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Santorini's Winemaking Tradition: A Glimpse into the Legacy of Saint Averky


Saint Averky is the protector of wines, at least on Santorini island. Santorini has two churches after Saint Averky, a name not too common in Greece, one in Pyrgos and the other in Emporio villages. On his name day, the winemakers of Santorini open the new wine barrels as a custom. This is what I wanted to experience and by the way, taste some of the brilliant wine that Santorini makes. That trip was in collaboration with Blue Star Ferries.

Saint Averky: Guardian of Santorini's Vineyards

On his name day, the winemakers of Santorini open the new wine barrels as a custom. This is what I wanted to experience and by the way, taste some of the brilliant wine that Santorini makes.

Santorini's Winemaking Tradition: A Glimpse into the Legacy of Saint Averky
Saint Averky on the island of Santorini, Greece.

Santorini: A Tapestry of Geology and Architecture

Santorini is one of the most famous Greek islands. Not only the geology of the island is unique because of its volcanic heritage, but the architecture is probably the finest example of the quintessence of Greek simplicity. Bright, white-walled houses with simple lines, blue windows, and doors follow the geology of the volcanic terrain and whole villages from afar, resemble white pebbles sprinkled on charcoal-black earth. 

Pyrgos was no exception and was beautifully built on a small hill. Very soon after landing your feet on this island, you can completely understand the words of the poet:

"Oh God you spend so much blue so that we cannot see you"

\\ Odysseas Elytis, Nobel Prize

Saint Averky on Santorini island by George Tatakis
Pyrgos village view

Capturing Santorini's Essence Through Tradition

I met a traditional dance teacher, Artemia, who was happy to wear her traditional clothes and make some pictures around the island. I chose two different locations, one to signify the island of Santorini, with the characteristic view of the Caldera, in Oia village and another inside a vineyard, for the day of Saint Averky. The day was cloudy, weather I enjoy and prefer over a sunny day for shooting because of the gloom and biblical feeling.

Saint Averky on Santorini island by George Tatakis
Artemia wearing the traditional costume in Caldera

A Tradition Hindered by Unfortunate Events

A series of unfortunate events had handicapped the custom of St. Averky this year. For one, the drought of this year did not help the wine to be ready on time, so most of the winemakers would not open their barrels just yet. Secondly, both the churches would not proceed with the religious celebrations as they both had suffered losses. The priest of the church in Pyrgos, as well as the brother-in-law of the owner of the church in Emporio village, had very recently passed away. The only place where the celebration Mass would take place was the church of the Transformation of God in Emporio village, where an icon of Saint Averky is also kept. 

Saint Averky on Santorini island by George Tatakis
The church in Emporio village, performing the Mass for St. Averky

Rediscovering Tradition Through Nikolaos Drossos

However, I was mostly interested in meeting a traditional winemaker, as most winemakers in Santorini have now modernized their production to be able to make more wine with constant quality and sell it all over the world. Furthermore, most people nowadays in Santorini have turned towards the tourism industry which can supply a much better income than wine does. Fortunately, my hopes were met in the face of Mr Nikolaos Drossos. A 91-year-old man who lives in Emporio village and is a traditional "Canavas", as the winemakers are called in Santorini, and is in such love with working the earth, that never in his lifetime he dared to betray. I've heard about him, by sitting with the elderly in the traditional cafe in Emporio village. Nikolaos cannot hear very well and is a difficult person to communicate with. I was pointed to him by his grandson, who keeps a barbershop in the village and he took me to meet him. After that, he left me with him, bidding "good luck".

Tasting History: Journey into Nikolaos's Cellar

Nikolaos was very happy to take me down to his cellar, full of wine barrels, and let me taste from each barrel. Dry, Mezzo, Vinsanto; every wine is better than the other. Soon I realized, that Nikolaos was so willing to show me around because he was hoping I would buy some of the wine. You see he hadn't realized so far what was it exactly that I was doing. Every time he offered me a glass of wine, he would let me know the price of the bottle, which gave me the hint. After I made it clear, I hope, that I was a sort of journalist, he thought it was a good time to end our tour and go back to the house. 

Saint Averky on Santorini island by George Tatakis
Inside the house of Nikolaos Drossos

A Tapestry of Life: Stories Unveiled

I took him back to the house and asked him to tell me some stories about his life. He told me about his time in the Balkan wars, where he worked mostly as a builder. After the war, since he was such a good worker, they gave him the chance to start working in Athens, which he soon after abandoned, as he wanted to go back to Santorini because he loved working on the earth. The earth and the love of his life, his wife. He was in love with her since she was twelve. He was seven years older than her and unfortunately, she passed away at 67 from Leukemia. A disease where her blood was turning to water as he described it. She was a beautiful woman. Very beautiful, he said, and let the tears run unbiased along his cheeks.

Saint Averky on Santorini island by George Tatakis
Inside the house of Nikolaos Drossos

Safeguarding Memories: Behind Closed Doors

As time passed, he felt that my interest in his story must probably be genuine, so he decided to take me to the formal sitting room, behind a closed door. In this room, many family photographs were hung on the walls and laid on the furniture. To me, it looked like the closed door was the safe door to a valuable treasure. As if he was safeguarding a precious gem, his memories, that old age could take away from him. He quickly took his place under a photograph on the wall with him next to his wife. Probably he realized I would take his picture, providing proof that he is still here and still remembers. 

A Final Glimpse into a Lifetime

He showed me to the rest of the rooms and he also showed me his rifle. His bedroom was a very simple space, with only a bed, a cupboard, and a small table next to the bed. The house, apart from the "chamber of memories" had no other pictures around. Only, next to his bed, on the small table, there was a picture of his wife, just by herself. He held the picture and showed it to me, asking me to confirm. She is a beauty, isn't she? I am sure that his last thoughts will either be his wife or a bunch of grapes. When he meets her again, they will spend eternity in a small house, young again, surrounded by a vast vineyard with the tastiest, juiciest grapes he ever imagined. 

Saint Averky on Santorini island by George Tatakis
Nikolaos Drossos next to his picture with his wife

Epilogue

In conclusion, Santorini's winemaking tradition, intertwined with the guardian Saint Averky and embodied by the steadfast Nikolaos Drossos, reflects a timeless connection between the land, its people, and the art of crafting exceptional wines. The island's unique geological and architectural tapestry serves as a backdrop to a narrative that transcends generations.

Nikolaos Drossos, with his traditional cellar and tales of love and loss, becomes a symbol of resilience in the face of modernization. The challenges faced during Saint Averky's celebration underscore the delicate balance between tradition and the evolving winemaking landscape.

As we bid farewell to the quaint village of Emporio, we carry with us the essence of Santorini's winemaking spirit. This journey not only unveils the rituals surrounding Saint Averky but also immortalizes the dedication of individuals like Nikolaos Drossos, who safeguard the heritage of Santorini's wines.

Love xx

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