I look at him questioningly. ‘No, we don’t make wine like that any more,’ he smiles. ‘It’s for tourists only, but it’s great fun. Have you ever been grape-stomping yourself? We have now finished our tour and Theo has brought me to a traditional winepress above the village of Aghios Stefanos which belongs to Hotel Kinsterna. I have to admit that getting all mucked up while dancing on grapes sounds priceless. I wonder if it’s for that reason that mostly men participate in this activity. ‘The wine of this region’, Theo tells me, ‘is called Malvasia, a corruption of Monemvasia. It used to be rather famous in years past’.
Indeed, this is Shakespeare’s ‘malmsey wine’ (a corruption of a corruption so to speak) in a vat of which the Duke of Clarence wished to drown in Richard III. Yet, although Malvasia vines were replanted all over the Mediterranean by the Venetians, Monemvasia only started producing its trademark wine again around 2010. ‘This area was continuously being fought over,’ explains Theo. ‘Vines are very delicate plants and need a lot of care and attention, so the population switched to olive production.’
Which brings us to the winter. ‘Between November and February the olive harvest is afoot,’ says Theo showing me an old olive processing plant, a liotrivi. ‘A tree is ready for harvesting when its olives are half green and half purple. This one,’ he points at a tree nearby, ‘is just about right.’ And he goes on to pick some olives to show me.
‘First, the olives are collected and placed inside the mill. A horse turns the grindstone round to mash them into a puree. We then go to the press and arrange alternate layers of cheesecloth and olive puree, cheesecloth and puree – like lasagne. We turn the corkscrew, press the pure and collect the oil in a stainless-steel bucket.” But it’s December now, why isn’t there any oil making going on? ‘I think there is a demonstration next week’, says Theo. ‘Will you be around?’
I curse through my teeth. But I’m definitely coming next year for those grapes…
John Malathronas is a versatile travel writer and photographer who has published three narrative travelogues on Brazil, South Africa and Singapore, has written for popular newspapers and magazines and co-authored guidebooks for Michelin and the Rough Guides. He also writes on his own blog, The Jolly Traveller.