For many years the Malaga province has been famous for it’s sweet fortified wines. The predominant grape variety is the Moscatel, grown on steep terraces in the hills of the Axarquia area. As we were visiting in September, we agreed to help with the grape harvest and wine making!
To make wine our first step was to clear the drying beds of any weeds and empty the barrels of the previous years batch and give the contents to a neighbour.
Early September we headed into the terraces with buckets, crates, secateurs and a small horse. Our challenge was to pick all of the grapes from the terraces. With the vines at ground level it was a case of crouching down, pulling back the leaves and hunting for the plentiful bunches of grapes.
When the buckets were full of grapes we loaded up ‘Rubia’ (a neighbours horse), with two buckets and led her up the terraces to the drying beds. Rubia was soon trotting back down the campo after a break for apples, carrots, hay and water.
The grapes were laid onto a net on the drying bed directly in the sun. It had taken us a hot and sweaty afternoon to half fill the drying bed. With an early start the next morning we had soon picked enough to almost fill one drying bed. The grapes were left for five days to dry out in the sun, and increase their sugar content.
In the meantime the barrels were cleaned by swinging them with a chain on a string inside them! The press was cleaned and the barrels rinsed. To then sterilise the barrels a sulphur candle was lowered inside the barrel, lit and left overnight to smoke.
With the barrels sterilised it was time to take the grapes from the drying bed and sit and pick the stalks off. A long and laborious process that took three adults all day! Once the grapes were picked over and sorted, they were tipped into the crusher (a kind of a mangle) and then loaded into the press to produce the Mosto (unfermented grape juice). Much easier to use the crusher and press than trending your own grapes, which would have taken a whole day of constant treading to release all of the Mosto.
When we had 10 litres of mosto we poured it into the barrel. We put 29 litres into a 32L barrel to allow 3L of space for the wine to ‘rise’. (I have just been into the almacen where the wine is stored and can hear the wine fermenting ‘herviendo’, boiling in Spanish).
Three 8L demijohns were also filled which will be used to top up the barrel when the sediment is racked off after 40 days and 40 nights……What a fantastic experience, fingers crossed it will be a vintage year!