Is Crete the next big thing in the international wine scene? Decide for yourselves with a visit to the superb wineries of Chania.
Smack in the heart of local life and myth – whether as a food staple, a mirth-inducing toast to friends and strangers, a powerful natural remedy or a valuable trade commodity – wine is omnipresent in Crete. And it has been so since time immemorial: viticulture in Greece’s largest island dates back to Minoan times, with the oldest wine press (some 3500 years old) found in the region of Vathipetro.
In fact, the fame of Cretan wines has long exceeded the confines of the island – the Minoans were crafty traders and their ships sailed across the Mediterranean filled with products of their land. As archaeological findings from the Minoan Palaces attest, the undeniably sophisticated Cretan wines thus became renowned throughout the known world. Over the aeons, Cretan winemakers increasingly improved their vinification skills – their sweet wines became a commercial success in Roman times, while winemaking and exports continued to thrive under Venetian rule. Even during the Turkish occupation – Islam’s ban on wine consumption curbed but did not kill production, which continued unabated in small family units – wine never left the locals’ everyday table, and the Sultans often succumbed to the odd glass of this exceptional drink.
Nowadays, the Cretan, is the third-largest vineyard in Greece, accounting for an impressive 20% of the country’s total wine production. Until recently, however, the emphasis was on quantity rather than quality. With the arrival of mass tourism, Crete became a powerhouse producer of largely bulk wines, yet serious wine production and promotion were adjourned. Once the toast of the civilized world, Cretan wines were failing to reclaim their position in the modern era.
But the tides have been steadfastly turning since the 00s, with a new generation of producers spearheading the renaissance of several indigenous varieties that had gone almost extinct. Some of these hail from ancient and medieval times – and their stories and flavours speak volumes about Crete’s culture, customs and norms. With conscious travellers more and more shunning the standardised and the mundane and instead focusing on authentic, original experiences, the tasting of Cretan wines is perhaps the finest way of getting immersed in the local ways.
Blending age-old wisdom with advanced skill and know-how, contemporary Cretan winemakers are creating gems from local grapes worthy of worldwide acclaim. The lion’s share is found in Herakleion, but it is in the wineries of Chania where the magic happens. Make sure to consult with our concierge at the Adeste Chania Luxury Villas, to tailor-design a visit that‘ll linger long both in the memory and the palate.
Cretan wines are getting their groove back. Sample them at the great wineries of Chania
Karavitakis winery is nestled among luscious vineyards and olive groves on the hilltops of Kolimbari, in Pontikiana, less than an hour’s drive away from your Adeste Luxury Villa in Kokkino Chorio. Boasting an 80-year-old family tradition in winemaking, this is one of the oldest and most successful Cretan wineries. With Nikos Karavitakis, a third-generation winemaker, now on the helm, the game is raised even higher. Karavitakis is creating wines from local grape varietals – which account for a whopping 80% of the total production, international ones and also experimenting with rare varieties from around the world. And though the winery has significantly grown over the years, it has never lost its sustainability ethos. The vineyards are cultivated organically, without the use of pesticides, while all viticultural work, from pruning and leafing to harvesting, is done manually. Tours are offered daily – and range from simple wine tastings to more detailed ones, paired with food. There is also a quaint little church, on-site, dedicated to Agios Tryphon, patron saint of vine growers.
Some 30 minutes away by car from the Adeste Chania Luxury Villas, Dourakis is one of the most renowned wineries of Chania – with good reason. Located in the quaint village of Alikampos, this boutique establishment was inaugurated in 1988 and has been ever since specialising in the cultivation of native Cretan grape varieties including Vidiano, Vilana, Malvasia and Romeiko – which are in some cases blended with French classics. But guests can enjoy much more than wine tasting amid characteristically serene surroundings here. There is a restaurant that serves exceptional traditional food; while cooking lessons are also held on-site. You can moreover enjoy an evening that fuses astronomy and mythology with wine or even choose to celebrate your life’s most precious moments at Dourakis. Built at an altitude of 450 meters above sea level, their privately-owned vineyards, are 100% organic. Sustainability is indeed key in this family-run business. Following the footsteps of his father Andreas, Antonis Dourakis is at the helm – and his next goal is to source 100% organic grapes from their producers within the next five years.
A mere 15-minute drive from Chania Town, and some 50 minutes away from the Adeste Villas, the village of Vatolakkos is home to Manoussakis: an organic, boutique winery that’s been producing handcrafted wine under the brand name Nostos since 1997 and that’s largely responsible for the Cretan’s wine recent surge of fame. Local varieties like Romeiko, Muscat of Spina and Assyrtiko, take centre stage; while there is a strong emphasis on natural production methods – from manual harvesting to planting vegetables to augment the nutrients in the soil. Surrounded by citrus trees and olive groves, with Crete’s great mountains on the backdrop, the setting could not be more idyllic. Apart from tours and tastings, there is also a great restaurant for lunch or dinner, while cooking classes and private events can be organised as well. Proprietor Alexandra Manousakis has also created two superb restaurants in Chania, which are the stomping ground of local foodies.