A time long ago, in the late 1800s, my family decided to expand their investments in agriculture. (Remember, when we are talking about a family in those days we don’t just mean Mama, Papa with a son or daughter, we mean Mama, Papa, seven or eight sons and two or three daughters - or the other way around - not to mention that most of the sons would have been married also and they would have had several little brats running around also.) So, to get back to the subject, they needed more grapes.
In those days, it was not like today where you simply trample the grapes make wine and raki, it was a little more complicated then that. First you had to have grape leaves. They would stuff them to make dolmades, use them by placing them flat in the bottom of a cooking pot so it would not burn, feed their animals with them and also boil them to eat as something cold on the table, served up with a bit of olive oil.
Then you had the grape vines. These came useful for burning in the fire, for cooking something old and tough such as an old hen - simply by placing a few fresh vines inside the pot with the boiling hen make her soft and tender like a 3 month old chicken - and off course, they used to burn the vine wood to make charcoal for gun powder, another homemade item in those days.
Then you had the grapes themselves. Now these had many uses starting from when they were not ripe yet and tasted rather bitter, it was then when the Cretans would cut them and squeeze them in to food as a substitute for a lemon. Later when they were ready and ripe, the locals would make what you know as raisins and hang them inside the house beams to use as winter food supply - they would do this with any sort of grape even with those seeds inside. They would also make a table sweet with the grapes which they would store in large clay amphorae to give to guests when they came to the house.
When the grapes were ripe and ready they would be stamped or treaded, call it how you like; the grape juice being used to make wine, a sweet known as moustalevre and also grape jelly or marmalade. When they had got the juice, the left over grape skins, the pomace, would be used for making raki; in those days raki was mostly used for medical purposes, not for of drinking by the litre as many Cretans tend to do now. As you can see, owning a vineyard was like owning a supermarket and that is the reason the Koukoutsakis decided they wanted a bigger and better vineyard.
They found the perfect spot: perfect for defence against humans, animals and even birds, with a hillside on the bottom, a cliff on top and only two sides to look after. It took the whole family years of hard work to complete this project but they did it. According to our elders it took over 1500 work-days, from sun up to sun down; the man digging up stones then breaking them up, carrying to the site and using them to build the patios where the vines would be planted, the women going into the forest caves, digging out fresh fertilized soft soil which they would carry in a basket on their backs for as far as a half kilometre to fill the walls up in order to complete the patios. Slowly they built stone walls around to stop the invaders. They also built watch towers based on two small caves with magnificent views. In these, two man of the family would spend their nights during harvest season fully armed, like bank security guards, although grapes had more value then money since you eat grapes to survive. The men were ready to shoot and kill anything that moved, rabbits, badgers, humans and, of course, the large flocks of birds that came for the ripe grapes - although it was easier to capture the birds using flat stones or snares, thus saving ammunition for larger intruders.
In the top photo you can see the vineyards from across the way, from the opposite mountain.
In the next 3 photos you can see two of the patios and one of the walls that still stands today, not as tall as he was when first built, but still proud and strong.
The following four are the top watch tower and the bottom watch tower with their defence positions and their front patios where a man could catch some sun, then two photos of the view, the wonderful view, in which your eyes see what my ancestors eyes were seeing for over 100 years. The last four photos are the stones walls and patios that still survive today.
Even though it has been left to grow wild and for the sheep to graze on, the Koukoutsakis vineyard shall one day grow again and produce its magical wine. I could write so much more about the varieties they had growing, the names of the people whose vision it was, the modern day owners, what became of the vineyard and how and why it stopped to exist, the way of transportation and God knows what else…… but I think I’ll just leave it to your imagination!