An Interview with Artemis Karamolegos and Lefteris Anagnostou
Artemis Karamolegos and his winemaker Lefteris Anagnostou talk about the recent success of the winery. They were granted the highest possible award 'Best in Show' at the Decanter competition for their Assyrtiko 2016. We also discuss the future of Santorini, Assyrtiko and the upcoming 2018 harvest.
Did the Decanter ‘Best in Show’ medal for Assyrtiko 2016 come as a surprise to you?
Α: These types of competitions include processes which, by their very nature, generate surprising results. This was an incredible honour and most certainly a pleasant surprise; something that made us very happy.
L: We have faith in our work and that is why we enter international competitions. If we think of how rare this specific award is globally, and how unique it is for Greece, you realize it is a huge surprise. Also, if we take into account the fact that only three wines scored 98 points and, of these, the Assyrtiko 2016 was the only white wine, internationally, to have attained that score at this year’s competition, it’s almost unbelievable! But, if we think of the potential of the Santorini terroir, our surprise is now accompanied by the responsibility we carry.
How much work does it take to attain such an honour?
A: The truth is that constant work and investments were needed over the years, at various levels, to achieve this. The winery began with a production of 15.000 bottles and within fifteen years it produces around 180.000; it is one of the fastest growing wineries nationwide and it has the third largest production on the island. Technological equipment, planting of new and renewal of older vines, investment in human resources and honest relations with our producers have been a constant priority throughout these years.
L: Hard work is needed on the part of the production team. Good communication, trust, persistence, patience, dreams, passion, study and a lot of anxiety, because for me it was the first year I was in charge of the winery. It seems that everything went well, so now I can relish the satisfaction.
How far do you think Assyrtiko can go? Both in terms of quality and price?
A: Even though I am born and bred in Santorini, and despite my many years of experience in the wine industry, I believe that predictions are risky. The environment of the island is in a state of flux, and that is obvious in the huge changes that took place in the '80's, and even more so, with what is happening in the last couple of years. In terms of the prices it feels like we are sitting in a roller-coaster, in which we have no way of braking, and I cannot see how this will change, despite the risk involved in this situation. In terms of quality, I think we have a lot of room for improvement.
L: The truth is that, in the last few decades, there is constant progress in the quality of the wines produced by most of the wineries on the island. There is much international interest in Assyrtiko and its reputation is growing fast. I can't imagine what the ultimate limit of this terroir could be. I mean, what could we expect if the vineyard is studied better? If we practice clonal selection and study the adaptability of the varieties that have existed here for 3.500 years? If the composition of the soil at the different locations is studied and a direct link is established to the quality of the grapes produced? If the producers, cultivators, oenologists are more qualified scientifically and have more references and databases available to them in the future? If the wineries acquire more sophisticated technological equipment? And so much more...
What would you consider the biggest bet for Santorini?
L: All of the above can only apply if the vineyard of Santorini continues to exist. The biggest bet is the preservation of this rare vineyard. A unique place, that was formed by volcanic activity, and in which the vines have been cultivated incessantly over time. They have managed to overcome natural disasters, wars, population movements and phylloxera and find themselves now on the brink of extinction by airbnb, short-sightedness and lack of moderation.
What is the biggest bet for the winery?
A: I believe that stability is the factor that will add value to our efforts. I would like to better establish our position in the world of wine, to maintain our present production levels and to constantly improve. If we maintain stable relationships with the co-operating producers, continue to invest in our vineyards and winery and continue to experiment, research and study, I am certain we will achieve our goals.
Is there room for experimentation with Assyrtiko?
A: A great deal! Only its price does not allow for experimentation! Practically, I really believe we are a winery that is not afraid to make changes and to risk experiments. Mystirio proves my point. We are constantly experimenting both with our techniques and the equipment used. This year we'll be introducing concrete tanks, amphoras and oak fermenters, while some of our small vinifications may soon be put on the market.
L: Honestly, the way Assyrtiko is expressed on this island leaves much room for development. When specific plots are vinified separately, the differences in the wines produced are impressive, particularly, if you take into account that, theoretically at least, there isn't much variation in soil composition, climate and cultivation methods. In my opinion, Assyrtiko is the most multi-dynamic white variety of Greece and, for this reason, it lends itself to experimentation, to different approaches and expressions; its capacities have not been fully explored.
Is the quality of Santorini wines at a distance from those coming from other parts of Greece?
A: The Greek vineyards have such wealth in native varieties, microclimate and history that I find it quite unfair to make comparisons. The uniqueness of Santorini is indisputable, but I believe that with the right actions, the proper tools and patience, other areas of Greece can come to the fore and can accompany Santorini on the international markets. There is a great deal of work that's been done in other winemaking zones, I just think Santorini is the force that moves Greek wine. That is why we have this trend of well-known winemakers settling or vinifying in Santorini.
What is 2018 going to be like? Both in terms of price and quality?
A: As I said, price wise, it is difficult to make a prediction. One thing is certain though, these grapes are very scarce and attract much competition, so they are in an open auction. The rise in the price of our raw material (grapes) is certain, but the question is how much this will be. In terms of volume of production it seems that the island is at its average, or even maybe at its best of the last five years, due to the good conditions that we had last spring. Even so, this does not mean that the price of grapes will be defined by the production.
L: In terms of quality this year is akin to 2016. Major drought, a favorable spring (the one of 2017), without losses from the winds or diseases, but very early-ripening. More so than in the year 2016, when we started harvesting on the 26th of July! If that happens again, it will be a year with high acidities, a lot of extract and phenolic potential; with good management and attention we can probably do better in terms of quality and results than we did with our excellent 2016.
What more can we expect from the winery?
A: We have a lot of surprises. First of all you can expect us to constantly improve, because we cannot stop looking for the very best, in everything. 2016 was the last year of 'Assyrtiko' under this label. It came to a close in the most profound way and, of course, this raises our expectations for the label that will succeed it. We are in a continuous process of evolving the qualitative features of our wines, and we hope that the world will get to know our work more closely and thoroughly. Many times other places are in the spotlight, but we will carry on trying to make this unique place known to all.
L: You will soon see the results of our particular micro-vinifications, but we can't rush. We invested, substantially, in vinifications of particular plots of land and the results are excellent up to now. Apart from the new label that will soon be put on the market, in the short future we will be bottling the wine from our selected vineyards; these will display the other dimensions of the variety and even the island. In general, we are undergoing a very productive period at our winery, so stay tuned!