The breathtaking views from the caldera and the famous sunsets as seen from the island have made Santorini one of the most recognized destinations of the world. The island, however, is also one of the most important wine regions in Greece, claiming a unique oenological ecosphere which dates back to ancient times. The island’s leading variety, Assyrtiko, has gained worldwide recognition, producing wines with a strong mineral character attributable to Santorini’s own unique volcanic soil.
The island claims a history in winemaking that stretches back 3000 years, making it one of the oldest wine-producing areas in the world. What’s more, thanks to that same special volcanic soil, the vineyards here have never been affected by phylloxera. Top-notch wineries produce a number of excellent wines which have found their way onto the lists of leading sommeliers around the world, making Santorini Assyrtiko a recognizable brand in the international wine market.
The story of the island’s success begins with the arrival of the Boutaris family in the 1980s, which changed the commercial landscape and made Santorini wines known to domestic and foreign markets, followed by the pioneering oenological efforts of Paris Sigalas. Since then, the island’s reputation has attracted a number of winemakers from mainland Greece who wish to take up the challenge of producing wine in the country’s most famous wine region.
The combination of its reputation as a leading tourist destination and its unique wines has led to a boom in wine tourism on the island. Most of the island wineries offer high-end wine tasting experiences, an inviting alternative to spending another day on the beach.
The name of Paris Sigalas has become synonymous with Santorini winemaking. Sigalas has dedicated his life to protecting the historical vineyards of Santorini and to saving indigenous varieties from extinction. He has been instrumental in transforming Santorini Assyrtiko into a worldwide brand and has never stopped experimenting and exploring the tremendous possibilities that both Assyrtiko and Mavrotragano, the island’s precious red variety offer. The Sigalas winery, hidden away on the plain of Oia, offers its visitors a unique wine-tasting experience that includes a degustation menu prepared on the spot, based in part on fresh vegetables produced on the domain, in the winery’s award-winning restaurant, where the visitor can enjoy magical views of the sunset. Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko is the winery’s most popular label.
A pioneer in many ways, Boutaris landed on the island of Santorini in the 1980s, when the now-famous Assyrtiko variety was practically unknown. His state-of-the-art winery, distinguished by Designcrave Magazine as one of the top 10 architectural wonders of the wine world, was the first to open its doors to visitors in 1989. Upon his arrival, Boutaris changed the practice of late harvesting and began vinifying less ripe grapes, causing an uproar among the traditional winemakers. Since then, the Boutari Winery has been consistently producing high-quality Santorini wines, including Assyrtiko, Nychteri and the traditional Vinsanto, a dessert wine, aged for 12 years in the barrel.
Boutaris Santorini Winery: Megalochori, 847 00, Santorini /(+30) 22860.810.11 / boutari.gr
Situated right on the rim of the breathtaking caldera, Santo Wines offers its visitors a unique experience. An impressive modern building welcomes those who are interested not only in tasting the wines but also in trying the island’s local delicacies, served along with the wines or available for purchase in the winery’s deli shop. The winery was built in 1992 to house the Union of Santorini Cooperatives, whose products are marketed under the name Santo. The building itself resembles the island’s traditional stone benches. Surrounded by breathtaking views of the deep blue sea and the volcano, the visitor can enjoy a selection of the cooperative’s wines.
Santo Wines: Pyrgos, 847 01 Santorini / (+30) 22860.280.58 / santowines.gr
This is a small family-owned winery, one of the oldest on the island. Vagelis Gavalas represents the fifth generation of a family of winemakers and, together with his father George, continues the Gavalas tradition of winemaking, using the age-old method of stomping the grapes for the production of their signature wine, Vinsanto. This wine ferments and ages for six years in 100-year-old barrels made from oak imported from Russia back when the wine export trade to that country was flourishing. The charming courtyard where the wine tastings are held is next to the cellar and the old “patitiri,” where the stomping used to take place. Here, visitors can also take a look at an antique press and the wicker baskets used for carrying the grapes so as to get a better idea of the traditional winemaking processes of the island.
Gavalas Winery: Megalochori, Santorini /( +30) 22860.825.52 / gavalaswines.gr
This winery boasts a 12-meter-long wine storage cellar (or “canava” as it is called in the local dialect), carved into the volcanic rock that forms the island’s soil, where all the winery’s barrels are kept. The rest of the winery was built in 2004 as an addition to this old canava, which wasn’t large enough for the 130,000 bottles that are currently produced annually.
Of this output, 50% is exported to markets around the world. The winery’s founder, Haridimos Hatzidakis, who passed away two years ago, was considered one of the most charismatic winemakers in Greece. Today the business is run by his family.
Hatzidakis Winery: Pyrgos Callistis, 847 00, Santorini / (+30) 697.001.3556/ hatzidakiswines.gr
Housed in an industrial stone building which dates from the beginning of the 20th century and was once a tomato-canning factory, Gaia Winery is nonetheless equipped with all the current technological equipment necessary for modern winemaking. A charming area in front of this impressive structure serves as the tasting area, so that wine lovers can sample different selections outdoors by the water. This is a truly marvelous setting for tasting Thalassitis, the winery’s best-selling label.
Gaia Wines: Exo Gonia, 847 00, Santorini / (+30) 22860.341.86 / gaiawines.gr
Here on the other side of the island, there are no dramatic views, only vineyards, symbols of the triumph of life over the widespread death once caused by the volcano. Surrounded by the privately owned vineyard, the estate’s winery is a modern building designed to remind the visitor of the traditional “canava” structures of Santorini. The estate, established by George Argyros in 1903, was passed on through the generations. Today, it is run by Matthew Argyros, the fourth generation of winemakers in his family. The Estate produces a series of wines – all from indigenous varieties – which they create by combining traditional and modern winemaking techniques.
Estate Argyros: Episkopi Gonia, Thira, 847 00, Santorini / (+30) 22860.314.89 estateargyros.com
Open daily, 10:00-20:00
Can accommodate all group sizes
Tourists can book their tours online as well or call the winery
Yiannis Tselepos, a renowned wine producer from the region of Nemea, began his activities in Santorini in 2013 in collaboration with the Chryssos family, local producers who owned vineyards and a canava in the area of Pyrgos. In contrast to the trend for turning abandoned traditional canavas into hotels, Tselepos invested in creating a small winery with the goal of producing high-quality wines.
ΑVANTIS WINES CELLAR DOORS
The most recent addition to the list of Santorini wineries open to visitors is Avantis Wines Cellar Doors. Apostolos Moudrichas, a well-known producer from mainland Greece, landed on the island in 2012. He began by collaborating with George Gavalas, one of Santorini’s most noted winemakers, and soon acquired a traditional cellar, a “canava” where he stored the big wooden barrels used for his winemaking. This year, he opened the doors of his new winery, an old open-air cinema which was transformed to include those elements common to traditional wine cellars of the island. Here the visitor can enjoy wine tastings accompanied by food from a small menu based on Santorini’s traditional products. The winery produces five labels: two whites, Dolphins and Afoures, based on Assyritiko; two reds, Red Wave and Saint Nicholas, based on Mandilari and Mavrotragano; and one rosé, Grace, made from Mandilari. The winery does not own its own vineyard; instead, all the grapes are sourced from different growers across the island.
Avantis Estate: Vothonas, 847 00, Santorini / (+30) 22860.231.40 / [email protected]
Open daily, 11:00-21:00
Restaurant open daily, 13:00-20:30
Can arrange private tours/bookings of the cellar
Separate room showcasing the new line of grape-based beauty products
The challenge of winemaking in Santorini’s unique terroir could not have left one of Greece’s leading producers unmoved. Vagelis Gerovasiliou, a well-known winemaker from northern Greece, decided on a bold strategy, acquiring land not on Santorini itself but on the small island across from Oia called Thirasia. This year a small amount of Assyrtiko (1000 bottles) were produced from the two vineyards he has here and were bottled under the label Terassea. Another wine, called Santorini and made from indigenous grapes, was also released to the market this year. Looking ahead, Gerovasiliou has plans to build a winery on Thirasia.