If you visit Crete in September, the white, red, and pink juicy grapes will definitely grab your attention and maybe you would like to learn more about the local viticulture or be there at the harvest and read the grapes yourself.
Crete has been producing wine for thousands of years, some of the oldest vineyards in the world, and the history of wine in Crete goes back even further than the Homeric epics.
The Minoans already cultivated their land, produced and traded in olive oil, grain, and wine. The vine looks back on around 4000 years of cultivation in Crete, so it is no wonder that the oldest wine press (3500 years old) was found in the Vathipetro region.
There are many types of grapes that have different colors and unique tastes. The most important native varieties in Crete are Kotsifali, Liatiko, and Mandilari.
Kotsifali is red and has a fixed alcohol content, Liatiko is a very old grape variety with a unique taste - a mix of dry and sweet. The next is known as the "King of the Local Grapes" - Mandilari, which is very dark in color and has good acidity.
A great experience - from the grape harvest to the pressing of the grapes to the finished wine, we learned everything and of course, also tasted the fresh wine harvested some weeks ago.
Harvest time is from mid-August to the beginning of October and if you come to Crete at the right time of year, you can experience the grape harvest yourself. We joined the local winemakers Antonis and Kostas from Magarikari for one day and drove with them to the vineyards on Psiloritis.
With off-road vehicles, we climbed up to the mountains above Magarikari, where the family's vineyards are located. After a short briefing, we cut the ripe grapes with sharp knives and placed them in the prepared baskets, each one in a row so that one does not get in each other's way.
The baskets filled with grapes are brought to the "Farmer House", where the wine press is located. There the grapes are crushed with the bare (clean) feet and the grape juice, called "must", is poured into large wooden or metal barrels, in which it ferments for a while until it turns into the delicious wine almost all Cretan families drink with meals.
But not only wine is made from the juice of the grape. Sweet dishes are made from part of the must: grape jelly, grape jelly sausages, etc. Furthermore, an excellent vinegar is made from the wine, which is used in cooking. Fresh grape leaves filled with a mixture of apples, raisins, and sugar or with rice are particularly tasty!
The press residue, called “pomace”, is used as the starting material for making brandy. It is also part of the happy time of the grape harvest. In October or November, the raki is "distilled" in a festive atmosphere.
The hard work during a whole year culminates in these festive occasions because the pruning of the vines had already started in January. Older wombs had been cut off so that the new ones, which then bore more fruit, could grow better. Then they hacked and weeded well into March, the month when the vines begin to bloom.
Later, when the fruit set, the tips of the fruit-bearing shoots were cut off to prevent the juice of the vine from being unnecessarily consumed; this gives you a higher yield. The vintner had also watered, fertilized, sulphurised, sprayed, and tied up.
The vine is exposed to many dangers, for example, frosts at the time of flowering. It is also attacked by various diseases, as well as by pests such as grasshoppers and wasps. That is why the winemaker must constantly monitor his vines!