Just a short boat ride from the crowded island of Santorini lies an islet called Thirasia. Not a popular tourist destination – at least not yet – it is best known among locals for its rugged landscapes, its stunning views of Santorini, and its laid-back atmosphere.

The reception area at Mikra Thira Winery, where introductions take place before the tour of the vineyards and the wine tasting.

It was on this small island, where grapes had been cultivated for centuries, that a few Greek winemakers saw an opportunity to plant new vineyards, not on bustling Santorini, where vines are becoming scarcer and scarcer as land prices skyrocket, but still close by.

It’s early morning in the picturesque port of Ammoudi when we board the small boat that will take us across the caldera. On the dock, full of sailboat crews preparing to take visitors around the island, we’re greeted by a young woman who introduces herself as Ioanna Vamvakouri. She’s one of the founders of Mikra Thira, the winery we’re about to visit on Thirasia; the others are the renowned Greek winemakers Vangelis Gerovassiliou and Vassilis Tsaktsarlis.

The soul of Mikra Thira Winery, Ioanna Vamvakouri, between Vangelis Gerovassiliou and Vasilis Tsaktsarlis.

After a seven-minute ride, plenty of time to meet all the locals on the small boat, we find ourselves coming ashore on this tiny island. Everything here reminds us of how the Cycladic islands used to be before tourism took over. We climb into Vamvakouri’s pick-up truck and she starts to tell us her story: how she decided to come to Thirasia, meeting with Gerovassiliou, their partnership, and the birth of the winery and the vineyard on a barren stretch of land where shortly before there had literally been nothing but stones.

Having worked as an oenologist for many years at various Santorini wineries, Vamvakouri knew of the grapes that used to be sourced from the island of Thirasia and that were added to various blends. Shortly after completing a collaboration with Venetsanos Winery, she decided it was time for her to built something of her own, and decided that Thirasia was the place. By 2017, she had acquired seven terraced land parcels. 

Determined to go it alone, Vamvakouri planned to build only the most modest of facilities: a small hut with one wine press and one tank. Those plans changed when Gerovassiliou, a renowned figure in the winemaking world, called her early one morning. He had heard of her departure from Venetsanos and was interested in working together to create a new winery. Though she was initially reluctant to partner with other winemakers, she liked Gerovassiliou’s straightforward and honest approach. Vamvakouri decided to visit Thirasia, where she had already secured 17 hectares of land, together with Gerovassiliou and Tsaktsarlis. After two hours of mostly silent contemplation, her new partners realized the potential of the unexploited land, and their joint vision for a sustainable, organic island winery began to take shape.

The amazing view from Mikra Thira’s tasting area.

The journey was challenging. The land of the winery and vineyard was divided among 27 heirs, and it took nearly two years to finalize the purchase. She had to appear every single day for months at the water company’s local office, asking them to connect her land to the water network so that she could water her newly planted vineyard, and then she had to go through the same ordeal to get hooked up to the electric power grid.

Despite the odds, Vamvakouri and her team built the winery in just nine months, as she juggled the project with raising her young children. They had to rent a ship out of Piraeus to transport the concrete, and used every concrete mixer available on Santorini to lay the foundation in a single night. The construction of the winery was captured in a moving video by a cinematographer friend, Nikos Korakakis, highlighting the emotional and physical effort that went into the endeavor.

The logo for the winery, inspired by an ancient script found at Akrotiri, symbolizes the collaboration of the three partners. Anna Samara designed the winery and its interior, incorporating ceramic elements from friends and color-coordinated plates. The wine-tasting room, still under development, promises to be a beautiful space for visitors.

Δείτε Επίσης

The first harvest took place in 2022, marking a significant milestone in Vamvakouri’s journey. This year, the winery will produce only Assyrtiko wines, from vines trained into the traditional kouloura patterns. At the beginning, the winemaker was apprehensive, fearing failure despite her 17 years of experience as an oenologist. Nonetheless, through perseverance, passion, and the support of her partners, she transformed a neglected piece of land into a flourishing vineyard, modeling the values of resilience and vision for the world of winemaking.

Scenes from the grape harvest in the unique terroir of Τherasia.

Today, as we walk through the vineyards, all of which are west-facing, Vamvakouri explains how different the Assyrtiko that comes from Thirasia tastes, due to different conditions on the island and the fact that the vineyard had been neglected for so long. “It’s much less aromatic than the one produced in Santorini; it needs more time to open up, but it is a wine that will age longer.”

The production area in the winery is full of state- of-the-art equipment which allows close monitoring of each of the stainless steel tanks where the must ferments. Currently, the annual production is 30,000 bottles, but there’s capacity for up to 100.000 bottles. That’s a figure which the partners hope to reach in the not-so-distant future, depending, of course, on the weather conditions. The winery produces three main labels: Terrasea, the Assyrtiko made from local grapes; Nychteri, the traditional Santorini Assyrtiko, also made from local grapes; and Santorini, a typical Santorini Assyrtiko from grapes sourced on Santorini but vinified on Thirasia.

The state-of-the-art tanks at the Mikra Thira Winery.
  • SANTORINI 2022
    Assyrtiko 100%, from privately owned vineyards on Santorini. On the nose, it has aromas of lemon, lemon, white-skinned peach, pear and minerality . On the palate, the combination of acidity and minerality gives an intensity to the wine, a typical Santorini Assyrtiko. Still young, it has at least 5-6 years’ potential for ageing.
  • TERASSEA 2020
    Assyrtiko 100%, coming from grapes grown on Thirasia. Eighty percent is fermented in stainless steel tnks and 20% in oak barrels. An intense wine, which is still very young, it boasts aromas of pear, citrus and tropical fruits and a herbal, slightly salty, palate with a long mineral aftertaste.
  • NIKTERI 2020
    Τhe winery’s approach to this traditional Santorini wine uses late-harvest grapes from three varieties: Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri. They are co-fermented and kept in French oak barrels for at least 3 months. The mineral backbone and concentration of Assyrtiko balances perfectly with the softness of Athiri and the floral aromatic complexity of Aidani. This Nychteri has a lo


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