I met Panagiotis Dimitropoulos of the Sant’Or Winery http://www.santorwines.gr/about a month ago, at his winery at Santameri. The winery is at 600m above sea level, 30km from Patras. On the day we had arranged to visit, it was raining cats and dogs for the whole three hour plus drive. I smiled to myself as I drove. If I want something, I really want it, and will not be defied by anything! Thankfully, when we actually arrived, the rain took a break, which gave us a chance to later walk through the vineyard.
Now, as Panagiotis greeted us it felt like a big bear had come to meet us. He is tall, well built, dark haired with a beard, with big dark eyes and looks slightly fierce. This is in total contrast to his polite, soft-spoken manner. This bear was welcoming, but rather solemn. Nevertheless, you know how you click with some people, right from the beginning and being in the presence of each other is effortless? Well, this is what happened. I feel as if I’ve known him for years. Suddenly, this stern look gives way to a hearty smile. One that touches the eyes and creases the ends of them. He even has a dimple on his one cheek. Our reservations fly, our defenses fall. We’re almost friends.
The minute he starts to talk you notice that this man has a philosophy about man and the universe. He is not living his life at chance. He is at peace with himself and his surroundings.
He farms biodynamically and is in the process of becoming certified. He makes wine, but he also makes olive oil. To him biodynamic farming is a way of life. Not marketing, not catchy ideas for sales reasons, but a stance to life. It’s spiritual.
“You have to be in harmony with your environment. You have to respect the plants and animals around you. Have we ever thanked the tree that provides us its fruit? No. People are arrogant. They think the tree is there to serve them. We think we are more important and smarter than an olive tree. We who live for 70years and are susceptible to tons of illnesses think we are more important than the olive tree that lives for thousands of years.” He then continues, “It takes a lot of hard work if you want to work with nature and not against it. You must not be afraid to walk your field and pay attention. For instance, last year, we had a very cool July and August, which meant that the olive fruit fly reproduced incessantly. Instead of finding ways to help the immune system of the plant they were all out there spraying pesticides. All you need to do is look carefully. Have you ever seen the olive fruit fly on a tree that is very dusty, next to a dirt road? Of course, not. The fly doesn’t like dust. Why not try sprinkling zeolite or any other dust.”
He tells us that today he is bottling wine because the moon is waning. According to biodynamic theory you do certain work in the field or in the winery depending on the phases of the moon. “When the moon is waning, you’re in languor. So is wine. That means you are straining your wine less when you’re bottling during the waning moon.” He tells us a little more about biodynamic practices and that he feels very lucky to have met Marios Desyllas who is his advisor on biodynamic farming. “He has written a few books on the subject. We exchange ideas, I tell him things I observe, and we build on each others knowledge.”
All of his wines are unfiltered (only two specific labels are filtered for a specific buyer) and unfined (he is vegan certified), only wild yeasts, with minimal intervention in the winery. He produces 20 000 bottles of wine of which 90% is exported to NY and Washington DC. In the meantime he opens a bottle of Santameriana 2018 and we taste. An indigenous variety that he saved from extinction. This he vinifies in two versions. One which is a white wine and one which is orange. He first planted the vines he found in 2007 and is now in the process of switching to own-rooted vines. The white wine is pale lemon in colour and on the palate fresh, with aromas reminiscent of citrus fruits and some minerality. The orange wine is copper coloured and has a taste of dried apricot and citrus fruit, honeycomb and minerality. This he suggests pairs beautifully with lamb.
He then offers us the Roditis Natural of 2018. The fruit is so crunchy in your mouth you almost feel as if you should be chewing instead of drinking. It reminds me of peaches and pineapple. Amazing freshness, amazing length. Amazing wine! “I try to harvest on flower days. Last year Isabelle Legeron MW visited the farm, and I gave her a roditis wine to try that had been harvested on a flower day and one that had been harvested on a fruit day. No comparison. The one harvested on the flower day was hazier, but the aromas were a blast.”
The interesting thing is that he studied engineering, so I ask him how he got into wine. He tells me that he is the youngest of five children, the only boy. “I was lucky my parents had the land and were grape growers and that I was wise enough not to sell. My parents were poor people, but very hard working, who did everything they could to educate us and give us a good life. I have helped on the farm as far back as I can remember. My father used to sell the grapes and the must. I decided to make a dry wine out of the mavrodaphne we had on the farm, when I was 17. I sold every drop and ever since I have been making wine.”
We go out into the vineyard and start from Santameriana. What beauty! It looks as if it has been taken out of a painting by Claude Monet. As we walk by the field he picks wild asparagus to give me. We then go to the place where he has buried the cow horns. The horns are filled with manure and buried for about 6months (process 500) and are then unearthed. The contents of the horns are dynamised with water for an hour and with this dynamised solution you spray the vines. He shows us the shed in which he keeps all his ‘magic’ potions, the heavy rod he uses to dynamise, which ends in a cross, and the barrel in which he puts the 750lt of water in. He actually pours in water and shows me how it’s done. “You know nowadays some people use machines to do this, but I like to do this myself, with my own two hands. I believe in God. When I dynamise the solution I pray. Biodynamic farming is spiritual. You give and take energy. Just like when you work your field you are grounded. My father was also a spiritual man.”
We discuss whether he would like to grow his business. “I want to move slowly. I want to be able to work my vines myself and to live my life. To enjoy my family; to see my kids grow. For now, I am making a living. My product is not cheap, but it is definitely not overrated. I ask what I think I deserve. I want to preserve my identity and the quality of my wine. I feel there is continuity between the winemaker and his wine. That should not be lost.” I like the fact that he is down to earth and unpretentious. I like his attitude to life. I like his tenderness. And, in my opinion, his wine is well worth a higher price.
We walk back to the winery and try Krasis 2017 (100% mavrodaphni). Once again the aromas and the purity of the fruit strike me. Once again the length is amazing. Dark fruit like plums, herbs and some animal notes. This wine I had served to a set of three different companies of friends and all went to the bottle to see who the producer was and where they could find it.
What he left for last was his amazing Agiorgitiko 2017. Maybe one of the best I have tried and I have tried almost all. Sour cherry, red and dark fruit, liquorice, good acidity, velvety tannins. A beauty.
After the wines we visited the cellar, saw the five yr old barrels, the amphorae and his cement egg. We taste the wines from the barrel. I think what I try is better and better. The attention and the love with which he treats his vines and wines are obvious everywhere. I almost forgot an important piece of information. Wherever we moved, in the vineyard, in the tasting room, in the cellar there was classical music playing. He believes the music helps the whole process of winemaking.
His wines are different. If you find them, make sure to try them. They’re elegant, aromatic, pure, structured and have a finish that goes on and on. The fact that he uses neutral oak barrels and amphorae allows the varieties to express their character unmasked. They are just like he is. They take up space, they have definite form, depth, flow and they’re expressive. Big, with a soft heart.