Raisin is the dried fruit (berry) of certain grape varieties. Corinthian raisins, also called currants, have been cultivated in Greece since the Homeric times while written records of raisin trade exist since the 12th century A.D. In the 19th century, during the years of the Greek War of Independence, the large vineyards of the Peloponnese underwent serious damage by the Turks, mainly because of the fires they set by order of Ibrahim Pasha.
Recovery came at the end of the 19th century (1860- 1890) when raisin exports accounted for 75% of the total of Greek exports, a fact which contributed to the reconstruction of the modern Greek state, to the appearance of the first industries as well as to the civil transformation of the Greek society.
Worldwide,raisins are considered an almost exclusively Greek product, given that Greece produces more than 80% of the total world production. Raisin vineyards are grown in Kyparissia, Filiatra, Gargaliani, Pylia, Messina and other areas of North (Upper)and South(Lower) Messinia.
The tasks before planting, which include the preparation of the field to become leveled and even and clean from unwanted weeds, and propagation - through the selection and piling up of small branches which are chosen out of the strongest and most productive vines, tied up into small bundles (heries) and covered with soil - take place within traditional viticulture.From late March to mid-April these are taken out of the soil and replanted. Farmers, then, determine the spot for each branch with stakes and dig planting holes, about 0.5 m deep, with the space between the branches from 0.80 to 1 m. The procedure of propagation is also done with the method of ‘katavolades’, the practice of burying under the soil a strong branch from the next vine, as well as with the technique of grafting or ‘centering’ when the vineyard does not bear fruit.
Raisin grapes like wine grapes require care and love throughout the year and, in addition, a large number of arduous tasks. One of the first autumn activities is ‘kselakkoma’ (digging up the planting holes), starting shortly after the harvest (late September to mid-October) with the use of a pickaxe. By digging deeply around the vines, farmers cut the small roots so that the rest of the root system can strengthen and, at the same time, the pits can collect rainwater and manure. Another activity is ‘katharos’, i.e., the cleaning of the vines from dry or very weak branches.
In the lowlands, pruning starts in January, while in more mountainous areas pruning takes place in early February. The viticulturist needs to know which buds produce shoots and which branches are appropriate for ‘katavolades’, so that they are not cut. Digging starts immediately after pruning and before the buds develop after mid- February. Spraying with sulfur and copper sulfate starts in March to prevent diseases. Another task necessary to the raisin production is ‘fourkadiasma’ or the placing of supportive poles/stakes. It occurs in February- March with the use of ‘fourkades’/’fourkes’ (stakes). This particular task is exclusive to raisin cultivation.
‘Skalos’ or hoeing, and weeding take place in spring. Then,‘haraki’, i.e., the grooving of the trunk in order to produce liquids that preserve the grape, and make grape berries grow larger follows. Before harvest, some preparatory work is carried out, which includes cleaning the drying floor from weeds, covering it with dung, i.e., manure mixed with water and insulating it.
Grape harvesting begins in late July- early August. Grapes are cut with the use of a blade or a jackknife and then placed into hampers. The natural drying process takes place in specially made outdoor places called drying floors (‘alonia’). The grapes are placed on the drying floor and are left to dry under direct sunlight.
Eight days later the raisins are turned on the other side to achieve a uniform drying result. The last stage of raisin production is ‘makinarisma’, the process of removing any foreign bodies from the product with the use of the ‘makina’, a specially designed machine for this purpose. The product is placed in sacks and stored in appropriate storage conditions complying with standardsafety and hygiene rules.