We dig it, we prune it, we harvest it, we squeeze its grapes, we drink the wine
we sing and cry, visions and ideas mounting our head

Nikos Kazantzakis, Askitiki

Without viticulture there is no wine making and without grape harvest there is no crop. A rich harvest is a reward for all the hard work that has been put into it. Constant caring for Cypriot vineyards encloses endless hours of labour, but also joy, when harvest time arrives with all the festivities and the drinking that accompany it. Engaging in wine production required a “humpback man”, according to the Cypriot expression, since viticulture is an arduous, time consuming process.

Harvest occupies a dominant position in the agricultural economy of our country, and even more so in the case of “Krasochoria” (the wine villages). There, traditional life went hand in hand with the life cycle of the vineyard: the vine growers eagerly awaited the bare trunks of their vineyards to yield their tender shoots that ripened under the glowing August sun, until they were filled with heavy, ripe bunches.

Harvest in Omodos

For villages like Omodos, where most residents made a living solely from viticulture, a good harvest ensured the family’s annual income; they could marry their children, build houses and increase their land. Thus, harvest season meant a general mobilisation of the whole family, even of small children. Hence the phrase “summer, harvest, war”, which indicated the value of each member of the community in all three aforementioned situations.

Experienced growers observed and tested the ripening of the grapes – the bunch held by the stem, the stalk, the fruit in their transparent bark, the flesh and the seeds, the acidity, the tannins, the aromas. Their long association with viticulture taught them to easily tell when the best time to harvest their grapes was coming.

Towards the end of August, prudent fellow vine growers sharpened their pruners, made their baskets, and cleaned the wine presses. The gathering began in September, the month of the famous festival of the village, which had always been taking place on September 14th, the day of the celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, to which the monastery of Omodos is dedicated. The traditional harvest was a festive celebration accompanied by seasonal customs.

In September, Omodos’ hills were filled with zealous people, working from sunrise to sunset, “drunk on the wine of the future” (Kazantzakis-Askitiki). At noon the arduous work stopped for a while, in order to grab a bite of bread and some wine under the shade of a tree. The harvest, despite its demanding and difficult character, was a celebration full of joy for the villagers; a revival of the Bacchic festivals. During their break, people, teasing each other and singing together, agreed on who would help the other.

It was a creative picture, full of hard work and pleasure. The full baskets, the sharp pruner in the hands of the elderly, the middle-aged and the young ones, the loaded donkeys and the sweat on the vine growers’ foreheads, were images of joy and life. Life-bearing wine was working its miracle every year.

The wine press

After the harvest, the grapes were transported to the wine presses, located in the residential core of the village. The narrow, stone paved streets of Omodos were filled with loaded donkeys carrying the fruit of the harvest, either to the houses or to one of the ten wine presses found in the village. Today, two such presses survive, side by side; their path leading directly to the Monastery. They are considered to be rare examples of pre-industrial technology, declared monuments worthy of preservation and restoration by the Department of Antiquities.

Before they were pressed, the grapes were spread for several days on the flat roof of the wine presses to sun-dry under the Mediterranean sun of September. After ripening, they were poured into the elevated space of the press, where the process of crushing them followed.

The wine

The wine year reaches its end and the harvest is taking its place in the barrels. The festival of the Holy Cross in Omodos in mid-September attracted – and still does – large numbers of believers. The festival, highly associated with the vineyard and its produce, has traditionally been the culmination of the festive atmosphere of the harvest season. The occasion was so important and special that the whole village gathered in the cobblestoned square and celebrated with a glass of wine or zivania, which was so generously provided by the village’s land. Only on that day were women allowed to sit in cafes next to their husbands.

It was the time when the vine growers could finally enjoying the fruit of their labour, while the housewives engaged in preparing traditional delicacies, by-products of the vineyard: epsima (petimezi), palolouzes (mustalevria), soutzioukos, kkiofteri, but also various meat delicacies, soaked in wine, such as lountza and sausages, which were sold at the festival, alongside wine and zivania.

The festival was – and still is – a celebration, a sacred encounter, where people rejoiced and thanked God for the blessed vineyard He bestowed upon them. And as long as this blessed drink is put on the tables of houses, the taverns, the cafes, our life is sweetened, a bit drunken and at times relieved. And the village life continues, while clinking glasses, wholeheartedly wishing next year will be just as good.