If I had to name just one winery from Greece that defines multiculturalism while staying true to its Greek roots, it would have to be the Manousakis winery.
Ted Manousakis was born and raised in the small village of Vatolakos, close to Chania in Crete. After the Second World War and the ensuing Civil War, many Greeks were left fighting for survival. The country was in a poor shape, and food shortages were common. Ted Manousakis immigrated to the US in the 50ies just before his teenage years and later became quite a successful businessman. Despite his success, he always longed for homeland.
Finally in 1993, Ted founded the Manousakis winery in the village he was born. As a father of three daughters who were growing up in Washington D.C., he could only spend a limited amount of time in Crete. He therefore hired an international team of consultants to support him. Laurence Feraud of Domaine Pegau fame is still having an active role today. The bold decision was taken to plant only Rhone varietals – Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Rouge and Roussanne.
The first vintage was produced in 1997. The following year, Ted appointed Kostis Galanis as the winemaker. Kostis was born and raised in Crete, but studied oenology and viticulture in Montpellier, France. He has been a cornerstone of the Manousakis team ever since.
The first vintages were all sold to the US, where Ted had connections with the wine trade. Only in 2003 were the first wines released within Greece, where they received cult status in no time.
The last view years have seen important changes that will without a doubt leave their mark on the Manousakis saga:
Ted’s daughter Alexandra left her real estate marketing career in New York and moved to her father’s home village in Crete in order to concentrate on the family wine business. She was just 23 years at the time. Giving up glittery New York to join rural village life in Crete is daring to say the least. Being a young woman at that, and trying to integrate in a community dominated by the traditional, conservative Cretan culture was an added challenge.
Yiannis Galanis, the winemaker’s son, recently joined Manousakis winery. He followed his father’s footsteps, completed his master’s degree in oenology and viticulture also in Montpellier, France. He shares all the enthusiasm of his father – and brings along the energy and life of an abundance of fresh ideas.
All the Manousakis wines are branded under the “Nostos” name. Nostos is the Greek word for “homecoming”. The modern term “Nostalgia” is derived from two Greek words, nostos and algos (longing). I can’t think of a more fitting name, giving the history.
I visited the winery 10 days ago with my family during our vacation in Crete. Everyone was there to greet us, Ted (who visits every year with the onset of the harvest), Alexandra, Kostis and Yiannis. They treated us to a rare taste of older vintages: 2000 through 2004 of the Nostos (a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Rouge and Roussanne) and 2002 through 2004 of the 100% Syrah (only 1000 to 1500 bottles were produced of each vintage). All wines showed extremely well – complex, multi-layered and silky. I did not make tasting notes as I wanted to explore the wines with my kids. They patiently swirled, sniffed, tasted (and of course spit) for a good hour with us. There was a marked vintage variation in a good sense: The 04’s were dominated by bursting red fruits, the 03’s were more herbaceous, the 02’s dark and compact. The two oldest vintages showed the youth of the vines at the time. My favourites were the 2002 Nostos and the 2004 Syrah, with the latter receiving my kids praise :)
After the tasting, my wife and children drove to a local taverna while I joined Alexandra and Yiannis for a tour of the vineyards. They are located at an elevation of 350 to 600 metres (1150 to 2000 feet). The terrain is rough – I can only imagine the backbreaking work that it must have taken to plant the vineyards. The soil consists of schist, sand and clay. All vineyards are biologically certified.
The Manousakis family has also started the construction of a new, state of the art winery which will be completed soon. This makes them one of the very few estates where investments are being made despite the financial crises. A new generation of key team members, a new winery, vineyards that are being slowly expanded, growing export volumes – the winery seems to be well positioned for the years ahead.