The Life of a Flying Winemaker, Part One

Via Contributing writers Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen take us on five-day journey through Greece’s finest vineyards with winemaker extraordinaire, Yannis Voyatzis.

Dionysus—the Greek god of wine and agriculture—has a new incarnation, and his name is Dr. Yannis Voyatzis. As chief enologist at Greece’s Boutari Wineries, Voyatzis is the force behind more than 40 different labels produced at Boutari’s six facilities. From early August to late October, this soft-spoken winemaker follows the harvest through Greece, from the volcanic, windswept islands of the Aegean, through the mythical Peloponnese, and into the mountainous, Balkan north. And this week, he invites us to travel with (and work alongside) him from island to mainland, from vineyard to winery, as grapes are picked and wine is made.

The journey began this morning, when we arrived to Athens, well-rested after a trans-Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Aegean journey, not of epic proportions, but rather of great comfort. We were not forced to slaughter our own cattle or steal food from the Cyclops, yet we enjoyed a feast of meat and wine fit for a demigod. A leisurely meal on Delta, accompanied by wines chosen by Andrea Robinson, set the scene as we settled into our cocoon-like seats, Kindles in hand. We should mention that in preparation for our five-day voyage across Greece, we downloaded books to set the mood; Between the two of us, we’re reading Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad—obviously.

The Odyssey’s opening line, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course,” came to mind when winemaker extraordinaire Yannis Voyatzis (who comes off as more rock star than scientist,) greeted us. Wasting no time, he described to us a season of high temperature, minimal rain, and low yields, a season that is currently in harvest. Despite Boutari’s size, we’re extremely impressed with both their indigenous varietals—Xinomavro, Malagouzia, Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, and Assyrtiko among them—and their better-known international grapes. But more than that, we are charmed and amazed by the winemaker in the funky glasses and gold sneakers who flies countless miles every year, bringing the latest enological technology to some of the oldest vineyards in the world.

After finishing his studies at the University of Bordeaux, Dr. Voyatzis returned to Greece, where he has spent twenty-five years working with Boutari. He is a treasure-trove of information on grape varietals, soil types, and winemaking techniques. And over the next five days, we’ll observe him as he meticulously manages his twenty-sixth harvest, capturing the day-to-day triumphs and frustrations of the man who leaves his mark on every bottle of Boutari. And if our first dinner at Ayoli in Thessaloniki is any indication of the week ahead, both our bodies and minds will be well-fed.

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