The Little Things
I found myself a small apartment in the heart of Santorini’s viticulture. My windows open up to vineyards on end. I wake to the sound of nothing but wind, no one around, the peace is loud, it’s nice. At nearly 7am it’s already warm. In the distance I can hear the sea calling me. I dress and strap on my running shoes. I drag myself to the road passing fields of vineyards and the occasional home and run along the beach. A cool breeze off the water combats the sun that is only beginning to heat up, but quickly. Pebbles keep my traction steady. The sounds from under my feet shifts from the clinking of small, solid rocks to the airy porous crunch of volcanic soil. A strong, sandy colored wall made of set lava separates the beach from the road. The colors look backwards though, like the wall should be the ground and the earth under my feet, the wall. The air is visibly thick, its dense weight feels constricting. Humidity hangs heavy in the grey-blue sky. My sudden, intense awareness to the land and climate bring my attention to the vegetation I jogged past just minutes before. I question how it’s able to survive in such conditions. It seems impossible, but mother nature is a clever beast, as are the locals who have creatively found a way to make it work for them.
Living in a global world, where almost anything can be processed, boxed and shipped, ready to be consumed and disposed of as quickly as it arrives can leave us detached from what we consume. We forget about our connection to the Earth and people. Instant gratification and short attention spans take us away from spending time on simple things that we partake in everyday, like eating or drinking. For now, Santorini has me focused on what I’m drinking.
Santorini has some of the best wines Greece has to offer and unfortunately they are rather overlooked in the greater world of wine. Many people learn about Santorini wines secondary to their visit to the island. Many of those vacationing on the island will try the local wine, form an opinion, and never think beyond that. But the fact that the unique varietals here are here only and nowhere else, have never been hit by phylloxera, and are some of the most ancient vines in Europe make the varietals of Santorini extra special, especially in the hands of a caring, passionate winemaker.
For me, getting lost in the aromas, the taste, thinking about its source, puzzling together all the pieces, is the greatest form of escapism. But the luxury of truly getting lost in one’s indulgences takes effort, so I decided to spend some weeks at Santorini’s best winery to better understand and make greater the indulgence of my chosen escape.
Santorini in the summer is hot! Open land separated by stone walls encase endless grapes. They bake under the sun with no rain in sight and no manmade irrigation system to compensate. It’s a wonder how they’re not known for raisins. This is the clever doing of mother nature and the people of Santorini creating a unique way of protecting their product. They have an unconventional, but traditional method of wrapping the vines around the fruit to create a kind of upside-down basket for protection. Lying close to the ground, the leaves shade the grapes from the scorching sun and shield against the wind. At first glance it’s difficult to recognize the plots as vineyards.
The dense humidity that surrounded me during my run is the very necessary humidity that gives Santorini soil its moisture and allows vegetation to thrive. It’s felt all day and in the evening thin, low hanging clouds can often be seen hovering in the valley unassumingly feeding moisture into the ground. Santorini’s airy, loose, porous, volcanic rock that I spent my morning running across allows bits of water to saturate and retain moisture. If you look too quickly you’ll see only dry, rocky soil, but wet, nurturing earth lies just beneath, meters deep. Because of this, the roots run deep and strong, taking in not only the water it needs but all the unique nutrients and qualities specific to volcanic soil. The outcome is grapes high in acidity and with a unique flavor profile from the terroir. These conditions coupled with rare grape varietals indigenous only to Santorini, in the right hands, make for amazing, underestimated wines like Assyrtiko, Athani, Aidani, and Mavrotragano.
When I sit and stick my nose in a glass of well made Assytiko, I am reminded of the rocks under my feet during my run, the smell of minerality and heat that rose off of them as I disrupted the ground beneath me, mixing with the smell of salt coming from the sea, and the unexpectedly light, dry feel of them in my hands. As I allow the wine to roll around on my tongue, contemplating its weight, acidity, and structure, I think to the people who hand-pick grapes in the hot sun and the small yields produced, the time and care taken to allow fermentation in prime condition, and the patience to bottle when it’s just right. And when I take the final sip and set down the empty glass, my awareness is in the moment; the pleasure of indulging in something rare and finite, that comes from a small corner of the world that I am occupying, which many hands took careful time to perfectly produce.
When we take the time to connect with our surroundings, when we question how things grow, where they come from, the history, and who the people are that have made it possible, it allows us to fully appreciate what we consume from the earth. It opens us up to a different level of appreciation. It slows us down and instead of just consuming and concluding whether we like something or not, we can conscientiously enjoy, or at least respect, the fruits of labor from the earth, the farmer, the producer, to those that bring it to you in a glass. And in that moment it’s not really about the wine, it’s about connection. It’s about bringing awareness and attention to our environment and how these things bring us all together.
My time spent at the winery has reminded me to always breathe deeply, look closely, and feel fully with gratitude.