The old tomato factories are either destroyed or repurposed, and this one works great as a location for aging Gaia's Vin Santo.
The tasting room (formerly the dance floor for the nightclub) is perched on the edge of the Mediterranean. From this unique volcanic beach, it is difficult to imagine that this is the same sea that washes ashore on Croatia's verdant coastline, and that these are the same waves that lap against the jagged rocks that rise up from the Amalfi Coast.
On this day, the waves seemed a bit violent; possibly a good day for some small-time surfing. As you approached the water, powerful crests came crashing down on grapefruit-sized rocks, shaping them into soft, round stones. Once the water hit the beach it disappeared quickly as it filtered through course sand-- exactly the opposite of how a crashed wave rides up several meters on the compact, silky sand of a Caribbean beach.
But in the tasting room, away from the vociferous meeting of water and rock, the sound of the crashes had a lulling, gentle effect. You couldn't block out the sound of the waves, just as you cannot separate the influence of the ocean when you taste these wines.
Most of the vines on the island (with the exception of some of Sigalas' vineyards) are trained as a basket. Each year, the wood from the previous year is coiled to form another ring of the basket-- counting the rings, you'll see some baskets are close to a century old. When the baskets are about 80-100 years old, they are snipped off, and a new basket is started from shoots that come up from the root system.
The nutrients pulled up from the soil by the vast, ancient root system must coil through-- in some cases-- a football field's length of vine before reaching the fruit.
The soils in the vineyards are not unlike the beach sand off the winery steps. White and black sands, yellow sulphur rocks, red pumice, and snail shells form a deep layer of volcanic-based soils practically devoid of organic material. It's mind-boggling to walk above root systems that have been mining this rock collection for half a millennium.
Training vines in this basket method is laborious and time consuming. Pruning takes weeks, sometimes months.
Most of the vineyards are owned and worked by locals who have passed down vine training/pruning techniques through the generations. There are about 1,000 growers who hold an average of less than 1 hectare. These growers sell their grapes to one of the 13 wineries on the island.
When Yiannis wonders aloud to some of his growers why so much hard labor is put into so few grapes, they say they do it "to be unbored." (ha!) You might also see the faint trenches they've dug (in unbored states) between the rows-- these are dug to help water distribute evenly throughout the vineyard in a heavy rain.
Aside from the occasional heavy rain, one of the biggest vineyard destroyers is a unique wind that blows up from the Sahara every few years. Known as the Livas, the hot wind can "turn your grapes to raisins in a day," Yiannis notes. "It can destroy your harvest." Other winds besides the Livas can also be threatening. In 2012, Force 11 winds "didn't stop for three days and we lost 75% of our berries right at budbreak."
Another winemaker, Stefanos from Argyros Estate, also lamented the 2012 damage. Shaking his head, he said, "I remember the date. April 18th 2012," as he despairingly recalled hurricane-force winds in his vineyards.
Here, Yiannis lifts up a basket from the bottom, revealing the coil-like training method, and showing us some of the older wood snaked at the bottom.
2013 "Wild Ferment" Assyrtiko
1/2 barrique - 1/2 stainless steel
of the barriques: 1/3 Acacia, 1/3 French, 1/3 American
A unique herbaceous aroma of dark green shiso leaves; a soft oak structure that hides like lace behind the bracing acidity; the finish tastes like fresh grapefruit and you feel a unique cooling sensation on the gums.
2009 'Thalassitis' Assyrtiko
round aromas, like a fluffy lemon meringue; a dancing midpalate; a unique sensation of cooling on the palate similar to the 2013 wild ferment; the sensation you get from chewing mint without the mint flavor.
2013 'Thalassitis' Assyrtiko
lemons, salts, and stones; a vibrant electric midpalate; a dense yet light flavor, like an airy meringue made of salted pomice, lemon zest, and electric sparks.
*notes from a visit/tasting on 6/4/2014