– Odysseas Elytis
The olive tree is the landmark of Greeceand one of the oldest known cultivated trees by mankind. Along with the vineyards which dot the landscape throughout the country. Olive trees have been planted in and around vineyards for thousands of years. Climate is one reason that grapes and olives make good companion plants.
Autumn in Greece, specifically October, marks the harvest season for grapes and olives. Harvesting activities are century-old traditions evolving the transaction between humankind and mother earth, requiring elbow grease in exchange for authenticity.
Olive Tree: a symbol of peace & friendship
The olive tree has been considered sacred for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient Greek tradition and mythology. The most symbolic connotation for the olive branch is peace. It is associated with several customs and myths. According to the legend, Athens, the capital city of Greece, was named after the Greek goddess Athena. The foundation myth states that Zeus offered a contest between Athena and Poseidon for the possession of Athens. They met on the sacred hill of the Acropolis. Poseidon struck the rock with his trident which cracked beneath it.
A spring of water emerged from the ground and that was his gift to the people of Athens. Unfortunately, the seawater had limited use for ancient Athens. Athena planted and brought forth an olive tree from the ground. This was Athena’s gift, an olive tree, and she was proclaimed the victor. Cecrops, the first king who ruled Athens, and the people of the city determined the winner and the goddess of wisdom gave her name to the city.
Interesting Fact: The oldest known olive tree it’s claimed to be between 3000–4000 years old, based on tree ring analysis.
(Greek name: ‘Elia Vouvon’, the monumental olive tree)
The liquid gold
Greek olive oil, or “Liquid Gold,” as Homer called it, has been part of Greece’s history since antiquity. Olive trees are of high nutritional importance.
Its fruit is used to make olive oil which has multiple applications. Rich in antioxidants and healthy monounsatured fats (MUFAs), it is considered an irreplaceable component of the Mediterranean diet.
Ancient Greeks believed that the ideal way of picking olives was by hand to ensure that they will not injure the tree or damage the fruit. Traditional methods for the olive harvesting are two: the “milking” method and the pole beating method. The “milking” method is when workers handpick olives from the tree branches while the pole beating is when nets are placed on the ground around the olive tree trunks. However, the modern picking tools and the mechanized methods have replaced the manual ones.
Olive oil was used as part of Ancient Greeks’ efforts to enjoy a healthy and balanced life and to promote longevity. It was also used as a cosmetic for skin and hair. Today, Greek olive oil is considered as the most nutritional source of health in the world.
Grapes: a symbol of abundance & inner transformation
Grapevines have long possessed connotations of abundance and prosperity, devoted to the God Dionysus. Several social events had toasts to him and even the wine cups were decorated with grapes as a tribute to the god. Wine has been often considered as an elixir of life and immortality. Grapes are as old as civilization itself. They are also mentioned in the Bible in numerous instances and they appear in literature as emblems due to their symbolic meaning. Many religions believed that grapevine is a spiritual symbol of inner transformation: from fruit to wine. As the nectar of the Gods, it undergoes the various stages of transformation imposed by man: harvesting, compacting, rotting & ageing.
The nectar of the Gods
The relationship between Greeks and grapes is mythical, since the early Bronze Age. Dionysus, was the god of grape harvesting, wine, fertility and festivity. Grape harvesting in Greece is considered to be an autumn custom with ritual importance. Combining agriculture, tradition and cultural rituals, wine making is one of the oldest and most beloved ‘family matters’ where friends, neighbors and family gather together for a purpose: grape harvesting.
Ancient Greece was the beginning of the modern wine culture which has been passed down from one generation to the other. The philosophers of the Golden Age, Plato and Socrates, have both praised the crops of the vine. Symposium (‘συμπόσιον’) was one of the most important social gatherings in Ancient Greece and translates into “drinking together”.
This ritualized event was part of a banquet where wine consumption for pleasure was accompanied by philosophy, politics, poetry, music, jokes and games.
Along with their wine, Greeks had exported their way of life to several ports in the Mediterranean Basin, including vineyard cultivation, social gatherings accompanied by wine drinking and wine harvesting.
Visiting F Zeen in October will give you the opportunity to experience the production stages of olive oil and wine making while visiting olive groves and vineyards.