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The vintage – a traditional time of toil and feasting

Until just a few years ago, the grape harvest in Greece took place amid scenes that differed little from those of antiquity. Gardens where fruit and vines grew still resembled Homer’s description of the garden of Alcinoos on Phacaea in the Odyssey. In the following extract from Longus’s Bucolics, nothing indicates the era to which the estate in the passage belongs: And the estate was a huge orchard on a high slope full of trees: apple, wild pear, pomegranate and olive trees. Beyond them were tall vines, spread out above the apple and wild pear trees, where their grapes were starting to ripen. And there were cypresses, bay, plane and pine trees. Above all this was ivy instead of vines, and its berries were big and black like grapes. Within were the fruit trees, as if they were guarding them, and outside, all around, were the non-fruit-bearing trees, like a fence made by the human hand, but these were also encircled by a dry stone fence. There were alleys with flowers, some of which grew wild and others which were artfully cultivated. And this place was shady in summer, had flowers in spring and fruit in autumn and a special charm in every season. The buildings The above scene is timeless, but eventually, what does reveal the era it depicts are the buildings. And right in the middle was a temple and altar to Dionysus. There was ivy around the altar and vines around the temple. Inside the temple were paintings of the life of Dionysus: Semele giving birth, Ariadne asleep, Lycurgus in chains, Pentheus torn to pieces as well as conquered Indians and Tyrrhenians of strange mien. Everywhere Satyrs trampled grapes and Maenads sang. They had not forgotten Pan. He sat on a rock playing the flute and seemed to be playing the same tune for the Satyrs’ stomping and the Maenads’ dancing. Unique description The lively description continues: It was the beginning of autumn, the harvest was in full swing with everyone working in the fields – fixing wine presses, cleaning jars, weaving wicker baskets, fixing a pruning knife to harvest the grapes, asking for stones to rub the grapes, or cutting and peeling dry osiers to use as brands for light, as he carried the must by night. The heroes, Daphnis the goat herd and Chloe the shepherdess, left their sheep and goats and gave the others a helping hand. He took grapes to the panniers, put them in the wine press and trampled them and poured the wine into the jars. She made food for the harvesters, offered them old wine and picked the lower vines. The harvest And as they always do on the feast of Dionysus and winemaking, the women came to help from neighboring farms. They eyed Daphnis greedily, explaining that he was as beautiful as Dionysus. One of them, more daring than the others, gave Daphnis a kiss, which inflamed him and upset Chloe. And the men trampling grapes shouted out all kinds of things to Chloe and they jumped more madly than the Satyrs did for the Maenads and called on the gods to make them into sheep so they could have her as their shepherdess. In the garden with the temple of Dionysus were the vines that were watered together with the trees. The water caused them to grow tall enough to climb up into the fruit trees. (Vines in gardens were mainly for edible grapes, not wine grapes). But in the fields, where the vines received only rainwater, the plants were pruned so low that their boughs dragged on the ground. In his book Voyage d’un Botaniste (La Découverte, Paris, 1982), Pitton de Tournefort describes low vines, like those described by Longus, spread on the ground in 17th-century Naxos, and I have seen similar vines in Paros. For 18 centuries, vines on the Aegean islands were pruned the same way, because their low height enabled them to withstand the summer heat and their boughs would not snap in the strong seasonal meltemi winds in which no prop can support a vine. No other ancient text depicts in such detail the difference between watered and dry viticulture. As I have commented before, the vines portrayed on Attic vases are purely a decorative element, and do not indicate the true shape of vines in dry, hot areas such as Attica. The changes due to Russian influence were observable in all Greek communities, both within the Ottoman Empire and the Greek diaspora; the participation of Greeks in the Russo-Turkish wars increased, their services to the Russian State and its war machine were extended, important privileges which facilitated commercial activities and shipping were granted, while decrees protected Greek communities and allowed them to grow in economic and social power.