The Grapes of Santorini

One of our initial plans for our Greek adventure was to go on a wine tour. As seems to be the theme with most of our plans, we were able to squeeze into one the afternoon before our ferry ride back to the mainland.

Not overly known for its wines, it was a good chance to learn the trials and tribulations of wine making in Santorini, and taste a little bit of the drinks behind the culture.

I, of course, absconded from the wine drinking and stuck to snapping photos of the others.

Our tour guide, Phenix Gilbert, a California native but now Santorini resident, picked us up at the hotel and explained the plan for the day. 3 wineries and a bit of a history lesson.

Our first stop? A random vineyard.

In Santorini, the vineyards are not your typical rows and rows of strung-up vines.  Instead, they look like fields of overgrown weeds.

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But when you get a close up view, you realize the vines have been woven round and round to form a basket. It is within this basket that the grapes grow, low to the ground to receive moisture, and safely protected from the harsh winds of the island.

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It takes ten years before a vine is able to form one circle – and some of these baskets have a lot of circles! I’m going to leave out a bit of the history here, so that I don’t spoil it for any of you who attend this tour in the future.

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Because of the volcanic eruption years ago, the island is covered in pumice – a very light, greyish, volcanic rock. This is the type of soil these lucky grapes get to grow in.

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Our first stop was part museum and part winery. We remarked at the ancient grape press and the cement room which is still used to stomp grapes once a year.

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They also have these massive Russian oak barrels, which are used to age their Vinsanto & red wines.

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Vinsanto is the island drink and the staple of any Santorini winery. It’s a soft dessert-like wine, which can be aged for decades – some up to 100 years! As the wine is aged, tones of butterscotch and coffee become more and more bold.

After sampling 6 different wines, we made our purchases, and hopped into to vehicle to our next winery.

Walking into Estate Argyros, you are greeted by a 150 year old vine and a 250 year old vine. It is remarkable how much these things can grow with little to no water!

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Cracking open the bottles, the tasting continued. First with whites, followed by reds, and ending with a 4 year, 12 year, and 20 year Vinsanto.

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Until recently, Santorini had pretty terrible red wines. But with the new discovery of an ancient grape, the Mavrotragano, the red wine industry has started booming.

It was here that we made a few more purchases, and were graciously allowed to take an old wine box! Apparently too heavy for daily use today, wine boxes are becoming quite extinct. With no plan in mind for its use, we figured it was better to snag one now than to wish we had after it was too late.

Back in the vehicle, we headed to our third and final winery, Sigalas, in the town of Oia. Unlike any other winery in Santorini, the owner of this winery has strung his vines up in the set of rows you would normally expect. Although expensive, this side of the island has regular water service – which he takes advantage of 3-4 days a year.

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Against all odds, the owner has established a signature red wine from the Mavrotragano grape, which has sparked a rush to plant this grape in fields across the island.

My favourite stop – not for the wine – but for the food.

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Each sample was paired with a delicious little appetizer highlighting the island’s fresh products.

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Rice wrapped in grape leaves and paired with tzatziki, fava bean puree, roasted white eggplant with tomatoes and goat cheese, and a selection of Greek island cheeses (the Naxos cheese was the best!).

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Each had a beautiful presentation – that which you would expect from a fine dining restaurant.

Even for a non-drinker, the day was great! We headed back to the hotel with our minds filled of Greek history and an enhanced appreciation for the island’s efforts in making wine. If you are in the area, I encourage you to sign up here!

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As I finish writing this post, I feel the need to inform you this is my second last travel post about Greece. Enough is enough many of you are probably thinking! Or perhaps you enjoy feeling like you are away on vacation as well! Either way, I have one left for you tomorrow, which is sure to be a photo-filled bash.                           

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