Incredible efforts of Spanish fruit pickers as they collect grapes from precarious lake-side terraces at harvest time
- Two wine estates in Spain’s Riberia Sacra region are carved into the steep hills
- The region has been producing wine for 2,000 years since the Romans first planted vines
- It was taken over by monks and the name Riberia Sacra means ‘holy river bank’
- It was nearly abandoned because of a plague of aphids which devastated crops
- Today intrepid producers are harvesting thousands of tonnes of grapes from the slopes
Wine making is often though of as a fine and delicate art, but as these pictures show it requires a good amount of hard graft and a good head for heights.
These workers on the Cruceiro Reixo and Cividade Cellar wine estates are harvesting Mencia grapes from precarious slopes near Monforte de Lemos in northwestern Spain.
The only way up or down the dizzying canyons is on foot or riding in a tractor, and the grapes themselves are transported in baskets suspended on wire down to the river below.
The dizzying slopes are so steep that they can only be accessed on foot by grape pickers who undertake the back-breaking work
They are then taken by boat back to the Adega Cruceiro Winery where they will be juiced and then fermented by Ramon Marcos Fernandez to make Cruceiro wines.
The Mencia grapes are a red variety which produce the tradition wine of the region which has been making the alcoholic tipple for 2,000 years.
The slopes were originally carved out by the Romans as they marched across Europe. Monks then took over and carved terraces of vines into the slopes of the rivers Sil, Miño and Bibei.
However, in the 20th century a devastating plague of aphids killed off a lot of the plants before the Spanish civil war rocked the economy, leading to farmers deserting in droves.
As a younger generation fled poverty on the slopes for a more prosperous life in the cities, nature moved in to reclaim the land which crumbled into disrepair.
As recently as 2009 many of the terraces were abandoned, though producers had started moving back to the region, determined to make it a success once more.
Attracted by the indigenous grapes, the slate and granite soils and peculiar microclimates of the rivers and terraces, winemakers are now turning out some award-winning bottles.
Dotting the old vineyards are lagares, crumbling stone structures that once provided shelter and a place to ferment grapes right in the vineyard. Every family would have a lagar, to which they would carry the grapes at harvest.
Sometimes families would sleep there for the duration of harvest season and they are now being restored to use for storage and a place for vineyard workers to eat a meal away from the grueling heat of the sun.
The conditions found in Ribeira Sacra are similar to those found in some of the world’s greatest wine regions such as Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy.
So far this year 3,720 tonnes of Mencia grapes alone have been produced in the whole of the region, along with another 13 varieties being used to make both red and white wines.
The term Ribeira Sacra means ‘holy river bank’ and harks back to a time when the hills were full of monks brewing wine, instead of the intrepid farmers of today.
The hills are still littered with a multitude of medieval monasteries, churches and chapels which overlook the rivers or nestle in gentler terrain nearby.