Ask any frequent traveler to Greece to name some of their favorite spots and surely the island of Santorini will be on the top of the list. Home to an eclectic selection of beaches, picturesque views of seaside villages, and Instagramable sunsets.
But few visitors likely know before they get there that Santorini is also home to a slew of vineyards and has been making wine for over 3,000 years. Upon arrival, they quickly learn of the island’s winery scene and its flagship grape Assyrtiko (often mixed with Athiri and Aidani grapes for the notable dry whites and sweet Vinsanto). There’s also Mandilaria grapes, which are used to make lush, velvety red wines with black-cherry flavors.
On the Santorini vineyard circuit, innovative wineries are working hard to market themselves to the throngs of caldera gawking tourists, who are finding, as George Michaelides, a tour guide for Santorini Wine Tours, told me: “You’ll never have a bad glass of wine anywhere on Santorini.”
If you know anything about wine or wine tourism, the idea of Greek wine tourism will seem strange.
Go back 20 years, and the international conversation on the subject of Greek wines was non-existent. Many cultured palates were not captivated by what they found to be an unrefined pine resin infused Retsina. Not that it mattered that Retsina isn’t the only wine of Greece. The region’s offerings were barely noticeable to connoisseurs, who were surely not visiting Greece for its viticulture.
But a lot of Greece is wine country. There are over 400 fascinating varieties of grapes that are indigenous to across the nation (although you won’t find many full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon vintages). The usually warm dry summers with little rainfall and mild winters are ideal for wineries. And the culture has long touted the virtues of drinking wine; to this day, most meals in Greece come with wine.
Now, after two decades of Greek wineries working to produce a better end product, wine aficionados around the world are taking notice. Greek wines are no longer looking down on and many are winning big at international wine competitions, like the Decanter awards.
And the whole industry is starting to see the impact of such an inspiring resurgence in quality. Greek wine has the 15th largest annual production in the world and now ships to over 35 countries. And those exports are increasing — not only of mid-level varietals but also on the higher end scale. What for years was only enough to stock the shelves of specialty food markets has been selling in massive numbers since the early 2010s.
So why not try to merge some of that success with Greece’s other hot economic sector: Tourism?
As is the case for most of southern Europe, tourism is a big part of the Greek national economy. According to a recent report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, tourism generated about 35 billion euros for Greece in 2017 (just under 20 percent of its gross domestic product) and supported over 450,000 jobs (about 12 percent of the national employment).
To continue to grow, Greek tourism can’t rely entirely on the commonplace sun and sea formula, where beachcombers flock to its islands seeking party-infused summer vacations. Travelers already visit the nation because of its historical significance as the birthplace of western civilization; seemingly at every turn, an old archaeological relic looms large with treasure troves of ancient and classical importance. There needs to be more.
Today’s tourists are looking for authentic experiences and encounters, fueled by delving deeper into a nation through its cuisine, wine, spirits, and so on. Appealing to the traveler looking to discover the many unique flavors that make up a destination’s cultural identity bodes well for future tourism.
And what could be alluring to the those who uses home stays in lesser explored regions to search for one-of-a-kind experiences then an immersive trip tied to the once overlooked Greek wine industry? Journeys that include encounters at wineries, unique local meals paired with local wines, and getting to know the local vintners.
…a lot of Greece is wine country. There are over 400 fascinating varieties of grapes that are indigenous to across the nation
While it may, at first, seem like a minor travel niche, wine tourism is actually an expanding market. It’s traditionally attracted tourists with a higher-end of income that they were willing to spend. But with the overall cost of travel decreasing, it’s opened up to a new legion of consumers looking for a more unique and experience.
And the Greek government thinks so too. It’s recently been on a mission to market Greece as a popular wine destination. Greek wines are front and center at tourism exhibitions; wine tourism in Greece is being pitched at wine industry trade fairs; and the Greek Tourism Confederation is giving workshops on how to promote the county as a must-visit for wine lovers
Greece is betting that the experiential travel movement will continue to thrive and that it’ll be able capture a share of that successful group of spenders with the help of its wine industry. It’s one more option blending with a nation blessed with a tourism richness. Where else in the world can you visit the ruins of an ancient civilization created thousands of years ago, soak up the sun on some of the most beautiful beachfronts imaginable, and visit wineries, all on the same trip?
Only in Greece.