One August in the mid-1960s, Kostas Ioakeimidis, Santorini’s first tour operator, headed down to Kamari beach carrying a hunk of cheese wrapped in paper and two loaves of bread. His job was to acquaint tourists who had come to the island for its dramatic caldera and stunning beaches with another unsung source of richness: its vineyards. With a group in tow, he walked through the vineyards to visit the traditional winery belonging to the Roussos family, a subterranean canava (a network of cellars built into natural caves) that has been passed from generation to generation since 1836. It was not long before Roussos himself began loading up groups in his pickup truck (one of the first on the island), in part out of hospitality, and in part for them to help crush his grapes in merry stomping sessions. Thus a win-win arrangement was born, with Roussos benefiting from the additional farm hands (or feet to be precise), which were in short supply on the island, and the tourists enjoying a novel experience that frequently developed into an impromptu party.
During wine-tasting sessions, visitors can sample local products and learn about the island’s history and the unique terroir of its vineyards.
Half a century has since passed, during which the island developed into a global tourist destination with 2 million visitors per year. Santorini wines have been analyzed and bottled, the old canavas have been modernized and new, state-of-the-art wineries have been created to showcase the oenological wonders of the island. In the early 1990s and with the utmost respect for the island’s environment, the Boutari brothers created an impressive, modern winery with a capacity of 2,000 tons, in a domed building painted the traditional white. Inside, impressive displays and exhibitions were designed to showcase the island’s history, thus making it the first winery in Greece to offer a comprehensive wine tourism experience. Other wineries on the island soon followed their innovative example, and today offer modern wine-tasting sessions where visitors can sample local products and learn about the island’s history and the unique terroir of its vineyards.
But what sets Santorini’s wine tourism apart is that this modernization did not come at the expense of much of the charm of the pre-modern era. Many grape cultivators still personally sculpt the kouloures (the traditional nest-like baskets formed from the vines which serve to protect the grapes as they ripen) before picking the fruit. During the vedema, or grape harvesting period, celebratory feasts are frequently held by many families, while on October 22, the feast day of Saint Averkios (or Abercius), the patron saint of wine-producers, sundry winemakers still gather at small chapels in the countryside to share the fruits of the latest harvest.
ΤRAVEL, TASTE, DISCOVER
Spending time on Santorini without taking a guided wine tour, or visiting at least a couple of its excellent wineries on your own, should be… prohibited by law. Choose from a selection of exciting options to learn the history, explore the unique terroir and, of course, taste the wines from the local varieties. Note that wineries are generally open to the public from April through October – it is advisable to make a call beforehand.