Since 1988, Mount Athos is an UNESCO World Heritage Site as it retains an outstanding universal value: an enormous wealth of historic, artistic and cultural elements preserved by a monastic community that has existed for the last twelve centuries and constitutes a living record of human activities.
At the same time, it maintains a rich flora and fauna that has been well conserved by careful management of the forests and traditional agricultural practices. Thanks to its natural habitats and endemic birds, Mount Athos is also part of NATURA 2000 European Union Network.
Wine in Mount Athos
As various texts describe, the roots of vine growing and winemaking in Mount Athos are dated back to antiquity. Mount Athos was a nursery for indigenous grapes; among the varieties planted were Limnio, Fokiano, Roditis and Muscat of Alexandria.
According to a mandate that was found, selling wine outside Mount Athos was prohibited; however, if the “outsiders” offered goods that were in shortage on Mount Athos, the monks could give wine in exchange.
It was 1969 when Evangelos Tsantalis, during a casual day of hunting on Mount Athos, was caught in a sudden downpour, which caused him to seek refuge in the nearby Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon. When the storm ceased, Evangelos Tsantalis -in return for the monks’ warm hospitality- gladly accepted the offer for a tour at the surrounding area of the Monastery.
While walking, the site of vines caught his eye; old deserted vines, yet at a stunning location called Metohi (pronounced me-toh-hee) Chromitsa, with ideal exposure. That was the moment the idea of the rejuvenation of Mount Athos vineyard was born, an idea that became a lifetime’s work for Evangelos and the Tsantali family.
A year later, Evangelos Tsantalis came to an agreement with the monks of Saint Panteleimon regarding the exploitation of the vineyards at Metohi, committing himself not only to the rejuvenation of the vines, but also to the full renovation of the winery and the support of the Monastery.
It was clear from the start that it would be a very expensive and high-maintenance project, yet Evangelos Tsantalis’ unshakable belief in the potential of the land prevailed.
When the head agronomist pinpointed the high costs, Evangelos replied “I am not asking you about the cost, but whether this vineyard can produce quality grapes or not”.
One of the most outstanding trademarks of the Athonite vineyard is the fact that the land is completely isolated, cloaked by beautiful chestnuts, pine trees and other mediterranean plants, as well as the sea.
At the same time, the monastic life dictates a profound respect towards the environment the harmonious interaction of traditional farming practices and forestry is linked to the stringent observance of monastic rules over the course of centuries. Therefore, Mount Athos can be defined as the textbook of 100% organic farming.
The wines from the Athonite region carry the appellation of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Mount Athos. The delimited area of the zone is located within the administrative boundaries of Athos peninsula, as well as the area of Ouranoupolis in the Stagira of Akanthos municipality.
It was in 1981 when the first ever Regional Wine of Greece (Vin De Pays) was recognized; that wine was “Agioritikos” coming from the Tsantali’s vineyard in Mount Athos. It was the reward for Evangelos Tsantalis’ dedicated effort to introduce to the Greek wine market the value of a wine’s origin and to highlight the importance of the vineyard.
Carrying on this legacy, the wines from Mount Athos maintain a prominent position at the history and development of the Greek winemaking and entrepreneurship 26 years after the first Regional Wine of Greece, another milestone was achieved: “Kormilitsa Gold”, a limited production of red wine, was honorably awarded as the “Official Wine of Kremlin Moscow”. This title, given for the first time ever in a wine, fueled the awareness for the Greek wines in the developing markets of Russia and China.
The grape varieties planted in Mount Athos are: cabernet sauvignon, limnio, xinomavro, grenache rouge, assyrtiko and athiri.