Friday, 7 October 2016
The last of the summer grapes have been picked in our area and local barrels are bubbling away. Dionysos, the Greek God of wine and pleasure will be sitting up there in the clouds of Mount Olympos licking his lips and twirling his glass ready for the first taste of this years's vintage. It won't be long. When K made his own wine the first barrel was opened well before Christmas.
Our neighbour Vaso's small vineyard.
80 year old Vaso, her family and a few friends picked the grapes 10 days ago. From this small vineyard where she, by hand, weeds, deleaves, waters and cultivates they extracted 460 litres of white grape juice and around 130 of red. The first test shows that the alcohol level is around 12/13%. 2016 is a good year.
Last year my grandchildren took part in treading the grapes. From what I understood the skins of the grapes are broken up by the treading and this juice collected. The grapes are then put through a wine press to extract the rest of the juice. They did clean their feet in a bucket of water before jumping into the piles of grapes. Why bother? The grapes are covered in bits of straw and leaves and a few dead wasps. Fermentation kills off any nasties.
The older workers left them to it and quenched their thirst with a few jugs of last years wine accompanied by a handful of Vaso's pickled olives and some salted herring.
Here the grapes are pressed in a sort of wooden barrel with slats. The top is screwed down putting pressure on the grapes and the juice flows out through the slats
Out comes the juice into a handy plastic crate.
From here the juice or 'musto', as it is called here, is decanted into plastic barrels which are left open to ferment. That strong yeasty smell is floating through our neighbourhood like a cloud of fragrant smog just now. The juice will ferment for 10 days or more and then the barrels will be closed. In a few weeks time the 'musto' will be drawn off into clean barrels to remove the 'mud' which sits at the bottom and then the barrels are sealed again and left to do their magic. Tasting takes place regularly to see if the wine has cleared and how the flavour is developing. Vaso will be praying for a north wind which helps to clear the wine.
Greeks drink wine daily. Even the government when it implemented the extremely unpopular wine tax admitted that wine was a daily necessity for Greeks, a part of their culture dating from thousands of years BC. A wine press 3,500 years old was found in the palace of Knossos in Crete.
The grapevine gives us its young leaves in the spring to make the delicious dolmathakia (leaves stuffed with rice or meat). We eat the grapes in August and September and dry them to make raisins and sultanas. Next comes the grape harvest which produces the juice. The juice can be made into a sweet called 'moustolevria' or a thick syrup called 'petimezi' which can be used instead of sugar in some recipes. Then comes the wine ( or vinegar )
and from the stems and skins comes 'raki', the strong distilled spirit, around 40% alcohol. It is known here as 'tsipouro' or in
Crete as 'tsikoudia '.
Finally when the vine is pruned the branches are left to dry out and used as an aromatic wood for the BBQ.
The only downside if you have a grapevine trained over your terrace are those darn dry brown leaves which float down and quickly turn into unsightly piles in the corners of your patio.
Musto - wine juice or must to be turned into wine
Krasi - the wine itself
Moustolevria - the sweet and almost sour jelly-like sweet made from the must
Petimezi - a sweet syrup made by boiling down the grape juice
I boiled 3 litres of fresh juice for about 2 hours and was left with a largish jar of syrup. This is full of iron and calcium, provides energy and is given to small children with tummy aches.
Moustokouloura - cake like biscuits made with the petimezi
Raki - tsikoudia - tsipoura
Zivania in Cyprus, orujo in Spain
similar to ouzo, pastis, Italian grappa, absinthe and sambuca
very popular all around the Balkans and Turkey. Very strong!