Grape and wine season

Zakynthian Grape and Wine season

It’s grape season and we are blessed with an impressive harvest this year. 

I’ve been trailing Nick (hubby) across our vineyards learning the ropes. I’ve always had a keen interest in wine making but never got involved-typically only to state at the table, my utter disappointment of a ‘bad’ bottle of wine or my excitement when one of ours has exceeded our expectations and is quite exquisite! 

Coming from South Africa, we are spoilt with excellent choices of wines and highly ranked, being in the top 10 with France, Italy, USA, Germany, Chile, Argentina and New Zealand. 

Unfortunately Greece doesn’t feature anywhere near this. Greece has been notoriously known for its ‘poor’ wines, not full bodied and definitely not refined. People almost feel like they’re drinking an inferior cheap box-wine. Maybe because Greece has a reputation for cheap food as well as cheap ‘Retsina’! Another problem is that their varieties and regions are so hard to pronounce and let alone learn, therefore no one pays any attention to them for example the flamboyant , preeminent red variety ‘Agiorgitiko’ or dazzling light ‘Goustoulidi’ or ‘Assyrtiko’. You see you probably have never even heard these wines before. But lately this opinion is starting to change, winemakers are starting to shine and their products are being slowly imported. Wines produced have a much wider spectrum of aromas, are full bodied, have depth and more importantly are much more palatable. They are reaching out to be noticed and in turn receive accolade for their achievements. 

Techniques are improving and people are moving away from traditional methods that were taught to them by their fathers and their fathers. So it’s Positive start. Another way to get Greek wine to be noticed like famous French wines and the likes, is to have more wine bars and high profile restaurants serving these great wines, so as to reset people’s idea of local Greek fare being ‘cheap’! One only needs to read the wine menus of these high profile restaurants in New York, Sydney, Paris etc to see what’s prevailing and in style. Hopefully one day Greek wine could earn a spot on those upmarket and fine dining restaurant menus. What I did read and pleased me was that London has started a Greek wine festival which offers a chance for Greek wine varieties to be noticed and enjoyed. Even one of santorini’s varieties are now featured in one of londons top restaurants called The Ivy where a Assyrtiko goes for 43£ a bottle. A lot of other types deserve that chance to be in the spot light.  

Assyrtiko white wine

Assyrtiko label

 

Expectantly more and more of these Greek Wine Festivals over time, will prove Greek wine is no ‘plonk’ wine!

 I wanted to learn more about the techniques my husband uses and how things evolve to create a fine wine incase one day I need to continue his great work. 

There is a lot involved in owning vineyards. Preparing your vines to yield their best is not an easy task, fertilising and pesticides need to be done regularly and then it’s the time and patience as one waits for the right time to pick. Summer days bore on, no rain but just the heat during the day and high humidity levels at night somehow maintain their needs. Whilst we wait for the rise in the sugar levels which raise the alcohol concentration in the juice of the grape, we need to constantly monitor and measure these levels. This is measured with an small hand instrament called an alcohol/wine refractometer. This little thing gives the wine producer an indication when it’s the best time to process the grapes and start harvesting. Nick picked grapes off random vines and he popped them onto the glass plate so the juice could be tested, he then closed the flap and held the instrument toward the light to read the results. 

Grape and refractometer

Grape and wine/alcohol refractometer

Grape juice and refractometer

Grape juice into the refractometer

Alcohol refractometer readings

Alcohol refractometer readings

Nick holding the refractometer toward the light for a reading

Nick holding the refractometer toward the light for a reading

 

Ideally the alcohol level should be around 12/13 for whites and rosés, and around 13/14 for the red varieties. Once he went around all the vines and collected a bag full of samples to give the oenologist for testing this would give an estimation of what the alcohol levels of that crop was. Results could come back saying it needed more time or it was ready to be picked. After a few days the results read that those particular vines needed a week more and needed to be checked after 5 days to be on the safe side.

After five days passed he tested them again and they were ready for picking. Nick got his team round up and they started quite early in the morning. It’s far too hot to be out in the summer sun at midday so they need to get it done early in the morning when temperatures are not too high. They collect grapes by cutting them off the vines and then placing them in plastic crates. Once the vineyard is cleared and crates all stacked on the trailer it gets stored and put aside for the evening’s wine pressing. 

Red grapes picked and ready for pressing

Red grapes picked and ready for pressing


We are at the restaurant at 5 pm for the evening and we usually finish around 1-ish or even later in peak season. So once Nick comes home he has everyone back at the farm to start pressing. There’s a lot of crates tonight, it’s going to be a long night. There’s a machine where by all grapes are thrown in and get turned around and around disconnecting it from the stalks and then it gets squashed, the juice goes into a pipe which that goes into a huge plastic container. 
Traditional wine pressing machine

Traditional wine pressing machine

Wine de-stemmer and crusher

Wine de-stemmer and crusher


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That then goes into huge vats to start fermenting. Yeast and enzymes are added to the juice. You are probably asking why yeast- it was one of my questions! Well it’s simple it accelerates the fermenting process if needed or yields great fermentation results that wouldn’t happen with no added yeast. Enzymes can be used to enhance the colour and aromas. The vat is temperature regulated and set at an exact temperature. In this case the temperature for the red wine was 28 degrees centigrade and for the rose 15 degrees and lastly for the white also 14/15 degrees. Fermentation lasts for 14 days for this particular white and rose and 10 days for the red variety. But again it all depends on the varieties and the winemaker. The wine is tested/analysed after the fermentation period has ended. 

Mixing a yeast and enzyme solution

Mixing a yeast and enzyme solution

Nick mixing the yeast/enzyme solution

Nick mixing the yeast/enzyme solution


Now we wait….

For the next couple of weeks I see Nick cleaning out the residue. He empties the wine into big containers and rinses out the vats. It’s imperative that all that bottom waste is removed. 

White wine

White wine

 
Nick cleaning out the vat

Nick cleaning out the vat


The wine is nearly ready… 

It’s been a great experience watching and learning about something that has been around since the beginning of time. First winery found in Armenia in 4000 bc and then Gods of Olympus drank their wine around c. 1600 bc and worshiped Dionysus-the god of wine who represented the power of wine and its social and beneficial influences. According to Thucydides an ancient historian, the Mediterranean people began to emerge out of barbarism because of they learnt how to cultivate the olive and vine. So I hold this glass up to you Dionysus! Yamas!