Posts Filed Under on the road
Although the term terroir gets tossed around like confetti at an Italian wedding these days, there are several (mostly family-owned and –operated) wine properties in Napa and Sonoma that are taking the idea seriously.
One such property is Benziger, who biodynamically farm grapes and make wine in a beautiful section of Sonoma County. So much so that they’ve hired self-proclaimed terroir specialist Dr. Pedro Parra to help them analyze the soils and subsoils of their vineyard locations – involving scientific analysis and the digging of deep trenches at strategic locations in the vineyards to examine the soil profiles and root growth. You can see some of this in the video coverage below.
General Manager Mike Benziger and I sat down last week at the family winery to talk about California wine, terroir, dirt, and Dr. Parra’s unique work, but failed to discuss the strange state of my wind-blown hair. Enjoy!
“All this was green – from here until the sea.”
George Koutsoyannopoulos has a round, friendly face that belies the seriousness of what he is telling me, one arm on the steering wheel of his “Volcan Wines mobile,” the other gesturing over me towards the passenger side window as we ride up the twisting, winding passage towards one of Santorin’s higher points. We’re on our way to lunch at the local taverna; a Greek lunch, mind you – the kind that is of Homeric epic proportions even by European standards. It’s the kind of lunch that will last hours and showcase the best local cuisine that the island has to offer, the kind of lunch where you might just forget how to walk by the time it finally concludes.
Typical day at the office, right?
From the vantage point of the front passenger-side window, I don’t see vineyards in the valley below as it stretches out to the rocky beach and then the Aegean; I see an airport.
“Building in Santorini has reduced due to the recent economy,” George says, “from the `80s to 2000 was the biggest expansion. But the airport had the biggest impact on the vineyards.”
George is a brave man. I know this not because he is driving recklessly – he isn’t (in fact, his driving, like the pace of just about everything else on this gorgeous volcanic oasis, can best be described as “laid back”). I know it because he is one of the driving forces behind the island’s Wine Museum, which chronicles the history of Santorini’s viticulture from 1660 through the 1970s. For one thing, the museum, while an informative treasure trove of the unique and ancient story of viticulture on Santorini, is underground and populated with some of the eeriest animatronic humanoid automatons I’ve ever seen – there is no way I could walk through it at night without totally losing it in an apoplectic, fetal-positioned mess of abject fear.
More importantly, George’s investment in the museum is a brave gamble, part of a battle being fought to protect the island’s vineyards – and the history of Santorini’s wine culture, itself a miracle of human ingenuity vs. the forces of nature – from extinction.
The greatest threat to the way of the wine on this most-beautiful of all of Greece’s Aegeanic treasures?
The island is simply too gorgeous not to be visited, and the result of its open embrace to the throngs of tourists who visit each year is a bit of a cold shoulder when it comes to preserving its time-weathered culture of unique, indigenous wine…
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Peering out across the ancient caldera into the Agean from just about any spot on top of the beautiful Greek island of Santorini, you could be forgiven for mistaking the place for the edge of the world.
And when I say “beautiful” I don’t mean beautiful in the “my backyard garden is beautiful” sense of the word; I mean beautiful in the “top ten most beautiful places on planet Earth” kind of beautiful. It might be the edge of the world, but after spending any appreciable amount of time on this one big photo-op of a rock, you might also be forgiven for literally treating as the world’s edge, in so far as never wanting to travel any farther ever again.
If you’d been here in Minoan times, it very well may have seemed like the end of the world, if not its edge.
It was during this time, some 3,600 years ago, that the caldera as we know it today – possibly the world’s largest, stretching some 18 kilometers – was largely formed, the result of an eruption so massive that it has been linked to the sinking of Atlantis and the parting of the Red/Reed Sea during Moses’ flight from Egypt.
The resulting spew of earth and volcanic matter covered Santorini in almost 50 meters of volcanic rock and ash; for a few hundred years afterward, nothing could live there.
The effects of that massive and violent eruption are still felt today – they are directly responsible for the uniqueness and potential of Santorini’s wine.
Of course, you could get a similar overview from a history book, brochure, or Wikipedia; the difference here being that I spent several days on Santorini last week, walked those stony, ashy vineyards, and tasted my way through the direct impact of the islands soil and climate…
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In which Joe conducts a brief interview with Paris Sigalas, winemaker at Santorini’s Domaine Sigalas, and with the help of their eonologist attempts to translate the term “kick-ass” into Greek.
For more Greece in images, check out the photos – non-lazy (i.e., for me, written) coverage is in the works: