“Natural wines”

In recent years, more and more people have been talking about “natural wines”, and Greece is getting swept up in this trend. Natural wines are an alternative solution to mass wine production which uses invasive approaches to viticulture. On the contrary, in natural wine production, the winegrowers try their hardest not to intervene with any aspect of what should be a completely organic process: from the farming and care of the soil, to the winemaking, maturing, and even the bottling of the wine.

Producers of “natural wines” believe that the vine, the surface, the roots, and the larger environment of the vine, are all part of one living unity. The same is true for the actual wine—wine is not simply chemical compounds but living material. As a consequence, any chemical influx or intervention in any stage of vinification changes the delicate and complex balance of the wine’s elements. This chemical intervention of selected yeasts and bacteria, vitamins and nutrients, nitrogen, acids, tannins, or sulphites, no matter how minimal, can have severe effects on the wine.

In any case, the production of “natural wines” is not meant to be an impossibly strict science. The process has to be adjusted according to the unique needs of the ecosystem and terroir where each particular variety of wine is found and best cultivated (as described in the protected designation of origin or PDO). Therefore, the creation of “natural wines” cannot follow a rigid process; the wines must be created by a person who consciously chooses to respect all of the naturally occurring elements that enable the wine to achieve the characteristics of its PDO.

Two notable leaders have arisen in the field of oenology due to their methods of non-intervention in vinfication: Max Léglise and especially Jules Chauvet. In Greece, steps have already been taken to follow in these leaders’ footsteps; some Greek winegrowers already produce “natural wines” by applying either organic or biodynamic methods to their wine production. Many of the vines they use originate from seedlings of old grape vines that are immune to phylloxera (one of the most destructive grape pests worldwide). Not only are these vines endowed with a unique character because of their age, there is also minimal oenological intervention necessary, thus ensuring the high quality of the wine. Greek winegrowers have also begun participating in various fairs for “natural wines” with great success. Furthermore, well known European wine journalists have repeatedly praised these natural Greek wines and many (off-license) restaurants recommend these wine products among their wine lists.

Innovation in Vinification

Besides virtual miracles in quality, Greek wine production also boasts a considerable amount of innovation. This, however, should not lead to the wrong impression that a bottle may contain a technologically perfect but organoleptically impersonal wine. On the contrary, an example of innovation in Greek wine is exactly this co-existence of old and new -the use of technology and the most modern methods aiming at promoting, as strongly as possible, the unique character of the Greek vineyard and its wines.

New Greek wines carry a long history and a heritage which comprises unique viticultural practices and a treasure of local grape varieties. This, combined with the contribution of keen producers who apply modern, human-scale wine production, make the new Greek wines different and unique. Nevertheless, the producers do not rest there, because continuous development is a very important factor for wine! Thus, innovation in Greek wine has been considerable for several decades now. They start from the vine and reach the glasses of new and seasoned oenophiles, enchanting them. The promotion of the quality and character of Greek wines, and the strengthening of their image in the international wine market require innovative actions, from the vine root to the bottle. Innovation in Greek wine proves and consolidates their prominent position worldwide.

The vinification and equipment of many Greek wineries set examples of technological development. Innovative vinification has made Greece among the most technologically advanced wine producing countries in this field.

Innovative vinification starts from the most contemporary presses which allow the extraction of must in conditions of oxygen absence. In a country like Greece, where temperatures during the fermentation period are especially high, the use of stainless tanks with multiple walls that contain coolants is a absolutely necessary, while heat exchangers can cool the must in record time. Investments in innovative vinification also include red wine vinifiers, many of which are extremely advanced and undertake the task of extracting the color and potency but not the aggressiveness of the skin of the red grapes. Furthermore, barrels and wooden tanks often used for the maturation and vinification of whites and reds are of top quality and are frequently replaced, making Greek cellars a real pleasure to the eye. They also secure excellent sanitation for sensitive wines.

Innovative vinification is found in many different ways. After the prevalence of selected yeasts in the preferences of Greek oenologists due to the safety and possibility of control they offer, Greek wine making has also started making use of local yeasts through a more systematic and explorative approach. It is worth noting, however, that the leading position of the selected yeasts is not the result of coincidence but of long experimentation with various strains that were found to bolster the uniqueness of the aromas and tastes of Greek wines.

Particular attention is paid to the stabilization of wines in modern tanks, as well as to filtering through modern methods (e.g. diatomaceous earth filters) which add one more piece of puzzle to the state-of-the-art innovative vinification.

The dedication of Greek wine making to advanced technology and innovative vinification is officially recognized, since a very big percentage of the new wines of Greece come from wineries that have gained the strictest quality assurance certifications ISO and HACCP.

Furthermore, experimental and micro-vinifications, either by agencies or private entrepreneurs (or joint schemes) -often in the form of experimental planting, constitute an inextricable part of innovative vinification in a country aspiring to be part of the world wine scene and are systematically applied.

Enthusiastic Greek winegrowers

Lots of excellent Greek wine flowed through winery ditches before finding its way into the glasses of diners all around the world, mainly thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic Greek winegrowers. New Greek wines are surely a great deal different from those of antiquity which could be diluted with salted water and enriched with thyme, mint, cinnamon, honey or raisin, but the dedication to tradition and the concept of terroir has remained unchanged in Greece through time. Thus, the new wines of Greece are as unique as their predecessors, having retained unchanged the principles of yesterday, enriching and complementing them in an ideal way with the most modern methods and creating a unique blend.

The excellent native varietals of Greek vineyards offer a unique kaleidoscope of aromas and tastes that can excite any wine lover, just like the enthusiastic Greek winegrowers, or the most demanding of connoiseurs who annually award them a spate of prizes and distinctions in the most demanding competitions around the world.

In a country, such as Greece, where viticulture and vinification have been known for several millennia and designations of origin preceded even French ones by about two thousand years, it might seem strange that there is still enthusiasm about wine production… Nevertheless, the enthusiastic Greek winegrowers have not lost even a particle of their passion for wine.

To be sure, the rebound of Greek wines is not coinicidental. From time to time since the golden antiquity, the Greek vineyard suffered a range of afflictments – from foreign occupation to phylloxera- and as a result its wines from leaders on the international wine stage became extras. But Greeks could not be easily estranged from good wine and when the conditions allowed it, the new wines of Greece showed again a dynamic presence! Nowadays, with their performance and unique character, they have earned a deserved place on the table and cellar of every demanding oenophile who knows and looks for something different, rare and distinct. This, however, required gifted people who combined their long experience with fresh ideas and many decades of hard work. These people are the keen and enthusiastic Greek winegrowers, who sometimes are viticulturists themselves and have built  this impressive edifice of new Greek wines from the vineyard to the bottle.

Unique winegrowing practices

Greece has an age-old tradition in winegrowing which has led to a wealth of unique winegrowing practices. As historical records and archeological facts indicate many became common practice after having been in existence for entire millennia.

The renowned Greek wines of antiquity acquired their fame through their quality which, to a great extent owed its existence of such practices, which were remarkably advanced for their times.  Among them are wine presses, debourbage, filtration, sulfation, oaking, etc.

Through the passage of time, these unique winegrowing practices developed in Greece were handed down from generation to generation.. The result is the production of wines popular both in their place of production as well as elsewhere, among wine lovers seeking out the winegrowing traditions of different countries.

Some characteristic examples of unique winegrowing practices still applied by Greek winegrowers today are:

  • Sun-drying the grapes to produce straw wines (vin liastos)
  • Adding pine resin to produce retsina
  • Various discrete ways of vinification leading to the production of traditional wines such as verdea, nycteri, marouvas and “air-dried” wines. Many of these wines are still crafted in historic Greek vineyards today.

Most of these unique winegrowing practices are applied under the supervision of experienced scientists, agriculturalists, and oenologists using state-of-the-art equipment in modern wineries. Still, the production process is based on techniques that emerged and were first tried out centuries ago.