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Traditional wine made from sun-dried grapes

A recent article described how grapes are dried in the sun to make highly concentrated must and very sweet wine. Must naturally turns into wine, and there are some references in old books to the role of the winemaker in this process. Let’s start with some evidence from the preindustrial days of the early 20th century, before looking at the few, but eloquent, accounts from earlier times. Clarifying the must The following extract is from a popular winemaking manual from the early 20th century. «When you have put the must into the barrels, within a few hours noisy fermentation begins, a brisk bubbling that brings all the dirt to the top of the barrel in a kind of froth. This clarifies the must. If the barrel is not full and the froth does not spill over the top, then the dirt falls to the bottom with the must sediment.» So there were two clarification methods. Either the barrel was filled to the brim so that the must overflowed as it fermented, taking the dirt with it, or the barrel wasn’t completely filled and the must didn’t overflow. The dirt settled with the sediment, saving wine spillage and additional cleaning of the barrels and storage area. What is this dirt referred to in the extract? The must usually contains various substances from the grapes that did not dissolve easily, bits of pulp and skin, as well as foreign bodies – soil, grass and pesticide residues. When fermentation begins, carbon dioxide is emitted, and as it rises toward the surface, it brings all the suspended particles of dirt to the surface of the must. Most of the yeast cells are also concentrated on the surface of the must, where they find ample oxygen and multiply and quickly consume the sugar, releasing a large amount of gas. This gives the impression that the must has formed a froth. If the barrel is full, this froth naturally overflows and the must expels the dirt. The gas that is emitted has another important part to play. As long as vigorous fermentation continues and the gas is emitted in abundance, it protects the surface of the must from the effect of the oxygen in the air by preventing the growth of acid bacteria which make the wine taste vinegary. But when the vigorous phase is over, the manuals instruct that the barrel must be filled and closed with a stopper as soon as it stops «rumbling.» Because it will «rumble» as long as the gas is being emitted, which is as long as the must continues to ferment. This was the process that was used once barrels came into general use for fermenting wine. But what method was employed in the days when clay jars with large openings were used? Abbot Giovanni Mariti described what happened on 18th-century Cyprus in his book «Voyage dans l’isle de Chypre» (Paris, 1791). Cypriot methods «On Cyprus,» wrote Mariti, «the must that comes from sun-dried grapes is very sweet and thick. They put it in clay jars in the cellar. They leave it to bubble for 40 days in jars that are never filled to the brim. So when the must foams, it does not overflow. During this period, they carefully clarify the must, removing the froth that rises to the mouth of the jar every now and then. «And they do this with great care so as not to touch the liquid, for fear of interfering with the process of fermentation. Others use a different method: They seal the mouth, leaving just a small aperture so that air cannot enter during fermentation. On this island this method is thought to be the better one.» With the first method, as the Cypriots systematically removed the froth they also removed not only the visible dirt but also the invisible cells of yeast and bacteria. This stopped the must from bubbling – which hastened the end of fermentation and made a sweeter wine, and it removed the harmful bacteria cells that gather on the surface and turn the wine to vinegar. With the second method, by hindering the effect of the air from the beginning, they inhibited the growth both of yeasts – so that fermentation quickly ceased – and of bacteria. The techniques of Vithynia Were these methods the result of the Cypriots’ experience, or were they more deeply rooted and widely applied? The answer is given by Diophanes in the Byzantine work «Geoponika.» Diophanes advises that the jars should be neither completely full nor too empty: «Take into consideration how much the must will expand when it starts fermenting, so that it does not overflow and the foam reaches the brim, only expelling the dirt. Then clarify the must for five days and remove the foam from the jar handles and troughs. And remove anything unwanted or dirty from the jar and throw it far away, because if it is left in the vicinity it will spoil, attracting insects and causing a smell, both of which spoil the wine.» Diophanes was an agronomist from Nikaia, Vithynia, who lived in the first century AD. So the method used in Cyprus to make sweet Commandaria wine was known in Vithynia 18 centuries ago. The treatment of grapes used to make Commandaria on Cyprus – the grapes were «scorched» on the vines by removing the leaves and breaking the stems – was also a technique for making sweet wine which was used by the vine growers of Vithynia, according to Didymus in «Geoponika.» A famous grammarian of the Alexandrian school, Didymus describes how they made sweet wine in Vithynia from the must of scorched, sun-dried grapes: «Then put the must in the jars, leaving them unsealed for three days (which is how long vigorous fermentation lasts) then put on the lids, but without completely sealing the mouths of the jars. To achieve this, use wooden staves or reeds between the lids and the tops of the jars. Five days later, you must close the lids completely, lining them with ash dissolved in water, leaving small apertures. On the seventh day, you must seal these apertures.» The techniques used to make sweet Commandaria wine in 18th-century Cyprus were those known long before in Vithynia, which was a major winemaking center in Byzantine times. These techniques were in widespread use, so I cannot believe they were unknown to those who made Monemvasia-Malvasia wine. Even popular winemaking manuals of the early 20th century use the terms found in «Geoponika.» Athens is avoiding this minefield, while making noble efforts to keep the tension down and keep bilateral rapprochement intact. But in order to achieve this, it has to keep playing down and dodging Turkish provocation including sometimes yielding on matters of national interest. A recent example is the government spokesman’s announcement virtually conceding that the Simitis government has accepted the Turkish NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) on the control of civilian aircraft flying to Rhodes and Nicosia. Athens is avoiding this minefield, while making noble efforts to keep the tension down and keep bilateral rapprochement intact. But in order to achieve this, it has to keep playing down and dodging Turkish provocation including sometimes yielding on matters of national interest. A recent example is the government spokesman’s announcement virtually conceding that the Simitis government has accepted the Turkish NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) on the control of civilian aircraft flying to Rhodes and Nicosia.