Traveling across the island of Crete on a winery-hopping trip can be quite an experience. This large island, better known for its beautiful beaches rather than its wine, holds a lot of surprises for anyone who sets out to discover its wines. Cretan viniculture, with its long history, has undergone tremendous improvement in quality over the last years, and now offers some of the most amazing styles of wine one can find, made from indigenous varieties only found on this island. Our trip started in Hania and ended in Irakleio, with a stop in southern Rethymno where we visited some of the oldest vineyards on the island and found out just how challenging viticulture can be on the steep slopes of the Cretan mountains.
As a young immigrant, he built a new life but never forgot his homeland, the desire to come back always burning in his heart. A suc- cessful businessman and a well traveled individual, Manousakis set out to produce great wines from his home soil. He began by buying a few plots of land and, with the help of experts, decided to plant four Rhone Valley varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussane. Soon the vineyard was expanded to include Greek varieties; Vidiano, Assyrtiko, Romeiko are now all vinified under the guidance of the estate’s chief oenologist, Kostas Galanis. Meanwhile, the management of the winery passed into the hands of Manousakis’ daughter Alexandra and her husband Afsin Molavi, a sommelier who also owns Salis, an award-winning restaurant in Hania with an impressive wine list.
The winery itself boasts modern production facilities surrounded by beautiful gardens, and orange and lemon groves. It is open to visitors who can also enjoy selected Cretan specialties, chosen to pair perfectly with the wines offered at the wine tasting. The total production is about 120,000 bottles, a large percentage of which is exported mainly to the United States. The most recent addition to the estate’s labels is “Hartman Molavi,” a sparkling wine from Xinomavro and Romeiko made using traditional methods. It’s the result of cooperation between Afsin Molavi and Laurens Hartman, a ground-breaking producer from the north of Greece. The estate’s other labels include five white varietals, Nostos Roussane, Nostos Vidiano, Nostos Muscat of Spina, Nostos Assyrtiko and Nostos Romeiko. The reds include two varietals, Nostos Syrah and Nostos Mourvedre, and two blends, Nostos Alexandra’s and Nostos Blend.
We had the pleasure of trying all of them, while enjoying a lovely lunch which included some wonderful local specialties.
Settling in around the long wooden table in the winery’s well tended garden, we couldn’t help noticing a few tourists who’d already arrived, eager to try the estate’s wines. The estate was one of the first ones in the region of Hania to open its doors to visitors and offer winetasting sessions and, as Dourakis explained, the plan is to open a kitchen that will prepare traditional Cretan dishes to accompany the wine tastings. The estate was established in 1988 by Dourakis’ father, who had studied oenology in Stuttgart. The first label produced was “Logari,” which slowly came to be known at local restaurants and hotels during a period when the dominant trend was to serve wine in bulk, i.e., by the carafe. The elder Dourakis made the decision to invest in the winery, buying equipment and building an elegant building based on traditional architecture. “If it doesn’t work out, we can always turn it into a nightclub,” he used to joke. Things did work out, however, and the estate now produces 17 different labels, most of them from local varieties. “Within our five-year plan, we intend to grow our vineyard by adding nine new fields,” says Antonis Dourakis. The varieties being grown at the estate are a mix of local and international varieties, with an emphasis on the local ones: Vidiano, Malvasia, Kotsifali, Mandilari, and Romeiko, an indigenous variety from the region of Hania which many winemakers find attractive.
The estate produces about 250,000 bottles a year in total volume, 10% of which are being exported, while the rest are released to the local market. As is the case for most winemakers in Greece and worldwide, the pandemic has had a big impact on sales, but Dourakis remains optimistic: “Luckily now that things are opening up again, people have no qualms when visiting our winery to spend a bit more on a bottle of wine; in a way, they are making up for lost time by choosing slightly more pricey but higher quality wines.”
Wine Tasting: Lychnos Vidiano 2018, Lychnos Vidiano 2016, Kudos Malvasia 2019, Apus Blanc de Noir, from the Romeiko variety Kudos Syrah 2018 Euphoria, a sweet dessert wine from sundried Romeiko grapes.
We were welcomed by Nikos Karavitakis, a fourth-generation winemaker and an energetic young man who skillfully managed to be engaged in different tasks while still talking to us and tending to the needs of the winery’s visitors; on that particular day, they seemed to be flooding in. Karavitakis’s great-grandfather was the family’s first winemaker, although the estate was established by his father who, upon returning from his studies in Italy, became manager of the local cooperative while also caring for the family’s vineyards. Most of the vineyards in the area had been destroyed by phylloxera and the local people had turned to the cultivation of olive groves. Influenced by his studies in Italy, the elder Karavitakis started planting international varieties like Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, but quickly turned his attention to the indigenous varieties, which today make up 85% of the cultivation.
“The estate’s philosophy, especially in the past 11 years since I started working here, is to showcase the potential of our indigenous varieties, using them in blends with international varieties but also making good quality varietal wines”, explains Karavitakis, who believes in a more modern approach to winemaking with less barrel, more expression of the fruit and lower alcohol levels. According to him, the two indigenous varieties that can stand alone and make it to the international markets are Vidiano for whites and Liatiko for reds. “Vidiano is a strong variety that can have many different expressions; it can make everything from fresh everyday wines to dynamic aged ones. Contrary to what many believe, it is not an aromatic variety,” he says. “As far as Liatiko is concerned, we choose to approach it more as a Pinot Noir, producing a fresher, more New World, fruitier style with minimal barrel in comparison to the traditional long barrel aged style of other producers.” Despite the emphasis on Greek varieties, the estate’s most premium label is “Elia Blend,” which has only been released to the market six times since 2003 when it first came out. With Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, it is a Southern Rhone blend. The estate produces annually approximately 200,000 bottles, of which 45-55% are exported.
Wine Tasting: Klima Vidiano 2020, Klima Vidiano, Barrel-aged Kompsos, Liatiko red, Elia Blend 2016
We were standing in front of what looked – and smelled – like an olive oil press. Greeted by Gerasimos Voultoudakis, we soon found out that, in Anoskeli, the owners have successfully combined the production of olive oil, the area’s main agricultural product, with winemaking that emphasizes the Greek varieties for the whites and international varieties for the reds. The first bottle of wine was produced in 2005 but, as Voultoudakis, the company’s chief engineer who took an interest in winemaking, explained, the oenological part of the business really started taking shape in 2011. The overall production is limited to 35,000- 40,000 bottles, but Voultoudakis is a person who loves to experiment, and he cares less about the quantities than he does about trying different winemaking techniques. In the cellar, we found ourselves in front of a barrel where a Romeiko, produced using the solera system (which is used to produce sherry), was being aged. Ιn another barrel across the room, an Assyrtiko resting on the lees had been ageing for three years, waiting its turn to be bottled and released to the market. Anoskeli produces mainly two labels: Ano Plagia, in white, rosé and red (all of them blends of both local and international varieties); and Anoferia, varietal wines of both white and red, with the greatest emphasis being given on the indigenous white varieties of Vilana, Assyrtiko and Vidiano. “I think it’s pointless to assume we can make a red wine from local varieties that can become top shelf and be priced accordingly. Our energies need to be focused on our white and rosé varieties,” says Voultoudakis. Our wine tasting was preceded by an olive oil tasting, giving us the opportunity to find out that the two procedures are really quite similar. The winery is open to visitors and is happy to offer them the experience of both tastings.
Wine Tasting: Anoferia Vilana 2020, Ano Plagia, 2020 Vidiano, Vilana, Asyrtiko Ano Plagia rosé 2020, Anoferia Syrah 2018, Anoskeli Stone Romeiko
Housed on the ground floor of a two-story building in the center of town, Endochora can hardly be called a winery , but the product that comes out from this 60m2 space is really noteworthy. Three or four small stainless steel tanks, a few barrels and a grape selection machine is all Michalis Tsafarakis needs to produce his four labels. “ I don’t come from a family of winemakers or farmers; I grew up in the city and studied mathematics,” he says. “But I became hooked on the process of winemaking, the vineyards, all of it and my hobby became my profession.” With the help of oenologist Costas Galanis, he produces about 7,000-8,000 bottles a year, mainly from Vidiano, Kotsifali and Syrah, which he has planted on the 15 acres of vineyards he owns, scattered in different locations around Chania.
Wine Tasting: Endochora Vidiano 2020, Endochora Rosé 2020, Endochora Kotsifali 2019, Krostandt Syrah 2017