Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

It is reck­oned wine, or fer­mented grape juice, has been with us for the best part of 9,000 years. It seems that, in com­mon with other gus­ta­tory plea­sures, the grapevine orig­i­nated in the Far East. From there it took about 1,000 years to travel to Me­sopotamia and, un­ac­count­ably an­other 3,000 be­fore it got to Cyprus, via Egypt.

The dis­cov­ery of fer­men­ta­tion was prob­a­bly ac­ci­den­tal. The fruits of the wild vine were known to our an­ces­tors, so it is not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine one of our fore­fa­thers or moth­ers leav­ing a jug of juice or a bowl of ripe grapes for a few days, and when he/she got juice on to their hands (or took a sip), the story of al­co­hol and mankind had be­gun.

Dis­cov­ery soon let to or­gan­i­sa­tion – mean­ing the planned press­ing or squeez­ing of grapes. For mil­len­nia, there­fore, men, women and chil­dren have trod­den vats of grapes to re­lieve the grapes of their juice.

To the ladies and gen­tle­men of 19th cen­tury French so­ci­ety, a visit to the wine press­ing was some­thing of a so­cial oc­ca­sion, It even had a vi­o­lin­ist. Was he there to pro­vide mu­sic to ac­com­pany the singing of the pressers, or for the en­joy­ment of the spec­ta­tors? Hav­ing ac­tu­ally seen for my­self vine­yard work­ers singing in har­mony whilst tread­ing the grapes, I be­lieve the fid­dler was part of the wine­mak­ing set-up. Use of hu­man feet to press the grapes lasted well into the 20th cen­tury. I took this pho­to­graph in 1970 in Madeira. A boy of 8-10 years can be seen learn­ing the trade.

The pressed juice – and the newly fer­mented wine - didn’t have a very good flavour, so it was, per­haps, not sur­pris­ing that it was for­ti­fied with al­co­hol and given a spe­cial heat treat­ment to process into the de­li­cious dessert wines of Madeira.

As we know only too well in Cyprus, wine presses are not al­ways present close to the vine­yards. Here we en­dured for many years the sight of grapes loaded in bulk on to lor­ries and taken up to 45 kms to the winer­ies for press­ing. In France, they took the press to the grapes.

Here is a trav­el­ling wine press of about 140 years ago. The vigeron mixed and mashed the grapes, whose juices ran off into con­tain­ers which were then fer­ried to the fer­men­ta­tion vats.

Today, at our mod­ern winer­ies, grapes are pressed hy­drauli­cally or me­chan­i­cally and gone are the days when the leak­ing lorry loads of grapes waited in the yards of the big Li­mas­sol winer­ies to take their turn to tip tons of grapes into the chutes at the en­trance.

You can see how large the old wine pressed were by vis­it­ing the “Li­nos”, ad­ja­cent to the square at Omo­dos.

For whop­pers, though, this one at Clos Vougeot of the 1870s would take first prize.

So, when you lift the glass to your lips, take in the aroma and then sip, think of all the press­ing that’s gone in to your wine!

A ‘quite drink­able’ sev­en­teenth-cen­tury Madeira was claimed at the time to be “the old­est wine that any­one now liv­ing has tasted”.

Two bot­tles laid up by an ar­tillery of­fi­cer in the cel­lar of his house in Spi­tal­fields, Lon­don, in the 1670s were dis­cov­ered in 1999 by ar­chae­ol­o­gists work­ing for the Mu­seum of Lon­don. The cork on one had per­ished, but the other was still in­tact.

A small sam­ple of wine was tasted by — among oth­ers — Michael Broad­bent mw, ar­guably the world’s great­est au­thor­ity on his­toric vin­tages, and David Molyneux-Berry, Head of Wine at Sotheby’s. The ex­perts were di­vided in their as­sess­ment but both agreed that it was drink­able, though ‘fresh’ and very dry (a pos­i­tive as­sess­ment) or ‘a bit sharp’ (some­what less pos­i­tive).

From “

edited by Gra­ham Hard­ing.

Dur­ing my visit to Madeira in 1970, when I took the pho­to­graph on this page, I was priv­i­leged to taste a vin­tage 1820 wine. It had the resid­ual sweet­ness you might ex­pect of this fine dessert wine, but a most sat­is­fy­ing un­der­ly­ing dry­ness. It seemed strange to be drink­ing a wine made the year be­fore the death in ex­ile of Napoleon Bon­a­parte. Per­haps the most mem­o­rable glass of my life.

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