How many of you have enjoyed a glass of Vin Santo, the sweet desert wine served mainly in Tuscany, in Italy? And how many of you were told that Vin Santo means “wine of the saints” like I was? Well, today we learned the truth. Vin Santo actually refers to Santorini’s signature sweet wine and was named such by the Italians who wrote on the import cases, “vin Santo,” short for “vino da Santorini”—Santorini wine.
We learned this small detail at a charming wine museum owned by the Koutsoyannopoulos family. The Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum is minutes from Fira and is the only museum of its kind in Greece. Dug into the tufa soil 24 feet underground, the caves and tunnels that house the museum were carved out by the family over a period of 21 years. The museum tells the story of the Koutsoyannopoulos brothers who came to Santorini in the 19th century, reviving and perfecting the art of viniculture on this barren, craggy island.
Although Santorini is known for its quality wine production, don’t come here expecting vistas of Napa or Tuscany. The horizontal vines that add such textural interest to a landscape don’t exist here. Instead, what one finds are wreaths of grape vines growing close to the ground wound round a basket. The reason for this is Santorini’s notoriously harsh, hot and dry climate. By wrapping the vines around the basket near the ground, they withstand wind, heat and better absorb the dew produced in the morning hours—often the only moisture the grapes receive. This technique has been used for centuries and is still employed today, to great success.
The museum took us through the many generations of the Koutsoyannopoulos family and their wine making innovations. Each alcove told, in somewhat retro Disney fashion with life size puppets, an aspect of wine making in Santorini.
After our visit to the winery we were treated to a private tasting in a conversely modern tasting room, complete with a pre-recorded tasting narrative. It may not have been everyone’s preferred style of wine tasting, but I doubt many would argue that it wasn’t unique!
To cap off our wine tasting afternoon we then headed to the antithesis of the family run museum with its quaint, kitschy puppets and pre-recorded tasting to a modern, sleek wine tasting machine. Santo winery arguably boasts the most scenic setting of any winery anywhere. Set along the caldera on the opposite end of the crescent from Oia, one needs little more than a glass of wine and the views to be convinced one is in paradise. The only problem, paradise was crowded. Really crowded. All the cruise ship guests had the same idea and getting a glass of wine at the winery was laughably as impossible as it was for Paul Giamatti in Sideways trying to get a glass of wine at the Fess Parker winery, ultimately resorting to drinking from the spit bucket. While none of us sank that low, the ambiance lacked a certain, je ne sais quoi…sincerity? At least the views delivered. Oh wait, we are on Santorini. That’s a given!
We wrapped up our last night on Santorini doing guess what? You guessed it…watching the sun sink into the sea. Santorini has the ability to induce a false sense of photographic genius in even the most banal of iPhone photographers and we were no exception. I’ve deleted over 40 photos of sunset that night, and I’ve been told by Santorini standards it was nothing spectacular, but in my heart of hearts it was something special, at least due in part to the scenery but more so to the company!
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