Grape harvest, vineyards and wine – discovering paradise in Biscoitos

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Ostatnia aktualizacja: 2020-09-30. Autor: Milena

A few days ago I went to the grape harvest for the first time in my life. Thus, I fulfilled my dream from several years ago.

What happened several years ago? Well, a dozen or so years ago I was walking among the vineyards in Germany. Delighted. Vast hills filled with rows of sun-ripened grapes. The gentle rustle of leaves. Something beautiful! I thought then: I want that too! I want to take part in the grape harvest too. I want to contribute to the wine!

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Years passed and I admired more vineyards as a guest

I admired the vineyards in Biscoitos, admired the vineyards in Pico, listened to the stories about wine making in Porto, I even read articles about wine in Poland!

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And this year I started walking regularly among the vineyards. Not that I was doing it on purpose. Just my way to the beach ran through the vineyards. I saw them every day. And after a while – I started talking about them. With different people. One of these people was – as it turned out – the owner of one of the vineyards in Biscoitos. After a few talks, he invited me to participate in the grape harvest. I almost jumped with joy! I was asking at least once a week when was that day.

And finally a few days ago the grape harvest took place. With my participation. I was overjoyed!

I got up at dawn, dressed in black from head to toe (so that there would stay no stains from dark grapes) and set off on the adventure. I was given a bucket, a pair of gloves and a secateurs on the spot. And a brief instruction on which grapes should be cut and which ones shouldn’t be used. And I was ready to go!

In the Azores, wine grows differently than in the vineyard I saw in Germany. The vines are not suspended on vertical structures here, but grow horizontally on black volcanic rocks. I wrote about why this is so in the article „Biscoitos wine„.

Grapes hide under the leaves

Before starting work, I looked around the vineyard. And I remembered my friend’s story about his first grape harvest. He said, “I looked down at the vine and I thought there weren’t any grapes there. But when I picked up the branch, I got surprised.”

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I smiled at that memory and squatted beside my first vine. I picked up a branch and saw a paradise. Beautiful purple bunches waited safely under the leaves for someone to take an interest in them. I got down to work.

Buckets got filled one after the other

I had to be very careful where I put my feet on loose volcanic stones. So I wouldn’t break my legs. And my exposed ankles were quickly all scratched with sharp vines. But I was working. Me and a dozen men with an average age of about 60-65 years. Buckets got filled one after the other. We poured their contents into large containers that a few of the stronger men carried onto car trailers. And so for several hours. Until all the grapes were harvested, all the containers were full, and it was possible to take the fruit to the adega, i.e. the wine house.

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The next day, the grapes were separated from the stalks and the fruit was squeezed out. I just watched this part of the process. The men used a machine specially built for this purpose to remove the stalks from the grapes. The juice was pressed in a large wooden press. The grapes were loaded into something like a barrel, which was pressed from above with pieces of wood. Imagine a hand jack but going down, not up. It was something like that. The juice flowed into a large basin, and from there it was pumped into huge stainless steel containers with a special device. Containers of 500 or 1000 liters.

Of course, it wasn’t done on its own. It took a lot of work and sweat and a lot of grape juice stains on the shirts of the men working on it.

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Next year this wine will appear on the tables during Festas do Espírito Santo

I have always wondered where the wine served during the celebration of the Holy Spirit holidays comes from. Now I know! And next year I will look for „our” wine!

Some of the grape juice will be transformed into a local alcohol called angelica. I recently got a bottle of this, heaven in mouth! And what will happen to the stalks? The stalks will return to the ground as a fertilizer. Nothing can be wasted in this process!

You never know

There was one person about my age who was also involved in the grape harvest. Both my and his attention was drawn to the fact that all the other people are around 60-65 years old, maybe more. They are men with vast knowledge and vast experience. I hope they will live a long time, but I wondered what would happen to the vines in Terceira when they are gone.

They say directly that local vines hardly make money. They deal with grapevines because that’s their whole life. All their knowledge is in their heads. They don’t have smart books, they just listen to plants. They know when to fertilize them, when to trim them, when to harvest. They know which varieties are resistant to the vines scourge, phylloxera, and which ones need to be grafted. They don’t hire people for the harvest, they help each other. They love the earth, they love vines. And despite their strength and enormous energy, they have more and more, not less, years.

They asked me half-jokingly if I’m planning to buy a vineyard. I replied, „You never know.”

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