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24 January 2010
Gozo rock holds ancient wine presses

Centuries ago, come September, galleys would be rowed into Mġarr ix-Xini harbour (Malta) and loaded with amphorae filled with wine that had been pressed in the valley. Winemakers would fill shallow basins with grapes and, once pressed, the juice would flow through holes and channels into a deeper collecting holder, all carved into the rock. These wine presses, said to date back to 500 BCE, can still be seen embedded in the Gozitan valley and are being studied and documented in a project carried out by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Sannat and Xewkija local councils with the support of Camilleri Wines.
     "What is not seen today is that Mġarr ix-Xini valley was functioning as a main artery, as a seaport... It functioned as a huge agro-industrial area," explained Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Anthony Pace, who leads the project together with archaeologist George Azzopardi. He explained how the presses, dug into the ground, were made of a shallow basin upon which an additional structure was mounted to press the grapes. The juices would flow into the deeper basin and this motion was aided by the fact that the presses were built on an incline. Similar presses are present in Malta in the MÄ¡arr Valley in and near Mnajdra, in an area known as Misqa tanks.
     Such presses have also been identified in various parts of the world such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Syria and South Africa. Mr Pace elaborated that winemakers would have minimised losses through seepage by first filling the basins with water so the rock would soak up the water. Excess water would then be removed shortly before pressing. He said it was believed that, once pressed, the wine was collected in amphorae and shipped off to Sicily on galleys that came into the harbour.
     Since the project started in 2005, 15 presses have been identified, documented and mapped. Pieces of pottery, including drinking glasses, were also found during excavation works that helped date the presses. Next summer the second excavation will take place, with the help of students and volunteers. The next step, Mr Pace said, would be to publish the data.

Source: Times of Malta (12 january 2010)

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