothing else to give. That night, Martin dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half cloak he had given to the beggar, thanking Martin for his great compassion and humility. It’s said that God was so pleased by this selfless gesture that he sent three days of unseasonably warm weather so the beggar (and presumably Martin) wouldn’t feel the cold. Even now, Italians count on a brief spell of Indian summer around November 11th as a direct result of St. Martin’s gift, a phenomenon actually supported by meteorological data.

St. Martin is the patron saint of reformed alcoholics, impoverishment, beggars, equestrians, cuckolds, France, geese, horses, innkeepers, soldiers, tailors, vintners, wine growers and winemakers. Did you notice the inherent contradiction between St. Martin’s protection for reformed alcoholics and winemakers? It’s surely not the first contradiction imbedded in Catholic doctrine, but saints are busy people, apparently capable of multitasking.

All week there has been a palpable air of excitement in anticipation of St. Martin’s Day. The local bishop and parish priests were joined by a cardinal from Rome to lead the religious procession to the Basilica di San Martino and wineries everywhere prepared to open their doors to vino novello-swilling citizens. Fireworks—the noisy kind—herald the importance of the day.

Vino novello from the cantina sociale in Locorotondo

Roasted chestnuts, arrosto misto and (of course) wine are on the menu on St. Martin’s Day. In some parts of Italy, fried snacks and anything involving oil is featured. Chestnuts and fritti are a particularly good idea with all that fizzy vino novello around. And don’t forget: “Chi non gioca a Natale, chi non balla a Carnevale, chi non beve a San Martino, è un amico malandrino!” (“You can’t trust anyone who doesn’t play at Christmas, dance during Carnival or drink on St. Martin’s Day!”).

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