Crystal clear waters, beautiful towns, and a salty sea breeze: wine tasting in Santorini truly was a dream come true! And that’s not all… wine has been growing in Greece for millennia, making the vineyards of Volcanic Santorini some of the oldest in the world. Here’s a brief history of Greek wine, as well as what it’s like to visit a vineyard on the island!
A History of Greek Wine
For as long as people have inhabited Greece, they’ve grown grapes. In fact, there’s evidence that people were growing grapes as long as 4500 BCE. Elsewhere in the world archaeological sites suggest that people were producing wine as far back as 700 BCE in China and 6000 BCE in Georgia.
In Greece itself, the nutrient-rich nature of the soil meant that viticulture was more than possible. The tipple is even mentioned in some of the greatest epics Ancient Greece had to offer; Homer speaks of wine in both the Odyssey and the Iliad, while the earliest word attested in Ancient Greek is οἶνος (oinos) meaning ‘wine’.
Within the Classical World, Greek wine was regarded to be among some of the highest quality and winemaking techniques, tricks, and tips soon spread from Ancient Greece to their former colonies, areas of Europe now known as Italy and France. So influential was the history of Greek Wine that the Ancient Greeks even influenced the Romans.
As you may well already know, the Ancients had many gods and goddesses, including one specifically for wine, Dionysus. God of grape making, the harvest, and wine, the Greek god was also the patron of fertility and theatre. Worshipped as early as 1000 BCE by 700 BCE and also known as Bacchus, by 700 BCE, he had become a firm fixture in Ancient Greek worship.
By the time of the Byzantine period (330 CE- 1453 CE), wine was a firm fixture in the culture of Greece, although this time for a different purpose. By the end of the 4th-century, the capital of the Roman Empire had been reestablished as Constantinople and the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity.
Wine was used (as it still is today) within the communion and so monasteries grew wine throughout the Empire. In more recent times, Saint Triphon has been established in Eastern Orthodox Church as the patron saint of winegrowers. Today, Greek wine is thriving and vineyards can be found all over Greece, particularly in the Aegean Sea.
Wine tasting in Santorini at the Venetsanos Winery
While in Santorini, the most famous of the Cycladic Islands, we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon taking a tour of a wine museum, sampling local food (if you ever get the chance, make sure to sample the local dishes of fava), and of course, sipping on some local wine.
What made our time on Santorini so special is that even during Ancient Greece, the Aegean Sea was noted for its top-quality wine. And so, when we spent several days exploring the ever-popular island of Santorini, our visit to the Venetsanos Winery truly was one of the highlights- to taste history is truly a unique experience.
Should you wish to visit the winery for yourself, Venetsanos is open daily between 10 AM and 9 PM. While there, you’ll be able to learn about the history of wine production on the island, as well as taste some of the award-winning wines grown on the island for a fee.
If you’re able to, then I highly recommend trying to coincide your visit with sunset at golden hour provides the best light for viewing the Aegean Sea and enjoying the rooftop terrace where you sip on the wine samples.
When on Santorini, it’s possible to see vines pretty much everywhere you go. Rather than the carefully linear lines you often see in viticulture, the vines are grown in ‘natural baskets’. These plants are grown close to the ground and form natural basket so as to protect the grapes from the strong winds which are so synonymous with the Cycladic Islands.