Most of visitors to Crete come through package tours, mainly attracted by the Greek island’s amazing Mediterranean beaches. Along the way, the curious tourist will also soak up impressions of Crete’s ancient history.
Monastery of St. George Apanosifis.
Perched up in the hills, just 30 kilometers from bustling Heraklion, the island’s largest city, the monks’ peaceful domain overlooks a typical Cretan landscape – a combination of vineyards and fields of olive trees.
Reverend Athinagoras, a Ph.D. in Quantum Physics from Stanford University and used to be a university professor in California greets the visitor. He was inspired by California’s consciousness for organic food when he decided to commit to the monastery: “This brotherhood is very open-minded while showing respect for traditions: I found it provided good grounds to increase awareness in Crete.”
The monastery’s vineyard is not completely pesticide-free, as its manager, Reverend Athinagoras works towards promoting “smart work and respect for the environment, which is the only way to survive,” he said. He was therefore happy to find out that other people were working towards this goal within the country.
Towards more sustainable tourism
“Taste Crete” is an initiative started by the TUI Care Foundation and the sustainability project Futouris which aim to support the island’s wine and olive oil producers’ transition to sustainable agriculture and help them build stronger networks with the main hotel owners.
Currently, many hotel chains must import their olive oil from Athens, while the local farmers struggle to distribute their products. By organizing as cooperatives, small producers have better chances of reaching larger local markets.
Tasting wine amidst the fields
Along with the goal of improving distribution networks between hotels and farmers, the promoters of the project are setting up a sustainable wine excursion for small groups, to raise awareness for indigenous Cretan wines, called “From the Cretan Soil to Your Glass.”
The up-and-coming wines one can discover on Crete have nothing to do with the well-known Greek resinated wine Retsina.
One of the planned stops of the tour is at the Lyrarakis Estate, where visitors can walk through the vineyards and taste different wines and find out more about the particularities of Cretan wine directly from the people who work there.
The Lyrarakis family winery has been producing wines since 1966, and has recently started specializing in rare local varieties. “Before, the trend was to focus on international grapes such as Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which is why local varieties became endangered,” explained Bart Lyrarakis, CEO of the estate. The family has revived different ancient Cretan grapes that were threatened with extinction, among which the white varieties Plyto and Dafni, from which they produce award-winning wines.
Although it requires promotion work to get hotels and tourists to buy wines made from Crete’s seven native grape varieties, beyond supporting the local economy, there is another definite advantage in growing them: “Cretan varieties have better chances of surviving in high heat,” explained Local Food Experts Secretary General Kostos Bouyouris.
The local wines also pair especially well with the island’s exceptional culinary specialties.