Above: Yannis Voyatzis with winemaker, Ioanna Vamvakouri.
Winemaking is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Santorini; between the populated white cliffside villages and vast sea, lies farm. The nondescript low plants that fill much of the open land are grape vines, which look completely different from those anywhere else in the world. Trained into nest-like wreaths called ampeles, they shield Assyrtiko grapes from harsh sun and wind, and hold in evaporating moisture from the volcanic soil. Last night, after assisting Voyatzis and Papaspirou in the final hand-selection of Syrah, we left Crete by high-speed catamaran for the two-hour voyage to this beautiful island.
We were greeted at the winery by winemaker Ioanna Vamvakouri and winery manager Petros Vamvakousis, who are concurrently working on this year’s fermentation and last years’ bottling. As Voyatzis caught up on phone calls that he’d missed during our two hours at sea, Vamvakouri summed up what we had heard from every other winemaker this week: “Doctor Voyatzis is like a professor to us. He encourages us to experiment. He wants the personality of the individual winemaker to show through in the wine, and he wants us to work with each year’s differences, allowing the character of the vintage to show through.”
Assyrtiko is vinified into the crisp, refreshing Santorini white, as well as the more complex Kallisti and Kallisti Reserve. Today was mainly spent tasting several vintages and tank samples of must, and determining which would be set aside to make the higher-end wines, and how to best further the winemaking process. We did the same with 2006 Vinsanto, the sweet wine of Santorini, which is also made from Assyrtiko, but the grapes are first sun-dried and the wine undergoes extensive barrel-aging. Formal tasting concluded with one of Boutari’s “Experimental Wines,” Mandilaria, a red grape that is more common on Crete. Voyatzis and his team make small amounts of these at each winery, and 2000 bottles of each is sold only at their tasting rooms.
We are currently sitting on our hotel terrace watching the sun set over the Aegean, and after a glass of Nyxteri, we will walk the cobblestone streets in search of dinner. Finding inspiration in the Odyssey yet again, we follow Homer’s call: “The wine urges me on, the bewitching wine, which sets even a wise man to singing and to laughing gently, and rouses him up to dance.”