This is the modest entrance to Gavalas winery situated at Megalochori, Santorini Greece.
Gavalas Winery has been in business for the past 3 centuries & the Gavalas family has been engaged in vinifying different indigenous grape varietals grown in Santorini since the end of the 19th century.
This tiny room was where it all began.
This is the area where the harvested grapes are crushed by treading them barefoot. This crushing process was to gently squeeze the berries & break their skins to liberate the contents within. This free-run juice then trickled down a shallow drain into a little underground well just outside this walled pit.
These are some of the apparatus & utensils used by the Gavalas family in generations passed & as you can see, everything was done manually before mechanisation was introduced.
Now in keeping with the times, stainless steel vessels with a volume of several cubic meters are used in the secondary fermentation of wines. Depending on the desired taste & goals of the winemaker, wines could either be fermented in oak barrels or steel vats which did not influence the final taste of the wine. Gavalas Winery has the capacity of 150 tons.
Whether aging in tanks or barrels, tests are done periodically to check the status of the wine. This includes common tests for Brix, Ph, titratable acidity, residual sugar, sulfur, volatile acidity & alcohol percentage. The wine must be settled or clarified & adjustments made prior to bottling. This is the machinery that helps with bottling at Gavalas Winery.
This cool vaulted room is where some of the wines are kept for maturing.
These gigantic handmade oak barrels are where the wines are left to age, taking from 3 to 6 months when the fermentation process continues very slowly.
The Vinsanto at Gavalas Winery is produced from the native grape varieties of Assyrtiko, Athiri & Aidani. The volcanic soil in Santorini is characterized by unique geological inorganic elements coupled with limited rainfall & strong winds resulting in a very low yield of about 300-500 kgs of grapes per 1000 sq m of vineyard. Grapes of excellent quality & perfect maturation are then carefully picked & sun-dried on terraces for 10-15 days before the vinification process. The clusters are pressed early in the afternoon when they are still warm & at their optimum, producing a small quantity of juice of high sugar content – 10 kgs of grapes giving only 1 kg of Vinsanto wine. Fermentation continues till Christmas.
In Santorini the vines are trained in a unique technique known as koulara. As the vines grow, they are woven into baskets with the grapes facing toward the inside of the ring. The vine’s leaves and vine provide protection for the grapes against strong winds and harsh sunlight.
Though Gavalas Winery is not large like some others that I have visited, their wines like the Vinsanto, Nikteri, Santorini, Katsano, Aidani, Voudomato & Santorini Natural Ferment have won accolades & numerous awards at International Wine competitions. Their wines are available in the Greek market & in the USA.
Meet George Gavalas, a 4th generation vintner who carries on the proud tradition of his family in vinification & bringing to the world wines of exceptional quality. I tasted their Vinsanto, described as the mythical nectar of Santorini & fell in love with it instantly. It was decidedly sweet but not cloying, fruity, rounded & intense in flavour. Too delicious not to cart home! This amber coloured wine fills the chalices of Orthodox churches at Holy Communion & makes a fabulous dessert wine chilled at 6-8°C.
Delectable breadsticks, pretzels, 3 different cheeses, salami, hams, sweet cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomato puree, figs & raisins all augment & compliment the different wines magically. A gastronomic wine tasting experience that would make even Dionysus smile!
When you come to Santorini, you will find a host of wineries that you can visit to do wine-tasting but I chose Gavalas because it was one of the oldest on the island & it is located in a traditional village. Not only is this cavana unassuming & totally welcoming, my visit was made more special when I got to meet the vintner himself George Gavalas who showed us around the winery & enthralled us with his stories.