In another life, one of my features was a profile of Santorini’s unique vineyard in The Greek Wine Guide, 1996 Edition. This jewel of an island vineyard was then promising, yet unknown to foreign markets. It was obvious that these penetrating, before chilling chambers, angular, bone-dry wines would create a cult following, spearheading modern Greek wine out of relative anonymity. Such an improbable, windswept vineyard was too much of a good story not to become a darling by switched-on merchants and sommeliers looking for something different.
It seems like yesterday (summer 1995) that the late George Venetsanos took me to his Venetsanos winery, perched on the caldera’s rim, to discuss details of how master builder Tzorzis Saliveros and he set out in 1947, and completed in 1949, this one-of-a-kind gravity-fed winery. One still marvels at the inclined floor so water would self-drain.
At the Venetian-era know-how steps where transported goods, solid or liquid, would remain shoulder horizontal. In the winery’s belly, the two giant pear-shaped water cisterns are awe-inspiring to look down into and marvel at their craftsmanship. Once they were vital, as the long-standing joke on the island was that wine is more plentiful than water.
This lovingly restored piece of vintage industrial design is a labour of love by brothers Nikos and Vangelis Zorzos, successors to the Venetsanos Bros. Oenologist Ioanna Vamvakouri has been entrusted with spearheading this exciting revival. She has recently been joined by colleague Katerina Mitzelou, who also has previous experience on the island.
Endowed with ten hectares, this is a true estate, located in highly thought-of Pyrgos and Megalochori. Four labels are being launched in the splendid 2014 vintage: a bone-dry Santorini, the previewed Nykteri, a modern take of red Mandelari with a twist and a 2007 Vinsanto inherited from the cellar.
Venetsanos Bros’ visionary canava is a landmark, adding needed momentum in favour of the diminishing vineyards threatened by urban development. Arguments for comprehensive land-zoning review are growing. It is imperative for building checks to be put in place sooner, as later is not really an option.
Meanwhile, at the newly opened rooftop wine bar on this historic site overlooking the caldera cliffs and the Nea Kammeni lava islet, the view is as breathtaking as it was on my first visit to the island, 23 years ago. A few days before the official opening, I sat there in contemplation, in a rare moment of windless calm, ‘chewing’ nature’s precious gift: Assyrtiko’s genial, mineral-charged, tannic backbone reaching deeper. There is a glow. It is a nice place to be.
Venetsanos winery Santorini Nykteri. Perfectly judged picking window for this style of wine, checking in at ABV 14%. Elegantly built. Crystalline fruit on the entry, with a linear presence throughout. Seamless oak. Blossoming into a stony, saline finish of compact minerality. Nicely textured. Still tight, it will age beautifully, rewarding patience. Imperative to carafe. Best 2016–2028.
For the past 18 years Nico Manessis has specialised as a commentator on Greek wine and adventurer in the Greek vineyard. As a true descendant of the “stradioti” Marino Manessi in the service of Venice, he bravely undertakes his wine crusade on the civilised side of “taking no prisoners”.
The author of the Greek Wine Book series and the website Greek Wine World is one of My Greek Review’s regular contributors.