By Maria Spiliopoulou
NEMEA, Greece, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- Nemea, Greece's largest wine producing zone, located in the Peloponnese peninsula, some 120 kilometers northeast of Athens, welcomes harvest this autumn with a major feast.
A month long festival which included theater, music and dance shows, as well as wine tasting tours and a race within the beautiful vineyards, ended on Sunday, as locals are getting prepared for one of the most significant stages in wine making.
Drenched in legend and centuries old history, Nemea is considered as one of Greece's most important appellations for the production of red wine in particular. The about 7,000 locals call it the "Hercules' blood".
According to ancient Greek mythology, hero Hercules overcame here the Nemean lion and celebrated by drinking local wine.
Wine has been part of Greeks' culture for over 4,000 years as archeological discoveries have revealed. They held many festivities in honor of Dionyssus, the God of wine in ancient Greek mythology.
Continuing this tradition in the 21st century, Nemeans celebrate grape harvesting and winemaking each August and September. The 8th Agiorgitiko race was the culmination of the celebration on Saturday evening.
Agiorgitiko literally means "the one belonging to Saint George". It is the name of the dominant indigenous grape variety, one of the oldest among the 200 native varieties throughout Greece.
Agiorgitiko is used to produce a wide variety of wines, but is mostly linked to wines with deep red color, like Hercules' blood.
Bottles of Agiorgitiko wine, vinegar, grapes and raisins were awarded to the winners and all 350 participants of the 12.3 kilometers race for adults and 1.2 kilometer race for minors who crossed the finish line in front of the town's city hall on Saturday.
Nikos Skoutaris won the event, followed by Alexandros Georgakopoulos and Alexis Georgoulias, while Mata Kleissari won the women's division followed by Mina Markou and Maria Varvitsioti.
The Agiorgitiko race and the festival organized by the municipality of Nemea, the Association of Nemean winemakers and the local sports club, are part of the region's wider efforts to further promote Nemean wine in Greece and abroad and attract more visitors to boost local economy in the years of the debt crisis.
"What we are saying today is that Nemea can become the capital of Greek wine. We are working towards this direction. We are trying to make our wines known, to promote our homeland and attract more visitors," Mayor of Nemea Konstantinos Kalantzis told Xinhua.
"The route is not easy, but also not very difficult. I believe runners will enjoy the event and they will be back next year and in coming years as long as we organize the race," Yannis Malissioris, a member of the organizing committee said.
Nikos Kariotis, one of the runners who took part in the race, has already registered for 2018.
"The landscape, the vineyards, the route and the people cheering along the way, everything was perfect. It was amazing. Once again we thank you all and we will be here again next year," he told Xinhua.
Manos Theologou, who run for a second time this year the Agiorgitiko race, will also join Kariotis again next year.
"This event attracts people and gives a lot to Nemea, it gives her life, because there are a lot of things missing from the town, but the race attracts visitors and we all have fun together," Theologou said.
Through the screening of a documentary, the festival gave visitors also a small taste of the revival of the Nemean Games which are held in the ruins of the nearby ancient stadium every four years since 1996, ahead of the Olympics.
In antiquity, the Nemean Games were staged every two years from 573 BC in honor of Zeus, the king of the gods in mythology, next to his sanctuary which today is still surrounded by vineyards, spreading across plains and hillsides.
Vineyards with Agiorgitiko stretch across 7,000 acres between 250-850 meters above sea level providing the approximately 60 mostly family run wineries of Nemea (40 larger ones and 20 smaller), an excellent basis for their wines.
The diversity of the landscape, the quality of the soil, the unique microclimate combined with the special characteristics of Agiorgitiko grape variety, respect to tradition and investments in modern wine making technology help Nemean wine producers to make good quality wines which have received several awards and distinctions internationally in recent years, locals said.