Grape harvest on the little house above Lefkes

Text and photos: Danae Tal

The vineyard and the care it needs are fraught with myth. But there’s just one story: thousands of years ago man discovered Dionysus’ gift, the vine, and gradually learnt how to look after it, the ultimate aim being participation and bliss. This knowledge has been handed down from one generation to another, despite the progress and comforts technology has brought.

To make good wine
you need old time knowledge. You need to respect the variety you choose to plant, know its secrets and remain dedicated to its care.

Reading the myths connected to the vine, I came across one by Pausanias and decided to share it with you. In his volume on Corinth he tells the story of the Argeans, who, during the festivities for Hera, let their donkeys loose and they, literally pruned all the vines by eating their stems.

The Argeans didn’t believe their eyes on seeing the barren plants. When time came for harvest, again they didn’t believe their eyes. The donkeys had done the right thing, “pruning in the green”, which means just after the vine has started growing new stems. In winter it’s pruning “in the dry”. The donkeys’ pruning gave the vines the strength to produce better fruit and thanks to them, farmers learnt the secrets of good wine.

Anyway, green or dry pruning, digging, sulphur spraying, trimming, the vineyard is a very demanding plantation. But it all ends with the grape HARVEST! The harvest is the happy ending of all this long and tiresome course the vine grower has gone through. That’s why he invites his friends to gather the grapes together, to press them in the press hearing the flowing sound of must as it comes out of the tap, later to go into the barrels where it will turn into our superb wine.

The harvest month is not always the same. Every variety has its own ripening time. I was really lucky because I had the opportunity to experience the Parian version of it in a most authentic environment: Vasilis Panteleos’ vineyard behind Lefkes, at an altitude of 500 metres. I often felt as if I had been placed high up in the skies, so high up was the place. We were the lucky ones amongst Vasilis’ friends, the sweet-voiced harvester, who welcomed us with songs and verses, like a real follower of Dionysus, and at the same time a real connoisseur of harvest techniques.

People came and went while the improvised table in the centre was blessed with all good. There was laughter and joy and songs and hymns and bells ringing. Yes, bells. A bunch of sheep bells sounded every time the spirits were up, as someone always shook the bunch so that the spirit would be heard in the Cycladic horizon.

Simple things, tomatoes hanging inside baskets, the little house with no electricity, abundant cool wine and a clay pot on the fire giving off all its aromas. We had excellent Lefkian garlic paste, home made by Andriani, our hostess, “karavoloi” (snails), potatoes and olives and tomatoes cut up like a rose. We also had the Parian salad, so rich in ingredients, and absolutely delicious. Meats were freshly grilled on the charcoal fire and the clay pot revealed a rabbit cooked in wine and carrot sauce.

If you think that I had a drink too many and just imagined all that, here are the photos to prove what it’s like when the “then” and the “now” communicate human knowledge and give joy and hope for tomorrow. Because grape harvest is not just about gathering the grapes, it’s also a feast for life and its joyful moments. Despite forgetting all the verses Vasilis sang, the feast and its abundance have nested in my heart. An abundance so simple that soothes the heart and pleases the soul. Exactly as wine does.

If you want to experience the grape harvest, don’t hesitate to contact local wine growers and wineries of Paros. You only need a bit of luck to be here in the harvest month!