The island of Crete is experiencing the rebirth of its wine industry. A new generation of producers is taking over a long history of family vinification. Still with a core of home made craftsmanship, they are starting a revolution made of innovative taste and superb quality labels.
The culture of wine has been present on the island since remotes times, and it still remains deeply attached to the local culture and traditions. Grapevines have been systematically cultivated on the island for about 40 centuries. As a matter of fact, several archaeological excavations have brought to life evidence proving that, even from the Minoan era, Crete as always been active in wine production, being grapes one of the staples of the flourishing Minoan economy.
Grapevines have been systematically cultivated on the island for about 40 centuries.
Cretan wines made it into Rome when Crete became a province of the Empire. Production reached every corner under Roman domination and its quality was praised all over the known world.
Years later, during the period of Venetian rule, local wine reached even higher standards. Superb quality was produced and exported to the rest of Europe, boosting commerce and economy in the region. However, in 1669, the Ottoman domination came along with Muslim laws against wine consumption, thus resulting in a negative outcome for winemaking and a decline in economy.
The island’s winemaking roots proved strong and resilient over time. Despite all the battles Crete went through during the last centuries, it were families the ones in charge of keeping traditions alive. Wine had been confined to family production for years, mainly for private consumption and, even today in most cases, it still remains a household business.
Several were the conditions that opened the road to a more modern production, a substantial rise in tourism during the early Seventies came along with a change in mindset. Small family producers started taking into account consumer tastes and market trends. Yet, they were still after more European aspirations. At the time, it seemed obvious to bet on international varieties, such as Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, for the equally international public arriving to the island.
It didn’t take locals long to understand that changing from the exceptional quality of local vines to similar varietals that could be produced in any other part of the world wasn’t exactly a wise decision. In fact, the interest of international exporters was placed on diversity; the market was looking for something new and only regional grapes could make Crete stand out.
The market was looking for something new and only regional grapes could make Crete stand out.
Minas Tsoulfas, Sales Manager of Cretan winery Gavalas, explains: “It was a renewed use of traditional varieties the key element that has put the local labels in the places they deserve within the international market.”
To make any revolution work, tradition is never enough. On Crete, it was also the result of innovative quality, improvement of skills and balanced investment. Local producers taught the world that it is also possible to have innovation within tradition. Hard work and self-confidence made Cretan wines finally gain the place they rightfully deserve in the winemaking scene. New aromas and tastes begin to emerge thanks to a knowledgeable use of Cretan varieties.
Hard work and confidence made Cretan wines finally gain the place they rightfully deserve in the winemaking scene.
Almost every winery on the island could be set as an example. For instance, in about 340 hectares, Nikos Gavalas cultivates the two white autochthonous varieties, Vidiano and Vilana, landmarks of Crete, as well as Moscato, Malvasia Aromatica, Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Among the red varieties,the locals Kotsifali and Mandilari as well as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. All of these result in a total of eleven different labels crafted with extreme care and innovation.As from 2001, his vineyards are part of an organic cultivation system seeking to protect the environment and the consumer from pesticides’ contamination.
Hard work and excellence don’t go unnoticed. Gavala’s effort was recognized with a Silver Medal for their Ephivos rosé in 2015, at the Berlin Wine Trophy, as well as two gold medals; one for their red Monaxicos (2012) and one for their very special rosé, the Katostrati (2015). In 2016, at the Decanter World Wide Awards, Lyrarakis Wines brought back home six medals and two commended distinctions while Diamantakis Wineryhas been constantly receiving awards and recognition on several competitions too.
Cretan winemakers are fighting back crisis and adversity in a very competitive market. The winning weapons are simple but marvelous indigenous varieties, and the results are so impressive as to deserve more than a toast.