From soil to vine, meeting a Maltese vigneron

Maltese Vigneron

We visit the outskirts of Rabat for an inspiring meeting with Carmel Cortis. We visit his vineyard enjoying the shelter of the majestic Mdina bastions.

The grape harvest is winding down as the many dedicated individuals, who laboriously take care of their vineyards, try to get the best yield possible. People who cultivate a vineyard are called a ‘vigneron’ and we had the opportunity to meet one in his vineyard on the outskirts of Rabat.

Enjoying the view of the majestic Mdina, Carmel Cortis finds no better satisfaction than the preservation of his vineyard and the cultivation of precious Maltese grapes.

“Grapes are my life. You cannot produce wine if you are unable to take care of the grape. In order to obtain good wine you need a good grape. Like every other product, the grape needs to be taken good care of so that when the time is right it can be cut and taken for pressing.

It is a fruit that needs care for sugar and acidity. When the right amount of sugar (glucose) is present, grapes are harvested and taken to the factory for pressing. This year we started with the harvesting of the Chardonnay grape and will finish off with the Girgentina.

You cannot work in this sector if there is no passion. My brother Paul and I started around 40 years ago. We get drunk without drinking at work. My overseas trips are always among vineyards and wineries. Throughout this year we specialized in vines.  We have around 14,000 vines.

We experimented on the Girgentina and the Gellewza which are indigenous to Malta. The authentic Maltese grape. Before it turns into a bush-like form it grows in the ground. But unfortunately when it rains it rots. So we erected supports and worked on a modern system to enable the grape to grow. Moreover the cultivator will cut down on pesticides.  Farmers have learnt to move with the times and invest in proper machinery. 

Watering vines needs to be managed properly. They need to be constantly looked after.  You need to know what it requires. In summer we water them once a week. Vines also need to spread their roots and do not need a particularly rich soil.

This year there was a large shortage of grapes on account of the lack of rain and the cold. It is not the amount of grapes that is important for the farmer but the quality of the grape. The honor for a wine-maker is to produce a wine and manage to sell it. Viticulture is very well established in Malta. People know what they want to purchase and consume. 

The demand for wine is high. In Malta an average of 12 to 14 million bottles of wine are drunk annually. The local supply is not enough. In Malta we produce around 2 to 4 million bottles of wine a year. Malta needs to aim for high quality not cheap wines”

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