Mattheos Argyros of Argyros Estate in Santorini has a big challenge ahead as he guides the winery into the future, but he is relishing the opportunity to keep up the family tradition. With his father’s passing still a recent memory, he is working even harder to continue his father’s vision and, in fact, take it to the next level. With the help of Stefanos Georgas, who has joined the Argyros team, the two are fashioning a strategy for the future that includes increasing the family’s vineyard plantings and building a new winery. Mattheos has actually been running the operations for some years now, while his father focused on the winemaking, but he has a plan in mind that bodes well for the future of Santorini wine and the beautiful island he calls home. We spoke with Mattheos recently and here are some of his thoughts.
1. Can you give us some history of the Argyros family, including how they got started as well as the changes that have happened as each new generation took over the winery?
Estate Argyros was established in 1903 when George Argyros started selling his wines in the local market. The first two generations of Estate Argyros, although they expanded production, were making wines only for the local market. The person who changed significantly the image of the winery was my father, Yiannis Argyros, who was the 3rd generation. He took over the winery in the early 70s and increased the Estate’s vineyards to 30 hectares. He worked hard to ensure that the grapes were of high quality and combined modern techniques with the family traditions to produce great wines. I represent the 4th generation of Estate Argyros, continuing the family tradition while adding an additional focus on exports. I am open to new ideas in winemaking like my father, but I will remain faithful to the principals of my ancestors.
2. It was a devastating blow to have your father, Yiannis, who was such an integral part of the operations, pass away so young and unexpectedly. How has this affected the winery and your plans for the future?
My father’s passing a year ago was a sad day and a very difficult time for us. The operations of the winery were not really affected since I had taken over managing the operations some years ago, but I became even more inspired to use my creativity and set higher standards for the winery to make our work a tribute to his memory and everything he stood for. I am incredibly proud of the work my father did and the values that he lived by. His spirit will forever be the foundation of Estate Argyros. Now, as in the past, we are working very hard to deliver premium quality wines that will delight our customers and that is a great privilege and responsibility as we look to the future.
3. The Argyros family has steadily increased its vineyard holdings throughout the years. What are your plans moving forward for your current vineyards as well as acquiring additional vineyards? Which native varieties, besides Assyrtiko of course, do you plan to focus on?
We have invested a great deal in our vineyards through the years, but recently we have begun replanting some of our parcels in order to ensure that specific varieties are cultivated in locations that are the most ideal for that variety. In addition, for the last 10 years, we have begun replanting all of our vines in linear rows which allows us to use a plow with horses or a tractor, depending on the terrain, as well as switch to 100% organic farming. At the same time we are re-constructing the stone walls that formed the original terraces and layout of the vineyards for the last few centuries, while maintaining the traditional masonry. Besides Assyrtiko, we have focused on Aidani, another white variety and Mavrotragano, a red variety that is still in the experimental stages, but a variety that we think is work taking a closer look at to see what the potential may be.
4. What is the approach to production in the winery? Tell us about your winemaking team and the Argyros winemaking philosophy.
We believe that good wine is produced in the vineyard. Thus, as I mentioned before, we invest a lot of time and effort in our vines, in order to insure they produce high quality grapes.
A key part of our team consists of an older generation of growers who have many years of experience with Santorini’s traditional and difficult viticultural techniques and who share their years of experience and expertise with us. We also work with some younger people, well educated in viticulture and modern winemaking techniques, who also share our vision of producing the purest expression of Santorini’s indigenous varieties, especially Assyrtiko.
5. Vinsanto is just one of your many special wines, but the Vinsanto that your family has been producing has become the benchmark for all other Vinsantos. Can you give us a little history about when and how the tradition for Vinsanto began at Argyros and how it has evolved over the years?
As you know, the production of Vinsanto is a very old tradition on the island of Santorini. My father, Yiannis Argyros, was amongst the first – if not the first – who bottled and labeled Vinsanto. My father’s passion to produce a higher quality Vinsanto prompted him to age our Vinsanto longer and longer to help realize the potential of this very special wine. My father also developed a technique of choosing different parcels to source the grapes for our Vinsanto and of blending different barrels to come up with a recipe that he passed on to me… a family secret!
6. Even though Santorini is often referred to as a single vineyard, there are differences in the wines produced on the island. Are there variations in the terroir that account for this and/or do they come from the diversity in styles of the winemakers?
I believe that the diversity in wines from Santorini comes mainly from the different styles of the winemakers on the island. However, I think that some of the best vineyards on the island are located in Pyrgos, Episkopi and Megalochori. Also, according to our research and experience, the traditional pruning of the basket vines grown on Santorini is a key factor in the quality of the wines.
7. Santorini is one of the most historic vineyards of the world and needs to be maintained and expanded as it was in the past, but it is also one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations. How can these 2 seemingly opposing forces be reconciled and how does the future look for the Santorini wine industry?
Tourism and real estate development have been growing threats to winemakers on the island as land continues to increase in value. Real estate is the big enemy of the image of the island in general and the big enemy of the vineyards as well. As the land gets more and more expensive, the owners are encouraged to sell their property and take advantage of “easy” money rather than cultivating the land, which is very hard work. This threat is even more intensified by the fact that the younger generations of landowners and producers are less willing to follow the lifestyle of the older generations of growers. As a direct consequence of this, the cost of producing wine in Santorini remains very high, not only because of the price of real estate and the high taxes that are levied, but because of the amount of manual labor involved. Everything is basically done by hand.
However, we need to find a balance between the real estate development of the island and respect for the natural landscape. Tourism wouldn’t be a threat at all if we had better cooperation from everyone on the island to promote Santorini not only as a tourist destination, but also as an exceptional environment for making great wine and about the wine culture that has existed here for literally thousands of years, well before tourism became popular. We also need joint efforts from all the winemakers to preserve the vineyards, so that we continue to produce these exceptional wines and maintain the natural scenery of the island. It is also not going to the extreme to say that the vineyards of Santorini should be protected under UNESCO as the oldest, continuously planted and most unique vineyard in the world.
9. What are some interesting “out of the box” pairings with a dry Assyrtiko and the sweet Vinsanto?
We always recommend going against the typical stereotypes when pairing our wines with food.
Instead of a red wine, a dry, Santorini Assyrtiko – especially an aged or oaked Assyrtiko– is a great pairing with a lamb stew lamb flavored with rosemary and thyme. Our sweet Vinsanto wines also pair well with Roquefort, Stilton and other aged cheeses and a favorite is with fresh sautéed foi gras.