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05 November 2020

The wisdom of Ikaria

By Ze'ev Dunie

Orly and I have visited Ikaria for the first time two years ago. We dared to come back, for the third time, during these miserable times. We both missed Ikaria.

This Greek island cannot be described in common words. Ikaria is not about beaches or mountains, taverns and other common tourist attractions. On the contrary. It almost has none of it. So what is it about this place? The beauty of simplicity?  Certain energy or spirit that is beyond words? Whatever it is – I can sense this unique, one of a kind, almost mystical atmosphere, the moment I step down from the airplane, in the small and empty airport, right at the Eastern edge of the island. 

There is nothing to do here but stare at the sea. Well, almost. There is Nikos Afianes (pictured below). After several days of staring at the sea, listening to the constant sound of the waves crashing onto the rocks, we got into the small car and drove up the mountains to Raches, where Afianes winery is located.

Our first meeting with Nikos Afianes, two years ago, was a remarkable surprise. There was no previous information to prepare us. Nikos is a very knowledgeable person. Yet he speaks in a modest manner. It's that kind of a rare opportunity where one can just listen… But it was the tasting which followed, that put everything in crystal clear focus. Nikos makes several wines. They are all made of two local varieties: Begleri (white) and Fokiano (red), all fermented with wild yeast and no sulfites addition. The first he calls "modern", which is a wine made in a conventional manner: stainless-steel tanks, French oak barrels- all the usual process. Next is the traditional version. Natural yeast, and Amphoras. No matter how well one writes, no matter how precise are the choices of words, it is practically impossible to describe the sensation of tasting the same wines, side by side, made by the same winemaker, and so completely different. There is really no rational conclusion to such a tasting. The most I could do is meditate about what just happened. 

I felt pretty much the same after I've spent several hours with Yiannis Economou at his winery in Crete. In that tasting and conversation, a few years ago, Yiannis "crushed" all my previous knowledge of winemaking. To be more precise: conventional winemaking. I remember driving all by myself, the long, three-hour drive from Ziros to old Hersonissos village. It felt like a Deja Vu… 

I mention this, here in Ikaria, because these two incidents, these unforgettable tastings and talks, took place in Greece, with Greek winemakers. Both extremely knowledgeable, both so soft speaking. It is here in Greece, and more precisely, on these Greek islands, where different wisdom was presented to me. I cannot define this "wisdom": nor can I explain it in an accurate way. 

Here is my best effort, in that regard. In high school, many years ago, there was a plaque hanging on the entrance wall. It had an old saying on it: God, give us three virtues. Courage – to change things we can change. Peace of mind - to accept things we can't change. Wisdom - to determine which is which.                   

In recent years I find wisdom disappearing from my everyday life. Naturally, I look for wisdom to guide me in decisions, made every day. Simple things: turn right or turn left?  In a strange way, it feels like that wisdom has weakened… it's hardly there anymore. Surely this kind of feeling, of being "abandoned" by wisdom, is much more noticeable during the terrible Corona affair. However, one must go on with life. Decisions should be made. Actions should be taken. Based on what? – I ask myself. And that's exactly where this alternative wisdom comes in. Something in one's stomach tells you, which way to turn. What to do. It can't be explained in common words. But it's there, willing to guide you, as long as you are willing to listen to it.  

Back to Ikaria island. The days linger here, almost motionless. Mornings turn slowly to noon, clouds moving in the sky, ships sail far on the horizon, sunsets. A glass of Begleri with Nikos.  "Another wisdom" is quietly making its way.  Perhaps it's simply old wisdom, one that is not scientific, but rather a result of slow accumulation of tradition. 

Ze'ev Dunie is the owner-winemaker of Seahorse Winery in the Judean Hills in Israel

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