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Greek Wine and Culture

In the history of humankind, many have been the cultures whose foundations were anchored on winegrowing and winemaking. Even today, a great many people instinctively think that wine equals culture. During prehistoric times, in lands where the climate favored winegrowing, the “birth” of a civilization and its culture would not be far behind and vice versa: Once that culture had sprung forth, its prosperity and welfare would be closely associated with vine and wine. That is no coincidence: Winegrowing presupposes settling in one place and abandoning nomadic pursuits. It can flourish on poor soil, leaving fertile ground to crops and other cultivations. Winemaking necessitates specialized know-how and practices, while its commercial aspect necessitates the existence of transport and expertise on commercial transactions, economy, and shipping, to name but a few. One such culture, the most illustrious one and the one with the longest course in history, has been the Greek culture of wine.

 

The ancient Greeks discovered wine as nature’s gift and turned it into a work of art. Greek wine and culture grew side by side, becoming timeless treasures which left their indelible stamp on history. And although Christianity, espoused by the Greeks of Byzantium, initially pitted itself against the ancient Greek culture, it eventually came to acknowledge and do more than any other means to promulgate two ancient Greek values: the ancient language and the rich winegrowing heritage of Greece. Over time, the Byzantine culture and Christian Orthodox art became the embodiment of Greece, abounding in symbolism and references alluding to vine and wine. Mosaics, religious icons, monastic scrolls, folklore art and demotic songs, all are keepsakes of that symbolism. The renowned Byzantine wines of the Aegean Sea and of the other areas of Greece became worthy ambassadors of a culture which, for centuries, shone like a beacon upon the West, piercing the darkness enveloping medieval Europe.

 

Yet, Greek wine and culture were not influential on Greece alone. Those who would come to the country as conquerors, together with the Greek culture, they also adopted or exploited -forcefully or peacefully, Greece’s famous wines, amassing fame and profit for their purposes and furthering their own cultures. The Roman culture, apart from adopting the deity of Dionysus in his new persona as Bacchus, also adopted numerous of the country’s winegrowing and winemaking techniques, together with the much touted wines coming out of the Greek vineyards. As early as medieval times, the Venetians and other European seafaring powers used Greek wines as their main source of revenue on their voyages, while the Ottoman Empire gathered wealth by taxing the renowned Greek wine production, or simply by co-existing with the Christian Greeks who had never lost their “wine” instinct or genes.

 

Vine and wine are interwoven with the everyday life of several countries’ inhabitants around the world. In Greece, wine in everyday life is an ancient affair, as ancient as time immemorial. Cultivation of the vine as well as wine production and its consumption throughout the ages have been linked to Greece’s everyday life with ties whose origins are lost down the passage of time. The products and the wine stemming from the vine are cultural, social, and nutritional staples of Greeks and Greek life.

 

In Greece, from prehistoric times to the present, wine in everyday life, as a complement to nutrition, as a part of religion, or as pure pleasure, has always been inextricably intertwined with Greek collective memory and, in all likelihood, has been etched into the Greek DNA.

 

Greek wine and culture are two concepts inextricably linked to each other. In today’s Greece, Greek wine and culture continue to be as “one”. On the very same soils as their forefathers, the Greek winegrowers and winemakers continue to cultivate their vineyards, bestowing on the world through their new wine culture, the fruit born of the Greek sun and of the Greek land. The new vineyards of Greece are thus the creative products of a people whose vine and wine history is the same as that of its culture!

Historic vineyards of Crete

Many consider the historic vineyards of Crete to be the world’s most traditional, as they have been steadily cultivated and thriving since prehistoric times.
The golden age of Cretan wine reached its peak during the Roman era when exports to the rest of Europe were truly massive. Yet, there isn’t a single historical period when the historic vineyards of Crete did not flourish. The famed Malvasias oenos was the most prominent wine, mainly  produced on Crete during the Byzantine era and Venetian rule times. In recent years, the historic vineyards of Cretehave risen to new heights of prominence and are regarded as one of the most active and promising vineyards of contemporary Greece.

Historic vineyards of the Aegean Islands

Starting north, our journey around the historic vineyards of the Aegean Islands takes us to Lemnos. Lemnos’s wine commerce in antiquity was so brisk as to earn for the island mentions in the Homeric epics. The island’s Lemnio cultivar, the Lemnia of antiquity, is still planted today on the island as well as in the vineyards of northern Greece. From the times of Ottoman rule on, the island became inextricably linked to the cultivation of Muscat of Alexandria, whose yields still go towards the production of the island’s dessert wines. On the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, or Mytilini, the fragrant, black, sweet wine which bore the same name as the island vied for quality and fame with the wine from neighboring Chios. It remained commercially successful for many centuries on end. Today, compared to the thriving production of the island’s famous ouzo, the island’s wine production appears meager.
On Chios, the Ariousios oenos was produced in antiquity, a wine whose fame and quality, according to most connoisseurs of the times, surpassed those of any other for many centuries. However, winegrowing was “extinguished” after the Ottomans burned the island from end to end in 1822 and slaughtered or took many of its inhabitants into slavery. However, quite recently, efforts have been exerted to plant new vineyards around the island.
Another vineyard, among the most important and renowned in Greece, was once located on the Thessalian island of Skopelos (ancient Peparithos). It flourished from antiquity to the 19th century and during that time, the pace of wine export on the island was brisk. The wine the vineyard on Samos produced in antiquity was equally famous but Samos’s winegrowing and winemaking activities did not rise to prominence until the Byzantine era. Ever since, winegrowing on Samos continues to flourish. Samos’s superb sweet wine, produced from the white Muscat variety, has always been highly acclaimed among Greek wines, making a marked presence abroad even at hard times for Greek vineyards. The vineyards of Samos are living proof of the ancient terroirs of the Aegean Sea: Using unique winegrowing practices, Samos vintners still cultivate their vines on the stone terraces (pezoules). On the neighboring island of Ikaria another famous wine was produced in antiquity: Pramnios oenos, a dry red mentioned by Homer as a favorite with Greeks who had not only carried that wine with them to Troy during their exploits, but they had also sold it throughout the northern Aegean. For many a century, Pramnios oenosremained vastly popular. Over time, the name came to characterize a wine type and the wine itself was produced in other areas as well, although its name continued to be associated with an Ikaria appellation.

Heading south, we encounter the historic vineyards on the Aegean Islands practically everywhere on the Cyclades. The vineyards of Paros as well as of Naxos, Amorgos, Kea (or Tzia) and Syros were all famous in ancient times. There were even certain periods in history, such as the centuries of Venetian rule, when the vineyards on the Aegean Islands became particularly prominent. However, in one particular island, Santorini, archaeological evidence points to the existence of winegrowing activities even before the devastating eruption of the island’s volcano in prehistoric times. The island’s extensive wine production in tandem with the cordial relations it maintained with outsiders resulted in the fame of Santorini’s winegrowing activities remaining unabated, reaching its peak under Venetian and Ottoman rule as well as during the 19th century when Santorini wines would record the largest exports among all other Greek wines. Santorini’s arid volcanic soil which is hostile to the blight of phylloxera, the unique way of pruning vines into the wreath-like kouloura, its rare native cultivars (with Assyrtiko reigning supreme among them) and the landscape of its coastal terroirs are all advocates of the need to protect Santorini’s vineyard and elevate its status to that of a world heritage monument.
Further south, the historic vineyards of the Aegean islands take us to the Dodecanese. In the vineyards of Rhodes and Cos, the winegrowing tradition, together with winemaking and wine commerce, has been deeply entrenched since antiquity. Demand for the wines produced on those two islands reached a peak during Hellenistic and Roman times and, in the case of Rhodes, that high demand has remained unchanged.

Historic vineyards of the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands

The historic vineyards of the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands begin in the northeastern part of the peninsula with the vineyard at Nemea, where excavations have revealed ancient vineyards planted in deep trenches in the same location as the sanctuary of Zeus. Nemea was where, in antiquity, Fliasios oenos was vinified. In more recent centuries, Nemea became prominent again through its dark-colored, dry wine produced from the Agiorgitiko variety. In the west we find the vineyards of Achaia, where archaeological excavations have brought to light ancient vineyards. Of equal historical significance were the vineyards of Kalavryta, destroyed after WWII. In the 19th century, Patras, Achaia’s port, became a major hub of Greek winemaking and a major export center of wines made of the Mavrodaphne variety. Patras was also known for the considerable volume of raisins it produced and exported. In the central part of the Peloponnese, in the vineyards of Mantinia, winegrowing has been steadily going on since antiquity, with both Aristotle and Theophrastus making mention of the wines of Arkadia (Arcadia). The wine Mantinia produced was well-known during Ottoman rule and was supplied to Athens during the 19thcentury. The first Greek sparkling wine was produced in this very area from the aromatic Moschofilero variety. Situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese, historic Monemvassia bestowed its name to many a cultivar, with the white Monemvassia variety being predominant among them, and to Malvasias oenos, one of the most historical wines in the annals of wine’s history worldwide.

It would be remiss to exclude from a narrative involving the historic vineyards of the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands the island of the Phaeacians (Corfu) and Ithaki, both of which have their place in the Homeric epics. During the time of Venetian rule, winegrowing on the islands of the Ionian Sea rose to prominence. The reason why numerous varieties are still cultivated on each and every one of the Ionian Islands is because the islands have never been blighted by phylloxera. Since the 19th century, Cephalonia with its Robola and Mavrodaphne varieties and Zakynthos with its Verdea have constituted the island cluster’s main winegrowing hubs.

Historic vineyards of central Greece

The northernmost historic vineyards of central Greece are found in Thessalia (Thessaly), whose inhabitants tended magnificent vineyards during the time of Ottoman rule on the slopes of such forbidding mountains as Agrafa, Pilio, Ossa and Olympus -the “Mountain of the Gods”, and around the towering cliffs of the Meteora monastic community. In the 19th century, many were the winegrowing villages in the area famed for their wines: Rapsani, Ambelakia, Messenikola and Tyrnavos, which is still renowned for its tsipouro distillate.

To the south, the historic vineyards of central Greece stretch to central Greece and, more specifically, to Viotia. It was there that Hesiod would drink his vivlinos oenos which came from the Vivlia cultivar also cultivated at Mount Pangeon in northern Greece. Even further south, where the vineyards of Attiki (Attica) and Evia are situated, winegrowing has been active since antiquity. The vineyards of Attiki would supply with their products Athens as well as other areas. In recent centuries, the vineyard there established a long tradition in the production of retsina.

Wines of Greece returns to Australia in June 2018

By popular demand, Greece ‘s leading wines of Greece are back in Australia from 07 – 25 June with a score of the country ‘s celebrated wines and latest vintages, from famed terroirs and up – and – coming regions. To mark their fourth roadshow in Australia, Greek Master of Wine, Yannis Karakasis MW, will debut the Hellenic ‘s first masterclass in Brisbane, alongside returning visits to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. This year ‘s line up of trade and consumer events will explore the topics: Greece’s most exciting terroirs – a case of authenticity and individuality, non Greek wines – indigenous varieties and fascinating terroirs, the Greek rose revolution and natural wines of Greece. The demand for Greek wines has incurred a 20 per cent oncrease in sales in Australia over the last four years, according to Hellenic Statistical Authority, with many Greek wines has incurred a 20 per-cent increase in sales in Australia over the last four years, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, with many Greek wines now available by the glass in great restaurants around the country. “Only a decate ago, few had heard about assyrtico, Santorini or malagousia”, says Karakasis. “Today these terroirs and varieties are the centre of attention for many wine drinkers in Australia, which is a credit to the work of inspiring Greek winemakers and vignerons”. Wines of Greece will show Australia an extensive range of the country’s diverse wine styles and grape varietals, inclunding Greece ‘s native xinomavro, agiorgitiko and limniona. This year ‘ s tour will also highlight the new generation of Greek viticulture which draws on traditional winemaking techniques, such as minimal intervetion production, biodynamic farmng, and amphora ageing. Greece enjoys one of the most diverse winemaking landscapes in the world, with a range of soil types from limestone in Nemea and Cephallonia, schist in Naoussa and Rapsani, to granite and volcanic soils in the Aegean islands. Greek wines champion a true sence of place – reflecting a diversity of micro – climates and wealth of indogenous varieties – which is helping to cemente Greece ‘s global reputation for producing some of the world ‘s most unique and expressive wines. Consumers will also have the opportunity to taste the wines at four events, the Greek wine extravaganza, Oinofilia at Sydney ‘s Commune on Saturday, 23 June and Melbourne ‘s Collingwood Town Hall on Sunday, 24 June (held by the team behind Pinot Palooza and Game of Rhones), as well as at Georges on Waymouth in Adelaide on Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 June. Trade will be invited to sample the selection from visiting vintners at Oinofilia during an exclusive preview, spaces limited. Wines of Greece President Vangelis Argyris says the Wines of Greece team is looking forward to returning to Australia for a fourth time.