The last week of my stay in Crete was dedicated to the grape harvest. It had rained for a few days and although this was considered good for olives, excessive water at the end of August is never great for grapes. They tend to grow soft and rot easily. But the morning of Wednesday the sun shone brightly so I donned my cap, caught the bus to Thrapsanou, Kastelli and ended up befriending the entire bus of 10 people, who all wished me luck on my day of hard work! Have I ever mentioned how friendly Cretans can be…?
I was invited by Kostas to help him pick grapes as the season for the grape harvest had begun. He would use these grapes to make wine for his personal use. He had two small (ish) patches of land with grape vines and after picking me up from infront of the church, we arrived at several lines of grape vines waiting to be picked. I was handed something that looked like pliers and after draping a scarf around my head to protect myself from the mid day sun, I started clipping the bunch of grapes at the base of their stem. My hands got sticky and I could not even flick the wisp of hair that kept getting into my eyes but at least there was a pleasant breeze to make the job easier!
I slaved… well not really, (it was literally like snipping off herbs or vegetables from your kitchen garden) for about 2 hours and then we took a lunch break and were back at it from 5-7pm. the entire process involves snipping the grapes and piling them up in the plastic crates then shifting those to the open back truck. Those are basically the hard parts of a grape harvest…
Crete has several varieties of grapes. http://www.destinationcrete.gr/en/to-krasi/wine-grapes-of-crete These are: the Kotsiali, Liatiko, Mantilari, (all used for red red) Vidiano, Vilana, Dafni, Thrapsatheri, Malvazia and Plito. There are some other types which are international varieties and Kosta grew Villana and an international one called Moscato.
The grapes were unfortunately plagued by an aphid (we can also just, simply call it an insect!) called Phylloxera that resided in the soil and destroyed the roots of the grape vine and this epidemic has been the cause of loss of many a grape harvest, for a long time now. However, a simple grafting with a resistant American species has lead to growing a healthy stock of grapes. However, Cretan grape vines had a longevity of about 50 years but eversince the grafting with American varieties, the life span has come down to about 20 years. The Phylloxera has been a super adaptable insect and this, however is the only way to curb it.
Crete now primarily grows olives and grapes, which was also as a result of funds provided by the European Union, to cultivate these two products, which lead to huge tracts of land where other crops grew, converted into olive groves and grape vine patches.
Also, as it rained very little that year, we saw alot of grapes which had been eaten by the bees. The poor things could not find enough flowers in bloom, to collect their sugar, to make honey from!
After the grape harvest the grapes were finally transported to Kostas’s garden where he has built a sort of trough to store the grapes in then squish them with lots of synchronised foot work and a serious amount of pounding!
I leave you with a quote from Paracelsus: “anyone who thinks that all fruits ripen at the same time as Strawberries, knows nothing of grapes.”
p.s. by the way Kosta’s AMAZING house with 3 bedrooms and a view to die for are available on Air bnb…