This is actually Part Three of our post on the wines of Santorini. I was so taken by this particular wine project, its visionary, dedicated patriarch & his whole mission of growing & producing wines in as natural way as he can…..we thought this one needs its own post.
As I had mentioned on a previous post, while at Gaia winery on Santorini, the very enthusiastic, highly professional winetasting room host, Melina, after our taste of the Gaia wines, handed the keys of her own car to her friend & told her to drive us to Art Space. She did mention this was an art gallery, who also happened to make wines……my kind of wines, as she put it.
When we drove to the spot, our driver wasn’t even sure if this was it. (There is but one very small, plain sign, almost un-noticeable, that she finally saw that confirmed we were there!) I can honestly tell you my apprehension really grew at this point, as we were far removed in location & a considerable wait for any taxi or driver to come.
After a short time (which seemed like an eternity to me), a gray haired, bearded, wily man came out to greet us. (It turned out this was owner/winemaker Antonis Argiros himself). He then took us down to his labyrinth of caves ranging from 30 to 40 feet below, with 21 feet thick pomice walls & ceilings creating a cool, quite remarkable space. The first few tunnels were decorated with many paintings, separated now & then with sculptures & other artistic pieces. Yes, this is a really cool looking art gallery, BUT, I couldn’t help but wonder, what am I doing here?
Then, I saw a concrete hole in the ground & some other winemaking/distilling equipment here & there, all cleaned & neat. It became apparent, that his space allowed him to have a vertical vinification system (or was it created for that & the art was used to fill in the spaces. Since he spoke no English, I didn’t know)–3 levels–designed to use natural, gravity flow. Now, I knew we were on to something.
He also showed us pictures of the old days–1861 when it started–as well as pictures with him as toddler; how they grew grapes & how they dried the grapes for their vinsanto bottlings. Since he spoke no English & me no Greek, it was another way to communicate. As our time together went on, I got a growing sense & appreciation of his fiery passion & his mission. He was something special & I grew more & more intrigued at the possibilities.
By the time, we sat to taste his wines, he had asked someone to come & interpret for us. The first wine he poured was produced from the indigenous Aidani grape variety–2014 (organically grown grapes from 70 year old vines, 24 hours skin contact, wild yeast fermented, no ML, 7 months on the lees–looking like an “orange” wine–unfiltered, unfined, coppery color, unusual fruit, slight oxidative taste & showing a distinct bitterness & alcohol in the finish). I thought it was good, in fact the best Aidani based white wine we had had on the island so far, with real character & mojo. Sensing our fascination, he then disappeared & came back with a taste of the still fermenting 2017 (with 10% Assyrtiko)–still displaying unusual fruit–quince, starfruit, peach skin, minerality, & still had the same mojo & character to its core. One could readily see this was some kind of winemaker, whose wines touched me much more so than the other wines we ran across on Santorini. The defining moment of this visit, however, proved to be the third wine–2015 “Saint August” (98% Assyrtiko, wild yeast fermented, 7 months lees contact). My notes include–“copper tinge, unique fruit, nutty, full of character, heart, minerality/salinity, surprisingly sublime, seamless, holds 14.5 alcohol surprisingly well“. This wine really moved me! I was quite stunned, as the wine was quite unique & idiosyncratic–to the point where I don’t think too many wine lovers would embrace its wildness, its “orange” wine nuances & its completely atypical character.
At that point, the game changed. I inexplicably & surprisingly got chicken skin (something that has happened only a few times over the years, especially on a first visit like this). Because of my obvious reaction, at least partially, I could also see Antonis change. His demeanor became softer, more like a father talking about his children AND his eyes blazed with excitement & his passion clearly was showing in all its glory. We definitely connected at that moment. I made a new wine friend, halfway across the world.
He then disappeared & came back out with a sample of the 2017, which was still fermenting. I was amazed, despite how hazy, unpolished & fizzy it was, the wine still showed the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness, mojo & obvious winemaking mastery of the bottled wine.
Antonis then disappeared again, this time coming out with a 2013 “St August” (which when the “interpreter” finally came, noted that he last opened this wine on his BIG birthday, meaning it was something truly special). Well, it was something truly special. This slightly aged version again had the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness & mojo, but with a unique nuttiness, peach skin & insane etherealness. I was absolutely taken by this wine, the grape growing & the winemaking genius of Antonis Argiros. “Chicken skin visit!”.
Antonis was kind enough to give us the remainder of the 2013 to take back to the hotel so we could taste it again later, after it had aired. I could more clearly see then, it was not a white wine for everyone’s palate. Quite candidly & realistically, probably just a few would really get the genius behind his wine, even more so, because the wine is VERY tasty, but not really delicious, charming or truly noble. I later asked myself, was I just caught up in the moment?
To that, I would reply–quite candidly, it is possible & probable. Still, I must add, I don’t get chicken skin like that too often. (I, in fact, recall less than 10 times previously over the years). Secondly, I don’t need someone to sing a song pitch perfect. I just want to someone to sing from the heart AND that it moves me. That was the case here. Furthermore, this visit reminded me of what true artisan can mean. Antonis grows & makes wines like no one else I have encountered. Lastly I met a very special, new wine friend on the other side of the world AND, I will treasure meeting him & tasting his wines forever.
Thank you Antonis! Aloha, my friend.