The Service Station Vintage

Me: Where do the grapes come from?

Mum: The service station.

My parents were wine-making Italians but not the squish it between your toes in a concrete bathtub types.  We left that level of authenticity to our inner city cousins. We had a machine to do the squishing.  A wooden contraption ringed with iron bands that looked like a medieval instrument of torture. When I was a teenage girl of Italian heritage, Sunday mornings in late summer were spent under the carport squashing grapes. Actually I was never allowed anywhere near the grapes or the torture machine. My job was to wash the empty beer bottles that had been collected over the year from friends, family, and anywhere else that you can imagine empty beer bottles might be found. My family were early pioneers of recycling.

And so, a few years later, on a  late summer weekend visit to my parents house, I find them in the middle of the wine-making that’s prompted my question. Although the bottles had already been washed they gave me the job of filling them with the juice coming out of the torture machine.  I used a length of plastic hose, a funnel, and my mouth. As each bottle fills, you have to stop the flow of wine coming out of the hose with your thumb and sometimes if the wine recedes, to restart the flow you have to suck it back out.

Me: This doesn’t taste too bad.

Dad: That is just the juice. But these are very good grapes. Shiraz. They are the best grapes. It will be a good wine this year.

Me: Where do the grapes come from?

Mum: The service station.

Me: I meant. You know. Where? South Australia? Riverina? Hunter Valley?

Mum: They come from the service station. Why do you need to know more than that? They are good grapes.

So what was with the mystery? Why the secrecy? Was this service station, as well as selling petrol, growing grapes between the car wash and the ice fridge? Or where they contracting truckloads of contraband fruit from criminal elements across dangerous borders? Whitlam legalised home brew but was making wine at home still illegal? I imagined my parents, and every other Italian in Sydney, clandestinely making their way to this service station in the pre-dawn light to collect their 50 or so Styrofoam boxes filled with Shiraz grapes. I had no trouble envisaging this. If you’ve ever actually tasted home made wine you’ll know that it tastes like it’s come from a service station.

So imagine my surprise when I opened the newspaper recently, and there on page two, was a story about backyard winemakers. Apparently, at this time of year, they flock to Flemington Markets to buy boxes of grapes with which to make their wine. Although the article talked about the 500 tonnes of wine grapes that were sold last year, the equivalent of about half a million bottles of wine, there was no mention of the mysterious service station. But as I read on, one of the grape sellers let an important piece of information slip.  For the last 30 years he’s been making the trip in his semi-trailer from his vineyard in South Australia to sell his Shiraz grapes at Flemington Markets in Sydney.

Could this be my answer? It was the Shiraz grapes that gave it away.

A semi trailer coming to the end of a sixteen hour trip from the Barossa Valley is making its way up the Hume Highway. The sun has just risen over the Cumberland Plain, the driver is weary from the long drive and the semi needs its tanks filled. On the outskirts of Liverpool he pulls into a service station. In the time that it takes to fill up one of these road beasts the word is out and all the wine-making Italians in the area arrive, they no doubt drive a hard bargain, and the semi trailer leaves the service station several tonnes lighter. The Italians arrive home, haul their teenage daughters out of bed, and begin squishing their Shiraz grapes before their inner city cousins have even had a chance to blow the froth off their cappuccinos.

About sagesomethymes

Daniela is a writer, theatre producer and civic educator. She has had short stories and poetry published in: 'Prayers of a Secular World', Inkerman & Blunt; 'Blue Crow Magazine', Blue Crow Press; 'Knitting and other stories', Margaret River Press and Radio National’s '360 documentaries'. Her debut play, 'Talc', was produced in 2010. Her short play, 'Sicilian Biscotti', was produced for the launch of “Women Power and Culture” at New Theatre in 2011 and shortlisted for the Lane Cove Literary Award in 2015. Her second full length play, 'Friday', was produced by SITCO at the Old Fitzroy Theatre in 2013. 'The Poor Kitchen' was produced in 2016 as part of the Old 505 Theatre’s Fresh Works Season and was published by the Australian Script Centre in 2017 ( It was re-staged by Patina Productions at Limelight on Oxford in 2019. She co-wrote 'Shut Up And Drive' with Paul Gilchrist and it was produced at KXT in 2016. 'Seed Bomb' was produced at Old 505 Theatre as part of the FreshWorks Season in 2019 and has been published by the Australian Script Centre ( She co-wrote 'Softly Surely' with Paul Gilchrist and it was produced at Flight Path Theatre in 2022. She is the co-founder of indie theatre company subtlenuance ( Her published short stories can be read via the Short Stories tab on this blog.
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4 Responses to The Service Station Vintage

  1. Gina says:

    That is precisely what Zia M would say!

  2. Silvana says:

    Ah the memories! I had forgotten but you just brought it all back. Lovely piece. Keep them coming.

  3. Carol Richardson says:

    Loved it!

    Kind regards Carol Richardson 0407755567 Sent from my iPad


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