Ethnography of wine-making

Hi everybody,

Welcome back to Archaeostuff. This time I am writing some lines on a topic very close to me. I am showing you some shots of the process of wine-making in my family house south of Galicia. I usually start by writing in Galician and then translating it to English, but I know there are many international friends interested in this topic so this time I will make an exception. We have been making wine here at least since the times of my great-grandfather, so I am very happy to keep the tradition here with my father. We make both red and white wine in the traditional manner: no chemicals, wooden barrels, grapes broken without modern mechanical aids… Hope you like the pictures and the accompanying text. I will write in the future a formal paper on this topic, since I think that from these traditional practices we can learn so much about ancient practices. Quite honestly, when I read papers on wine-making in ancient Greece and Rome most of the time I think: you have no idea how wine is made.

The village where my family country house is located can be found south of Galicia, close to the town of Tuy and very close to the border with Portugal. This is very important, because the soil and the weather are, obviously, key elements for the growing of the grapes. One of the most common mistakes is to assume that wine is made much in the same way everywhere, when actually there is a great variability even just in the NW of the Iberian peninsula. Since this is a very humid area and the soil is acidic we tend to avoid the contact of the vines with the soil, and that is why we cultivate them in vine arbours. Some weeks before the beginning of the harvest, that takes place around the full moon of September, the barrels are washed and checked for the year. They are dry now so removing the metal bands is rather easy. After cleaning them with plant fibre brush they are filled up with water to check for leaks and allow the wood to re-wet. Then the rings are hammered down again and the wooden barrel allowed to dry under the sun. If leaks remain after this process we take care of them with beeswax.

Grapes are harvested by classes, the most delicate ones, such as mencía or albariño, go first, since they are ready sooner and last for a shorter time. It is very important to taste the grapes to be sure they have the right amount of sugar. Other elements of the bundle (over-dried grapes, stems) are cleaned to avoid giving the wine a more acid flavour. Then all the grapes are put in a barrel and smashed with an oak stick that has been washed before with augardente (grappa).

This breaking, the pisado, starts the process of fermentation, that we call fervido. Bacteria will transform sugar to alcohol, in a process we tend to start around the full moon, since the strength of the moon influences the fermentation, and this should not go beyond the last quarter of the moon. It is not as easy as it sounds, since you also have to account for the weather. Sunny days will help the grapes to get some extra sugar, while rain forces to stop the process, since you cannot put wet grapes in the barrels. That would ruin the wine.

malvas-vendima-2016-pisado-blanco
Pisado of the white wine

When the harvest has finished and the grapes have fermented for two or three days it is time to echar the wine, to move it from the barrels with the leftovers of the harvest to a clean one where only liquid is poured. The first step on this is fondar, to put the covers of the new barrels. Then a reed is inserted on the cork of the barrel with the wine and this is poured into buckets that then is transferred to the barrels with the help of funnels and a strainer. Not many people uses a strainer; instead of that they trasegan, move the wine from one barrel to another after a couple of months in order to avoid having too much poso on the bottled one. The problem with this is that the wine is exposed to oxygen, which is not good. We avoid this step by using the strainer. Then the bagazo, the leftovers of the harvest, are pressed to obtain the remaining liquid.

malvas-vendima-2016-echado-branco-3
Echado of the wine
malvas-vendima-2016-echado-branco-2
White wine after fermenting in the barrel for a week

And that is pretty much all. The wine is now in the clean barrels still fermenting, so it is important to be sure that the upper part is not covered, so the gases of the fermentation can leave. The barrels are close around the day of San Martiño, Saint Martin (11th of November), when the barrels are sealed to avoid the wine becoming vinegar. The wine is not bottled until the third quarter of the moon of February, but that will be another post. As I wrote before, this is not the right way of making wine, is the one we use and works for us. But it is also true that it is the end result of a long tradition, and it is a pity to witness how this knowledge is lost. More important, this wine has no chemicals whatsoever, so if you are studying wine-making in the archaeological record you should seek more for these models than the more modern ones that add many additives to the wine. Hope you like this post, leave your questions in the comments if you are curious about any point.

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