Santorini Wine Trails

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Iliana SWT

Everyone, at least once, should visit the island of Santorini.  The natural beauty of the island is unsurpassed.  Its’ white and blue houses and domed churches sit atop stunning landscape and seem to be glued to the edges of the caldera. The black beaches if they could talk, would tell of a history of volcanos, the joy of visiting tourists, and the never ending sea beating against them. It calls to tourists and brings visitors from all over the world.

Village of Oia in Santorini

Hat beach and wine

Santorini is much more than her picturesque sights, exciting nightlife, and gorgeous beaches. There is a lesser known side of the island that is just as unique.  With the eruption of the volcano in the late 17th century creating a challenges for plant species, a unique ecosystem was born. Plant life needed to adapt.  The adaptation of fruit bearing plants resulted in densely concentrated flavors and lead to top quality oeno-gastronomic products.

A Santorini Vine

Mini tomatoes

The food and wine of Santorini is outstanding due the distinguishing terroir.   It is a part of the island that visitors should take the opportunity to learn about and enjoy while there.  It is not a surprise that in 2014, Wine Enthusiast magazine chose Santorini as one of the best wine destinations.

Iliana Sidiropoulou, Oenologist & Founder of Santorini Wine Trails,  after 20 years in the Greek wine industry, decided that she needed to share her knowledge and appreciation of this island and it’s gifts of food and wine. Her company organizes daily tours and tastings on the island which are available in three languages.

For our interview series, Women in Wine, we at Hellenic Lifestyle decided that we should speak with this fascinating woman.  We were very impressed with her knowledge, passion, and outlook on life.

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HL  (Hellenic Lifestyle):   How did you get the idea for your company?

IS (Iliana Sidiropoulou): I love communicating with people, talking about wine, and sharing thoughts and knowledge. Then of course, I do adore Santorini. No matter what is going on in life, I can breath here. I owe this place. I had worked for 3 seasons at the Gaia Winery on Santorini as a hospitality manager, and then I felt that it was time to follow my own trail.

Logo SWT

HL:  When did you decide to choose wine as a career? What have been the high and low points for you during that time? 

IS: At the age of 18 when I had to choose what to study, my first choice was to become an architect, my second one, an oenologist. I was believing, and still believe, that the wine brings people closer. It’s always easier to share thoughts, feelings and emotions over a glass of wine. It sounds romantic, but it is true. The wine is a sign of civilization and a sign of quality of life. I could have done that without getting lost in chemistry, biology and biochemistry, but I chose the hard way.

Santorini welcome

HL:  Tell us about your education, experience and that first job. 

IS: Degree in Oenology (Athens & Bordeaux), attended the WSET Diploma courses | PR & Hospitality Dpt at Boutari Wines, Cellier Wine Club Manager, Project Manager of New Wines of Greece Association, Hospitality & Wine Communication at Gaia Wines, Organization of wine events & exhibitions at Vinetum (Oenorama wine show)

I landed in the business by chance. During my 1st trip to Santorini in April 1992, I met the manager of Boutari Winery, Yiannis Koulelis, who proposed that I work in the lab of the winery. I accepted and spent two successive harvests in the production department at Boutari Santorini.

HL: What is the most fulfilling thing about working with Santorini Wine Trails, or what do you enjoy most?

IS:  The wine has broadened my horizons. When you taste and study wines, you discover a whole world. Apart from the particularities of every wine region, you also learn about different cultures, different people, their traditions, their habits, the gastronomy/cuisine, the history, the geography, even the geology and topography of each place. To me, this is amazing. You conceivably travel all over the world through the wine. I do adore that. The deep knowledge of wine region enhances the enjoyment of the wine drinking and ameliorates your skills to appreciate it.  In the wine world, I do also adore the fact that there is always something new to discover: an indigenous grape that I have never tasted, a winemaker, a wine region…  I feel lucky because not only do I love my job, but thanks to the wine, I traveled all over the world, I meet interesting people, and  I have had great experiences.  But, what I love most about my job is the anthropocentric aspect of the wine: communicating, enjoying, sharing experiences and thoughts. The wine is the catalyst to achieve that.

 

Santorini Wine trail tourists

HL:  Your proudest moments professionally– outside and within your company?    

IS:  When I was working for the New Wines of Greece Association (NWoG), I had successfully fulfilled two difficult projects under strange and stressful conditions: the participation of the NWoG in a wine fair in Beijing and a 45’ film in 5 languages covering the 5 most important Greek wine regions. After these two projects, I felt that I’m able to “move a mountain”, as we say in Greek.

new wines of Greece

In regards to the proudest moment with my company.  It was when a middle-age couple from New Zealand, who had experienced several wine tours all over the word told me that they had the most interesting wine tour of their life.  Then there was another time in Vienna.  I had emailed a couple who were living close to Vienna and were my guests on Santorini to tell them that I was in town. We met and they were my city guides for a whole day. We walked all over the city, we ate, we drank, and we laughed.

The santorini wine tours

HL:  About the tours, can all levels participate?  What makes Santorini Wine Trails unique? 

IS:  We are successful and unique in the fact that our tours are built around quality, small groups, intimacy, privacy, and  professionalism.   Our tours can be enjoyed by all regardless of  their knowledge. You know, during the tours, more or less you say the same things, but in fact the guests are those who lead you. The thing is to be comprehensive and approchable, to make your guests understand what you say, help them to feel the wines and their birth place, make them fell comfortable to express themselves. It’s absolutely pointless just to say “preset words, phrases, or fancy wine terms”, without taking into account to whom you address. To me, it’s crucial to understand from the beginning to whom you speak and then to adapt the tour to its size. That’s the most interesting and challenging part for me. That’s why, I never get bored. Because, every tour is unique, and every guest is unique. This is always the same when you work with people. The interaction makes the big difference. The interaction is the key.

Touring Santorini

HL:   At the end of a tour, a novice wine loving tourist asks you which three bottles they should pack in suitcase for home. Which do you suggest and why?

IS:  1.  Aidani, the friendly version of Santorini wines, aromatic, easy to drink.  2.  A tank fermented Assyrtiko, the most typical version of Santorini wines (the pure expression of Santorini’s terroir).   3.  Vinsanto, the sweet version, ideal to end a dinner.

Vinsanto wine and glass

HL:  What are the futures plans for Santorini Wine Trails?

IS:  The Santorini Wine Trails is a new company. So, my priority right now is to build it with the aim to contribute to the establishment of Santorini as a oeno-gastronomic destination. I have some thoughts about expanding the wine trails all over Greece, but I prefer to work step by step. When I achieve my 1st goal, I may go further.

HL:  Although there are an increasing number of women working in the wine industry, the business is still very much a male dominated environment. What challenges does this present for you?

 IS:  It’s a man’s world in almost all sectors. The world of wine is no exception.    Women though are more active, more organized, more precise, and they love the details. That makes the difference in the results. In the wine business, the most challenging part for a woman is to work in the production. The fields which are dominated by women are marketing, public relations,  hospitality, wine communication, and sales.  The wine is a product with many particularities that have to be communicated. The image plays a determinant role. To add value, it’s crucial to have elegance, communication, intimacy–the human face of the wine.   To me, I never felt that there are limits due to gender.  In the wine sector, for example, there is the Greek Women Association and the International Association of Women in Wine.

HL:  Does the Greek Wine Industry have a policy of support and sharing? Or is a cutthroat business?

IS:  Over the last decade, there are programs financed by the EU, the Greek government, and the winemakers regarding the promotion of Greek wines in the third countries through strategic plans, progress, portal, material, road shows, and exhibitions. Collaboration is not the strong point of some Greeks, but in the wine sector, there is obvious effort to this direction.  Greece needs some improvement in marketing and communication in the industry.

HL:  What special qualities do you feel Greek (Santorini) wines offer the wine connoisseur?

IS:  The most distinguished terroir of Greece. The pure sense of terroir with a  3.500 year old vineyard and being phylloxera free.  In a strange term I would say it has –historically modern vineyards.  With lack of rainfall, strong winds, and other contributing harsh elements,  the vine struggles to survive and produces unequaled grapes with low yields. Assyrtiko, the noblest white wine of Greece, if not of the Mediterranean, produces the most age worthy Greek whites wines. It is a  multidynamic grape. Many rare and unique factors including an ancient pruning system– the ambelia or kouloura.

Greece is the new old world. Numerous indigenous grapes, food friendly, and reasonable prices. There is always something new and rediscovered.

One round santorini vine

Round vines in Santorini

Clipping vines

HL:  What is happening in terms of varietals in (Santorini) Greece? Which do you think will be the next rising star?

IS:  Assyrtiko is the predominant grape covering 80% of the vineyards. But don’t put aside, Aidani, Athiri and the rising red star Mavrotragano. There are 50 grapes on the island. Over the last years, some small producers are trying to revive some rare grapes like Katsano and Voudomato to give interesting wines with extremely low quantities to make a trend.

HL:  Which is Greece’s best indigenous varietal?

IS:  In Greece, there is pluralism regarding the indigenous grapes. There are more than 300 with  50-60 that are systematically cultivated. Over the last decade, there are some rising stars such as Mavrotragano from Santorini, Vidiano from Crete, Kidonitsa from Laconia and many others.  According to the strategic plan of the Greek wine industry, the 4 major grapes which have the potential and the critical mass to be established in the international wine scene are the Assyrtiko from Santorini, the Moschofilero from Mantinia, the Agiorgitiko from Nemea and the Xinomavro from Naoussa and Amyndeon. I totally agree with that.

Santorini vines round

HL:  Tell us what was your best wine & food related travel adventure (other than your own tours).

IS:  I have visited Napa Valley, California twice and it’s the best wine & food travel adventure I have ever experienced.  It’s completely different from what we know in Europe. It is  ‘Wine Hollywood’.  I visited 20 wineries in one weekend. I believe it’s crucial to be there at least once in your life, especially if you are involved in wine tourism. My dream wine travel adventures now are Tuscany and Provence.

Wine cheese santorini

HL:  If you could turn back time, would you have done anything differently in your career? What would you like to be known for? 

IS:  For sure, I could have done more, but I happy with all I have accomplished until now. It’s a matter of character, personality and circumstances. I stayed faithful to my beliefs and convictions. After 20 years of experience in the Greek wine industry, I decided to follow my own trail, by creating the Santorini Wine Trails. The only thing I think I should have done differently is to have started running my own business earlier.

I would like to be known for quality, reliability, flexibility and intimacy.


Hellenic Lifestyle thanks Iliana for her time and dedication to Greece’s wine, food and tourist industry.   We look forward to spending more time with her again on Santorini.  For more information about Iliana, or Santorini Wine Trails…

Visit their website,   http://santoriniwinetrails.gr  Be sure to like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SantoriniWineTrails, and follow them on twitter at  https://twitter.com/SantoWineTrails

Two wines and hat

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