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Greek wine and the vineyards of Corfu

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Greek wine and the vineyards of Corfu

There is substantial evidence that wine has been produced in Greece since at least 4000 BC. Both the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures seem to have traded in wine and the festivals of Dionysus in spring and winter were celebrated with copious amounts of it. In the "Odyssey", Homer famously describes "The wine dark sea", though whether the wine in those days was greenish blue or Homer was colour blind has not been reliably established. The wine was stored, aged and transported in ceramic vessels called amphorae, labelled with the year and district of its production in much the same way that appellation is controlled today. Like French wines in more recent times, the ancients regarded Greek wine as unquestionably the best.

Though wine production decreased dramatically under the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires some continuity was maintained in areas where the vineyards were under the control of monastic communities. Today approximately 20% of production is exported, 90% of that to other EU member countries.

Corfiots drink a lot of wine, often the produce of their own village vineyards. Most of the wine is produced entirely ecologically with no preservatives or additives. Local vines are dominated mainly by white Kakotrygis and red Petrokoritho grapes. Also cultivated on the island are the white Petrokoritho, Moschato Aspro, Robola and Kozanitis and the red Kakotrygis and Mavrodafni.

Just off a back road between Vatos and Giannades is an extensive estate, formerly the summer mansion of the Theotakis family. The estate has been producing wine for at least 150 years, wine that for decades has been renowned as the among the best in Greece. Now, under the new management of the Antonopoulos Winery, it still measures up to its proud reputation.

Antonopoulos co-owner Yannis Halikias has high hopes. "The grapes are top quality, and in combination with our know-how and experience, the results should be great." Weather conditions permitting, we aim to be making between 30,000 and 35,000 bottles."

The wine is made using ecological processes, backed up with the latest technology. The wine storerooms, like the mansion that overlooks them, are Venetian. Built in traditional style, these cellars provide ideal conditions for cask-aging the wine.

One of the cellars contains a tasting area, which is open to visitors. Halikias insists, though, that he does not want coach parties turning up for a free slug of wine. "I want to guide interested people through the whole process of winemaking, from the grape cultivation out in the fields, to enjoyment of the finished product," he says. "I want to show people the traditions of Corfu, of which this is an important one." We'll also serve our own produce as mezes when visitors come to taste the wine."

In addition, Halikias plans a marked trail around the estate so that visitors can walk amongst the natural beauty of the forest and farmland. Groups should book in advance for a tour and tasting with nibbles. And of course they will be able to buy that great wine.

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