Samos Muscat Wine Harvest report
August 2019 (finally written up from notes March 2020) ahem.
Well, I arrived here on the Greek island Samos a couple of days ago, picked up my hire car from Dimitri’s ‘rent a wreck’ and then, straight to the vineyard harvesting hook in hand? Er no, ‘et in Arcadia ego’…….
There is the small matter of last year’s harvest still being in barrel.
It’s at Vakakis Winery and it tastes great!
But…. when to bottle; (it’s too late to get it out of barrel in time for this year’s batch); how to get the label to Greece and approved in time, (all possible, just) and how to tie down transport to make sure it gets into the UK before Brexit day.
Then oh, great glorious bggeration, we need to make a few amends to the label. – The geeks who worked on my laptop a couple of years ago (helpfully and without being asked) upgraded the O.S., so Adobe CS Suite doesn’t work on it anymore. Worm brains! It’s only on my old 10 ton Mac in England. The amends are too much to explain to the printer back home, so I’ll have to do it all here…… somehow.
I ask Nico Vakakis the winemaker, who to use. (I don’t want to bother him cos its harvest and famously winemakers exist on about 2 hours sleep a night for the entire vintage). However, he gives me a lead, I ask them about it, they say email them, I email them from a cafe 100 yards from their office in Karlovasi, and there’s no response; maybe they’ve gone to Mykonos on holiday or more likely can’t be arsed to do any work….. yes, it is hot.
Speak to Lynette about this, who is in England. She has a great idea, why not see if the Adobe new version software, (nearly 500 quid a year) has a free trial or offer – YES IT DOES!!! Triumphantly, I head to a taverna for octopus and ouzo and broadband…. What could go wrong now?
The ‘Non Harvest Report’ starts…
The octopus didn’t turn up, I think they had to go and buy a frozen one from the supermarket and defrost it…
Sitting outside the Taverna, oh bliss, I try to deal with Adobe on line…… going round and round in circles but then I find a number and ring it and wait and wait….. “Oh Adobe, wonderful company, how is will this subscription service bloatware be better than the neat In Design DTP that people used actually to own?”
TWO and A HALF HOURS LATER…..
Moi: “Robot. Let me to speak a human!”
3 ‘specialists’ later, I am becoming ragged and the broadband bandwidth in the taverna is very narrow.
Moi: “I’ve already paid and gone through that hoop, twice…… (I hiss). I’m just trying to confirm my account…… my guess is that the system has recognised that the credit card is UK based and I am in Greece and therefore it thinks I am a terrorist money launderer.”
Specialist: “The Adobe Acrobat you ordered is now live for you to use”
Me: “Well if I have that’s news to me…. I’m ordering In Design. I never asked for Acrobat. I asked for In Design”. (AAAARRRRRG!) “I’m trying to try out this new version when I’m on holiday (sic) on a very small project. So far, I am seriously not impressed and have wasted most of an afternoon on something that should have taken a few minutes”.
Specialist: “Let me transfer you to a specialist”… zzzzzzzzzzz – line goes dead.
me: Aaaarrrrrg. Yes, very, very quietly this time, for I am truly losing the will to live.
Yes indeed, this IS a harvest report!
I try again, this time I get through to a useful young lady in India…. She can ring me back in 2 hours.
ME: “YES THAT’S FANTASTIC!”
I believe her. Yes because I want to get in the sea. The sea! The sea! To Thalassa! To Thalassa! I’ve been in Samos for a day and a half and haven’t been in the sea yet!
So, drive like a maniac to the other side of the island. (You must understand that Samos is a Mountain Island with roads resembling Swiss passes before they had motorways). So up, then down the other side of the pass, ring the Co-op to order a new oak barrel, dive in the sea, quick swim and retire to MIKE’S PIZZA CAVE, who have the best internet in the fishing village of Ormos.
YES BINGO! – Someone has done something and In Design downloads…
So now only to redesign the label, get it approved and printed, bla, bla, bla, swim, eat, ouzo, CUT SOME GRAPES!
Samos non-harvest report (Part 2)
26 August 2019
It’s been HOT; HOT even for a Greek August. There’s been a hot wind too, which is unusual. Last night there was a fabulous sunset and I thought, is that smoke? No-one said anything about it.
But yes, there were serious forest fires here in Samos, you might have seen them on BBC News. Hundreds of acres of forest went up in flames and the wall of fire threatened the main tourist resort, Pythagorion.
However, that’s the other end of the island and here it seemed that no-one knew or particularly cared…. I drove the length of the island on the north coast (hunting for a barrel!!) and saw no sign of any dislocation. I only discovered because Manoli, who I’m harvesting with, supposedly tomorrow, has disappeared. He’s involved in the Island Administration and has, I learn, been up all night coordinating the evacuation.
After that, gosh, well back to wine matters: on the island most of the harvest is in, just some of the highest vineyards, a little bit of red and the last of the Liastos (Passito sweet) is still to be done. (EOSS was drying grapes in the winery car park). Reports about quality vary, there’s been a fair bit of mildew, but our vineyard looks good. With very careful selection, we can have fabulous quality.
Missing barrel sorted in the end. Label done. Truck gearbox repaired ….. We’re up very early tomorrow morning to cut grapes and will have them out drying in the sun by lunchtime.
Samos non-harvest report (part 3)
27 August 2019
The grapes which looked lovely are now looking dangerously over-ripe for making a good Passito / Liastos and I can’t pick for another 2 days. To make a great Liastos, you need to harvest at optimal ripeness when the full aromatics have developed but before the acidity falls away.
You can make a wine with the same sweetness by doing a shorter period of sun drying with the over-ripe grapes, HOWEVER you won’t have the freshness and brightness, nor will the short sun-drying develop the flavour in the same way, and, the all-important antioxidants probably won’t develop sufficiently to protect the wine and allow it to be made without sulphur.
My back-up plan was to make a ‘Vin Doux Naturelle’ using some organic, high-grown fruit. It’s made in roughly the same way as a Port, hitting unfermented must with some strong alcohol to prevent fermentation. This wine would be a lot cheaper and would have ‘SAMOS’ appellation too, whereas my Liastos ends up as ‘Wine of Greece’. I was going to make some of this anyway, now I’ll probably make more. Not wildly happy, but things will be OK.
Late Afternoon. I’ve had a discussion with the Oenologist at Vakakis Wines. As I thought, if we add in some very high grown fruit harvested at 12.5% EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE! – They will bring acidity and freshness and lower the alcohol a bit. And what’s more I can have the amount they reckon is right on Thursday, conveniently, just after we finish picking the old vines. – Well, rooty doot toot! Back in business!!!
29 August 2019
Finally we pick.
Manoli and I start early, soon after sun up while it’s still cool.
We go first to the lowest ‘old vine’ terrace which has given us fabulous quality before. But something has gone wrong in the last few days. Where we expect to see bright golden grapes, everything has a dull look. Mildew has struck!
These gapes just aren’t up to it for Liastos. We need gloriously ripe, perfectly clean grapes. We pick our way through the vineyard, finding a bunch here and there.
Heartbreaking. Manoli isn’t happy. He says “These grapes aren’t good enough for you Tim”. I say “Maybe they’ll be better higher up”.
They are, a bit, and we manage to pick a few boxes that look pretty good. So we go to the highest spot up near the press house. The hot weather has brought these on, and they’re golden and good. We pick a few boxes too many expecting that when we come to sort them a lot will be chucked.
Then straight away, and it’s really important that there is no delay, we take the boxes to a terrace with no vines and here we empty the boxes onto the plastic nets lying on the ground.
I do a quick sort through, throwing anything that looks obviously bad – but there wasn’t much to discard. I think we were so aware of the problem that we’d picked well. I smoothed the bunches out so they were only one deep, not all mounded up and we left them to roast in the midday sun.
And boy was it hot by now!
3 September 2019
Sun-drying the Muscat is progressing nicely…. All MOG (Material Other than Grapes) removed! I moved some grapes that were raisined and ready into the shade, some onto upside down ventilated boxes so they get air while being sunned and some that needed to go further were left just lying on nets on the ground in the full Greek sun!
The 2 batches, one from old terraces up around Platanos and the organic batch from over 1800m on Mount Ambelos are amazingly different in flavour. The Platanos grapes have a lovely rich character which intensifies as they dry.
(This year though they were a bit over ripe at harvest and acids are probably a bit on the low side).
The Mount Ambelos grapes (lower down) have a fresher, more lively character. A few bunches were too green and weren’t ripe enough and the flavour didn’t improve as they lay in the sun – these have been ditched.
We press tomorrow.
And so we did…. First we took a reading and the potential alcohol looked a little low though at about 20%, and some of those high grown green grapes looked a bit under ripe and unraisined, probably not even 15%. We pressed a little juice and the taste was really good. The green grapes did bring a vein of freshness, but not a character you want too much of. So I swapped some of these grapes with Manoli for some more seriously ripe ones. Fair exchange – he gets a bit more freshness and I get sugar!
Then the hard work started…
We rolled up the mats and forked the raisins back into the boxes. Carried the boxes to the press area (well Manoli did, I just stacked them). Then forked them into the newish electric crusher-destemmer, about twice, depending on how dried they were, (well Manoli did, I found useful things to do moving empty boxes and around and getting rid of the stems).
Working a basket press is a 2 man operation: one pours in the grapes, the other makes sure they go in the press, smooths them down etc. Then, when the press is full, half-moons on the top, a couple of wooden blocks in place. Then crank away. Well Manoli does, I hold the press, which is the easy job, at least to start with.
When it’s pressed down some way, spin the bar back up, blocks and half-moons off, in with another couple of boxes. Crank down, spin the lever back up, half-moons off – not easy now. Bolts off the side of the press, yank off the two sides of the ‘basket’ and we have a pillar of crushed grapes, looking just like a fluted pillar from a Greek Temple, except it’s green! – It’s my job to pull it apart.
Then, we reassemble the press, putting the basket back on the base, slide in the bolts to hold it together and fork back in the pressed grapes, push them down more grapes on top, then put on the half-moons again. Then the really hard work begins… to wind the press down now. Each twist, then finally each click, takes serious application of muscle and weight.
And we repeat this again and again.
And this is when the really sweet juice comes out. Most of the time in winemaking, it’s the first pressing that’s the best; with Liastos / Passito, it’s the very last.
The juice, well it seeps out of the side of the press, through the wooden slats, then trickles onto the tiled floor. It then runs across the floor and down a plug hole then out through a pipe onto a crude filter made of muslin (actually it’s one of those Greek lace curtains). This catches any pips, skins and bits of pulp; the juice drops down into a concrete hopper.
And that’s it!
No enzymes, no acid, no centrifuges, no filtration and no deboubage (settling). It will go straight to barrel and no yeast will be pitched either.
Except, this year being this year, (of course) nothing was simple. The juice had to be moved immediately to Vakakis winery before fermentation started and got into barrel there. BUT there was too much juice, I would need another small barrel and everywhere was about to close for the weekend. Fortunately, I remember I’d seen one in the Co-op store in Karlovasi, so down to Karlovasi I bomb in my much abused hire car with 2 large full must containers on the back seat. Grab the barrel and zoom back up the hill to the winery to get the must into barrel.
Except, there’s no-one there……. and I need to get the must containers back to Manoli urgently as he needs them. And I can’t find anyone. Eventually, the caretaker comes and shuts the place up for the night.
5 September 2019
Next morning, I’m at the winery as early as possible and we fill the barrels. In the past we’ve used gravity, but this time we have a nice new low suction-pressure must pump. Then, jet out the wretched must containers, say my goodbyes, bomb back to the vineyard on minor tracks through the forest, dump aforementioned wretched must containers at the vineyard, then another Swiss mountain pass down to the sea.
I then have that “juice is in barrel, last minute extra barrel is in the winery, must containers are washed and back at the vineyard, flight is in 2 hours-time at the other end of the island” moment, floating in the Aegean…..