The Italian word “Vendema” is the term used in Santorini for the grape harvest and crushing. It means abundance.
The grape harvest on the island is a true festival, an occasion for partying and bidding farewell to the summer. Preparations begin in early August. Santorinians never crush the grapes in the field. Instead the grapes are taken to the “kanava” (winery), where they are sorted according to color (white or red) and put into separate presses. “Kanava” is the local name for the cool, dark space, cut into the volcanic rock (“hyposkafo”) where the grapes are crushed and stored in barrels. The room has a small window (“anemoloo”), which is always open to allow the air to circulate and the must fumes (grape juice before and during fermentation) to evaporate. At one time, just about every large house on the island had a “kanava” on its ground floor.
Since the harvest (“trygos”) begins sometime in late August or early September, the month of September is also known as Trygitis. The grapes are not all crushed on the same day. It is mostly the job of the men to do the treading, and whoever participates must be able to withstand the fumes and not get dizzy easily. To neutralize the strong smell of the must, the grape-crushers traditionally place a stalk of basil behind their ears. Near the large crushers was always a cleared area of ground, where grapes could spread out in the sun for about 10 hours before they were put into the crusher. Vinsanto, the sweet wine of Santorini, is produced from these sun-dried grapes. There are many varieties of excellent quality Santorini wines.
The last day of the grape crushing is a major holiday. On the 22nd of October, Saint Averkios Day (protector of wine and “kanava”), the barrels are opened and the wine is tasted. The local priest blesses the barrels making a sign of the cross with a stalk of basil. As the blessing is chanted, the wedge is removed and everyone tastes the new wine. A party follows with singing and dancing.