Capturing the volcano’s heartbeat
Episkopi Gonia is near the centre of the island, where the Argyros family have been producing wine for over a century.
The estate-owned vineyards are mainly in the villages of Episkopi and Pyrgos. The climate here is arid, hot and difficult. There are many types of volcanic soil, mainly basaltic and black lava deposits with some pumice. The landscape is beautiful and wild, with an altitude ranging from 35 metres to 200 metres above sea level.
One thing they can brag about on Santorini is their wine-making tradition, which is one of the oldest on the planet.
They were producing wine, even before the volcanic eruption of 1650 BC. The Argyros family can also claim a long association with the land and wine production. Matthew Argyros, who runs the business, is a fourth-generation winemaker, but before that the family were grape growers.
The winery was established in 1903 by Mathios Argyros, and it became famous for the high quality of Vinsanto, the traditional sweet wine of Santorini. As the years went by, new generations were born and raised in the vineyard.
It is the bond between the family and its vineyards and the extreme conditions on the island that helped forge the skills and care that go into the production of Argyros wines.
The highly skilful and painstaking art of growing vines in the shape of a basket (kouloura) in order to protect them from the wind and extreme heat continues to this day. And all the vines are ungrafted since the phylloxera blight has never reached the island.
The land cultivated by the family may have increased, but their respect for the terroir and for local grape varieties such as Assyrtiko, Aidani, Mandilaria and others have remained their guiding principles for over a century. As Matthew Argyros himself says: “Tradition is the most important thing.”
The turning point for the estate was 1974 when Yiannis Argyros took over from his father. In the years that followed, despite the tourist invasion of Santorini, he decided to invest in more land dedicated for the production of quality wines.
He began looking beyond the Greek market in order to expand his business abroad.
The winery was completely modernised in 2015 and moved into an ultra-modern building with high-tech equipment.
Another distinctive approach of the Argyros family has been its focus on the potential of each individual grape variety, as opposed to the traditional blending of indigenous grape varieties (Nychteri). Their main focus is on Assyrtiko, but they were also the first to produce mono-varietal Aidani. But by far the most important pioneering contribution of the estate is its unshakeable belief in what Matthew calls “the leap to the future”. This means using organic methods, finding the most suitable terroir for each grape, emphasising quality over quantity, producing different labels according to the age of the vines, and using the most modern technology for the vinification.
The dedication of Argyros family to their land and vines is absolute. Their so-called secret is “talk less, work more”.
Love, care, an almost feverish determination to create a good product and a passion to express the terroir so that you can almost taste the volcanic soil is – quite literally – bottled.
Matthew’s passion is to find the best way to let the hot lava stone sing about its mineral, plethoric, age-worthy character through the wines he produces.
The wine made from the oldest vines, up to 200 years old and more, has produced some world-class wines. His family’s investment in the best land and the best fruit is unrivalled in Santorini, and there is no compromising on quality.
Continuing the great tradition of their top sweet Vinsanto – a wine once tried and impossible to forget – Argyros has succeeded in producing dry wines of all colours.
It is the only estate with its own big vineyard, supported by 50 partner-growers with whom they have long-term contracts and relationships.
It is the largest producer on Santorini using organic methods without any pesticides or herbicides, and a small portion is already experimentally bio-dynamic.
But Matthew is not interested in talking about this. The vision, he says, is “not playing the marketing game, but conquering the mind and the souls of people with nothing but the reality of your product”.
So, according to Matthew, the goal is to achieve a quality so high that it can stand alongside a great wine from Burgundy or the Loire Valley.
Photo credits: Author’s archive and Estate Argyros