Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wine Making and Olive Cracking

A week slipped by here at Dimitris Farms faster than I could have anticipated, probably faster than any other WWOOFing site I’ve been at. We work six hours a day, either in the morning or the evening, spending the rest relaxing by the ocean, or walking two kilometers over the steep hill to town for a treat at the bakery. It’s hot: we work slowly and determinedly, waking early and moving to the porch to rest and drink tea during the hottest hours at midday.

Sun drying the figs.
We are in the middle of the fig harvest and after we feed and water the animals we spend our mornings on all three nearby properties, tugging each soft fruit gently from the stiff, hard branches. We have long bamboo hooks to pull higher fruits down to us, but I like to climb for the ripe figs when I can. I feel like a little girl again: always day dreaming about other worlds and lives, but here I actually am in a total different world, able to live out a totally different life.

From the ground and the highest branches we pluck the already sun-dried, browned and withering figs, which we cut opened and lay out in the sun to fully dry for two weeks, then roast in the oven with sesame.

Nothing is growing as well as it should this summer - a common complaint I’ve heard from nearly every farmer I know around the world. On Lipsi this spring there was a late, heavy rain and the next morning the weather turned brutally hot. This abnormal weather caused a mildew to spread throughout the grapes too quickly to be stopped by organic methods and the fig trees to lose much of their top leaves. Only a small barrel of wine is fermenting now, the rest in the wine room lying empty until the smaller batch of late harvest grapes come in. I’m told by people who were here last summer that crates and crates of figs used to come off the trees each day, and this year we’ve lucky to get 2 and a half.

When I arrived, Kostas and the other WWOOFers had just completed the stomping and barreling of what grapes had been harvested. On my first afternoon, he pulled the dried thyme plugging the hole at the top of the barrel so that I could hear the frantic fizz of fermentation within.

The grapes, ready to be stomped
But I got lucky: Kostas decided we should try an “experiment” with a batch of green grapes he received from a neighbor this week, so I was able to help with the making of one batch, hopefully we’ll get around 100 bottles. It’s certainly not the traditional way he makes wine here, or a method I’ve ever heard of before, but it looks more and more like I’ll be staying in Europe longer and coming back to the farm in February and March in order to learn to prune and plant the vines. In this case, I’ll get to taste a bottle of this wine, which Kostas will cork in 40 days and I’ll report back about the quality of the experiment.

Catie and I ready to stomp for a few hours
After Catie had spent an afternoon pulling stems from the grapes, she and I put them into buckets and began stomping. With a normal crop of grapes, the floor of an entire room of Kostas’ wine house is covered in the fruit and a whole group of people stomp together for an afternoon. It only took Catie and I a few hours to stomp out most of the juice from the few buckets we had. We left a layer of the skin and pulp on top of the juice and waited to see if fermentation would start overnight.

Luckily it did, and for two days the juice fermented in the buckets which we stirred every few hours. On Saturday, Genevieve and I began to filter the juice from the pulp into glass jars, setting aside the pulp and skins. To get every last drop of the grape juice out of the pulp which was still swimming in unbottled liquid, Kostas thought the easiest way – rather than another round of stomping – would be to hand-squeeze the pulp.

So for another hour and a half, we picked up lumps of skins, seeds and other grape innards and squeezed then in our fists like angry children, dropping dry remains into a bucket to be mixed with the aging vinegar later.

Normally, there is a grape press for this stage, but there were so few grapes Kostas said the cleanup would take just as long as we spent squeezing, filtering, squeezing and filtering.

The pulp, still with some juice, and the bottles
we filled with fermenting wine.
The juice in the bottles looks like fresh cider, not clean and clear wine. All of the thickness should fall to the bottom of the bottle and will be filtered out in 40 days at the bottling stage. The pulp will go aside and be dropping into the vinegar barrel. For now the four huge bottles of liquid will rest and ferment, simmering gently as the sugars dance the juice into alcohol.

I’ve learned a lot on the farm: how to make stuffed grape leaves, cheese straight from the goat’s teat, the details of organic wine cultivation and the basics of the Orthodox religion. There are too many processes and stories to tell, but I’ve been photographing nearly everything, so enjoy these details.

I also spent an afternoon hand-cracking olives between two rocks, then wandering to the ocean to collect sea water for them to soak in under the hot sun for a few weeks, softening and ripening. The olive oil pressing will happen later in the year, so I don’t get to help with this, but as we squeeze the juice from the grapes, we boiled the last of the alcohol from 15 year old vinegar, which we will bottle later in the week. 

The cheese we made on the stove from goats milk.
Jenny, Geniveve and I making the stuffed grape leaves
The stuffed grape leaves
Cracking the olives before they get laid out in the sun

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