Thursday, July 18, 2013

Premodern Winemaking

Here high-up on a clear plateau in the wooded hills overlooking the town of Sambuca in southwestern Sicily, we explored the stone ruins of an ancient pigiatoia (outdoor winepress) from the 5th century BC. It is believed to be a spot where a settlement of Sicans – the inhabitants of western Sicily pre-dating the arrival of both the Phoenicians and the Greeks in the 8th century BC – crushed and vinified wine grapes. It is an imposing cluster of whitish rocks firmly rooted in the surrounding soil. Wild grasses, caper bushes, and dwarf palms now grow at its edges. There is a higher rectangular vat with the remnants of four walls that once enclosed it. There is a lower circular receptacle nearby, with a cut-out channel that appears to connect the two tubs. We imagined the higher one was used for receiving grapes, and the lower one for collecting the fresh juice that flowed from the pressed grapes. The long cut out channel reminded us of the stone channels or tubes we have seen in old palmentos (crushing and vinification facilities) from the 19th and early 20th centuries around the island. Earlier generations of these Sicans likely acquired many of their winemaking skills from the nearby settlements of Greek Sicilians where the culture of wine flourished. To these indigenous Sicilians, the Greeks must have been the modern – or perhaps even postmodern – winemakers of their day.

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