Beyt Al-Iyal press

The first lands reclaimed by the monks of St. John Convent were fig fields and vineyards destined to produce the necessary quantity of wine for the convent. The monks had to use a press to make grape juice for the production of molasses or wine. This press still exists and belongs to the Convent.

The press was built on a large rock or slab. At its surface, numerous holes were dug. Grapes placed on this surface were smashed by feet and squeezed by a horizontal wooden trunk and a rock to extract juices. In the ground of the press, several basins were deeply dug to contain the juice flooding through small canals linking the smashing holes to basins. The press was surrounded by walls and by an arched ceiling which protected people from sunlight or rain throughout the period of grape squeezing and preparation of molasses. The monks, and later on the partners to the Convent (peasants and the rest of the villagers), used to stand in the spaces where grapes were assembled after being sorted out. Once a white calcareous material known as “Hawara” was added to the grapes to reduce acidity, they would all start to squeeze them with their feet to extract the juice which runs to the basins, then to a large copper container named “Khal’in” placed on top of a stove installed outside of the press and nearby. The juice is left to boil for quite some time until a part of its water evaporates. Then, it is retransferred to the basins where “Hawara” and all impurities rest at the bottom. The juice is once again transferred and boiled for the last time to lose one third of its quantity becoming the known molasses.

As for the other product extracted at the press, the grape juice used for wine production, it had a spiritual and ritual aspect related to monastic life. There are two types of wine: the “dry” type resulting from a spontaneous and direct fermentation of grape juice and the “sweet” one resulting from a spontaneous fermentation of a pre-boiled grape juice. The extraction process of this juice starts when the grapes are totally ripened and bad grapes are removed from clusters. The harvest process starts at dawn. The same procedure used to produce molasses applies to the extraction of grape juice used for wine production with the following differences: 1- the calcareous material known as “Hawara” is not added to the grapes during the squeezing process; 2- the juice is boiled one time over low heat and for a shorter period of time, until a quantity of water boils, which raises the percentage of sugar in the juice and makes it appropriate for the production of sweet wine.

After that, all extracted juices are transferred to pottery vats preserved in basements until they spontaneously ferment and turn into wine with the assistance of experts. Wine warms people in cold winters and “heals a little bit of it the hearts” of believers during religious rituals.

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