Did you know that for centuries the economy of the Greek Island of Santorini was built on wine? I was very surprised to discover that this was the case. When I first heard about wineries on Santorini and its famous assyrtiko grape I thought wine from such a warm climate can’t possibly taste good. I am delighted to tell you that I was completely wrong.
Santorini is one of the most stunning islands in Greece and has much to offer the traveler. However, in this article I am going to focus on the wineries of Santorini and cover the types of wines the island produces, how to plan your wine tastings and of course the wineries you must not miss.
The Santorini Wine Industry
Table of Contents
- The Santorini Wine Industry
- Santorini Grapes
- 7 Fantastic Wineries on Santorini
- 1. Santo Wines
- 2. Hatzidikas Winery
- 3. Anhydrous Winery
- 4. Art Space Winery
- 5. Artemis Karamolegos
- 6. Domaine Sigalas
- 7. Venetsantos Winery
- But my time is limited and I can’t go to all those wineries!
- How to Plan your Santorini Wine Tastings
- Hire a Car
- Santorini Wine Tours
- How to buy some Santorini wine to take home
- How to Get to Santorini
- Where to Stay on Santorini
Santorini is home to some of the oldest vines in the world. Wine was the most important source of income for the island for centuries.
In the 1920s and 1930s the entire island was a vineyard. Everything was about the harvest and the grapes – the wine and the raisins – but tending to the vines is a hard life so when tourism began to boom in 1980s many sold their land to developers.
After nearly 50% of what was vineyard land was sold off for tourism the Greek government stepped in and banned owners of vine producing land from selling for tourism purposes. The Greek government is now in the planning stage of applying for UNESCO status for Santorini wine.
The majority of vineyards on the island are still owned by individuals. The wineries buy their grapes from the individual vineyards. Some wineries may own one or two vineyards but most have to source from others for sufficent supply.
Most of the wineries are in the south of the island between the port and the airport. Wine producers wanted to be near the ports for shipping and also for easier exchange of products with neighbors.
Wines from Santorini are some of the most expensive in Greece. The reason for this is classic supply and demand. There is limited land for growing grapes and high demand.
Today, Santorini produces 2 million bottles of wine each year but 70% of Santorini wine is exported outside Greece.
Santorini is a volcano. Yes that is correct. There isn’t a volcano on Santorini – the volcano is Santorini. The last euroption was in 1950. The unique combination of the island’s volcanic soil, the mists from the sea and the island’s sometimes high winds have created a unique style of grape.
The soil contains a high amount of salt due to the nearby sea as well as minerals. Combined with the high temperatures the vines on Santorini are resistant to many of the disease which blight other wine areas across the world. This is the why Santorini now has some of the oldest vines in the world.
These vines run as deep as 20 metres underground. The pumice that is in the soil on Santorini acts as a sponge absorbing water. This is why the older vines can survive without irrigation. The newer vines have to be irrigated as they don’t have those deep roots.
As Santorini doesn’t experience much rain, its grapes are quite small and have less water than “typical” wine grapes. This means that the flavour of the grapes is more concentrated and the alcohol level is higher.
Grapes on Santorini are also grown in a unique style. The vines are small bushes which are called baskets or “kouloura”. The baskets are created by hand using the wood of the vine and manipulated into a circular shape. This allows the grapes to grow underneath the wood protecting them from the wind.
The typical santorini wine is white, acidic, dry and crips. However, it becomes more buttery when it is aged – especially if that is in oak.
Harvest season starts early August. In December the baskes are pruned. The 2 largest vines are wrapped together and a new layer of the basket is created.
Once a basket or vine is between 80 and 100 years old it needs to be cut back. At this point the basket contains so many layers that it is difficult for water to get through. Once the basket has been completely pruned it is ready to begin another 80 to 100 year cycle.
It is easy to tell the age of a vineyard in Santorini. Older vineyards will have baskets placed quite randomly. Newer vineyards will have their baskets in neat rows and some are even standing their vines up. The key with the baskets is to make sure each one has enough room to access the water it needs from underground.
Only indigenous grapes are grown on the island. Any other grape types are not allowed to be developed as the amount of soil available is limited. Santorini has 30 indigenous grape types. However, five are most commonly used.
The most popular grape is assyrtiko and it makes up 75% of the grape production on the island. It is one of the world’s oldest grape varieties and can be traced back to the 16th century BC. It tends to result in dry white wines with high acidity, citrus notes and high alcohol levels.
A wine must use at least 85% assyrtiko grapes to be called a Santorini wine. Most of the wineries choose to use 100% assyrtiko for their Santorini wines. Assyrtiko grapes are also grown in Northern Greece and Australia.
However, those wines tend to taste quite different from Santorini wine due to the unique elements of Santorini’s soil, age of the vines and the sea winds. A Grande Reserve Santorini wine must be aged at least 2 years.
Aidani is the second most common white grape and it is often mixed with assyrtiko. It is a lighter, fresher wine with high acidity. Athiri is the final white grape that is indigenous to the island.
Mavrotragano means black and thick skin and is the most common red grape on the island, although only 2% of the vines of the island grow this grape. It produces a light red wine, like an acidic pinot noir. The wine is aged in oak for 12 moths and can be served chilled. Mandalaria is the the island’s second most popular red grape.
The Nykteri style of wine, which means night harvest, uses assyrtiko grapes that have been aged in oak for at least 3 months. This style is said to be the best of the assyrtiko wine.
Santorini’s sweet wine is known as vinsanto and it is fantastic!! This high quality wine has DOC status and is also made from assyrtiko grapes. However, the grapes for vinsanto are sun dried which creates the darker color of the wine.
All wines from the island that don’t meet the assyrtiko classification are known as Cyclades wine, even if they contain 100% grapes from Santorini.
7 Fantastic Wineries on Santorini
There are 21 wineries on the island but not all of them are open for wine tastings. Here are 7 fantastic Santorini wineries I visited.
1. Santo Wines
A cooperative and the biggest winery on the island, Santo Wines produces over 500,000 bottles of wine a year as well as food products. It also has one of the best locations on the island. Its views over the caldera make it the perfect place to enjoy a sunset wine tasting.
This is a big winery with a modern Santorini design. There are many terraces for views which means you have a good chance of getting a good sunset seat unless it is peak season.
Our tasting included 5 wines and a wonderful platter of cheese from Crete, local meats, local tomatoes and bread sticks.
Santo’s 100% assyrtiko wine was outstanding. It is organic and produced from vines owned by the Santo winery. The lemon colored Santorini wine has a delightful nose and the wine has notes of stone fruits. I could taste the minerals in the wine – which was much more pleasant than it might sound!
The roots of the vines that make this wine are over 120 year olds and it is placed into stainless steel vats. It does have a high acidity and is only 12.5% alcohol but it tastes more like a light Chardonnay than a sauvignon blanc.
The Santo Wines grande reserve Santorini wine is aged for 3 years and kept in French Oak. The oak gives this wine quite a different flavour profile from the younger version. It is much sweeter with notes of vanilla and personally this was a favourite.
Their Nykteri was lovely but the grande reserve was my personal favourite. We also tasted their mavrotragano and particularly delicious vinsanto.
Santo Wines has a restaurant and a fantastic shop filled with their wine, food products and rather stylish Santorini souvenirs. They are one of the few wineries on the island that will ship internationally. However, there is a minimum order requirement.
2. Hatzidikas Winery
In 1996 Konstantina Chryssou introduced Haridimos Hatzidakis to her family’s vineyard on Santorini. The vineyard had been abandoned for many years after Konstantina’s parents left Santorini for Athens following the earthquake in the 1950s.
Hatzidakis recognised an opportunity and began to re-cultivate the vineyard inn 1996 and their first wines went to market in 1998. Hatzidakis is widely credited as being the creator of what is now the marketing of the Santorini wine industry.
Today they have 10 hectares of land and produce 12 wine labels. The winery is the only certified organic grower on the island and applies all principles of organic farming. The winery is located in a cave on their land which gives if a very different feel to the caldera terraces of Santos Wines.
Hatzidakis Winery has a more traditional tasting experience with oak tables next to barrels in the cave. The tasting includes 6 wines and a cheese platter. This is a great place to try a classic assyrtiko or Santorini wine.
3. Anhydrous Winery
Opening in 2012, Anhydrous is one of the newer wineries on the island. Its cellar door/tasting room consists of a beautiful outdoor courtyard that is open from May to October. It is white and light and modern with an airy feel.
The winery hosts tastings, has a restaurant and even a wellness centre if you feel like a massage.
The tasting covers 5 wines – white, red and rose. It was accompanied by some of the most impressive snacks of any of the wineries I visited. We began with some fantastic dips followed by black bread with greens and sardines.
4. Art Space Winery
The Art Space Winery first began producing wine in 1861. Today it is run by the third generation of the family and consists of a museum, a cave art gallery and a modern winery and tasting room. The museum was the wine production area until the 1950s. Today it contains wine presses from that time as well as the area where grapes were literally stomped on by feet.
The lovely gallery exhibits at least 20 artists at any given time. The artists are always Greek and sometimes they are from Santorini. All paintings are for sale.
This combination of cave, art gallery and wine makes for a unique tasting environment. Our tasting covered 4 wines and snacks. I most enjoyed their signature wine, the Saint August. This 100% assyrtiko wine is named after the harvest season, August.
Art Space Winery uses non filtration and wild years for a deeper flavoured biodynamic wine. Their wines are fermented for 4 months due to the use of wild yeast. And of the 21 wineries on Santorini only 4 produce raki or ouzo and Art Space is one of them. So if you like a Greek spirit don’t miss it!
5. Artemis Karamolegos
Artemis Karamolegos is an organic farm with wine making traditions dating back to 1952. The winery entered the Santorini wine market in 2004 and they are now the third largest winery on Santorini.
We tried several wines along with a platter of snacks which included their amazing and justifiably famous tomato paste. In my view, this was the best assyrtiko I tasted of all the wineries I visited and the one that came home with me.
In addition to their classic assyrtiko, the winery has a 100% assyrtiko wine called Pyritis which uses grapes from just five vineyards and spends some time in french oak. Their rose, Terra Nera, is a unique mix of assyrtiko and Mavrotragano and great value at 13 euros a bottle.
Artemis also produces an orange wine called Mystirio. I’m not a fan of orange wine, including this one, but it did have a very attractive label.
The restaurant at Artemis is said to be fantastic. I didn’t have a chance to eat there but based on its tomato paste I think you could reasonably expect good things!
6. Domaine Sigalas
Domaine Sigalas produces more than 200,000 bottles of wine each year. They were the first winery on Santorini to move away from the traditional basket and use “standing” vines for their red grapes. It is also the only winery close to Oia.
We tried 5 of their wines. Their assyrtiko is sourced from just one vineyard and it is considered to be one of the best on Santorini. Their tastings are held otuside literally in the vineyards which is a unique and lovely experience.
7. Venetsantos Winery
I visited Venetsantos but alas I didn’t have time to try their wines. Along with Santo Wines, Venetsantos is one of the best located wineries on the island with fantastic caldera views. It is far more rustic and pretty in style vs the modern clean lines of Santo Wines.
Venetsantos wines seemed very popular and of high quality in my research. Some good friends who I trust when it comes to wine said this was their favourite winery on the island when they visited. If you go and do a tasting email me and tell me what you think!
The above list are the wineries that I personally visited whilst on Santorini. I enjoyed a delicious bottle of Gaia assyrtiko at dinner one evening. My research indicated this was one of the best assyrtikos on the island. The winery is located very close to the airport.
I wasn’t able to get to Estate Argyros but I very much enjoyed its Assyrtiko in Athens last year.
But my time is limited and I can’t go to all those wineries!
In my view, if you are only able to visit one winery on Santorini head to either Santo or Venetsanos. The reason for this is that both of these wineries have absolutely spectacular views of the famous Santorini sunset. In my opinion, Venetsanos was the prettier winery of the two.
However, I was only able to try the wine at Santo and it was fantastic. My research on Venetsanos indicated that their wine is also very good but I can only directly attest to Santo’s wine quality.
If you would like to add in one more winery I would recommend visiting Hatzidakis Winery. The owner of Hatzidakis was instrumental in the development of Santorini as a wine destination in the 1990s. The style of their winery is more traditional and you will enjoy your tasting alongside barrels of underground wine.
Hatzidakis provides a very different type of wine tasting experience from Santo and Venetsanos thus I think it makes for a good contrast. Also, if you like your assyrtikos less acidic and more buttery, as I do, you will love their 100% assyrtiko wines.
How to Plan your Santorini Wine Tastings
The majority of wineries on Santorini are clustered relatively close together in the lower belly of the island roughly between the port of Santorini and the airport.
If you’re staying in Oia there is only one winery nearby, Domaine Sigalas. Depending on where you’re staying in Oia it is a pleasant walk of between 1 and 3 kilometres.
If you’re staying in Thira, most of the wineries will be to the south east. The closest winery is Santo which is 4 kilometres away. Venetsanos is another 1 kilometre south of Santo. If you like to walk it is possible to visit both of these wines by foot from Thira.
A cluster of wineries are within one kilometre of each other in the middle of the island. These are Artemis Karamolegos, Art Space, Canava Roussos, Argyros and Volcanic Slopes. If you can get a taxi it would be viable to start at Artemis or Volcanic Slopes (the top and bottom of the kilometre) and visit all 5 on foot and hopefully book a taxi from the last one back to your hotel.
In my experience, taxis on Santorini are a bit of a crap shoot. Despite a large sign at the airport advertising Uber any time I tried to find one during my stay no cars were available. I have read and heard that there are only a small number of official taxis on the island as well.
There are buses available but if you’re staying anywhere but Thira it is usually necessary to get a bus to Thira before being able to get on a bus that will head towards the main winery areas.
Hire a Car
One of the easiest ways to visit the wineries of Santorini is to hire a car. I visited Santorini in May and the car hire was cheap (40 euros a day). However, this does rise during the peak season and if, like me, you only drive an automatic be sure to book ahead as Greek islands tend to be about manual cars.
It is easy to drive around Santorini. The number of roads is limited and the signs are quite clear. The island generally has a good wifi signal so you won’t be stuck with a phone that can’t direct the car.
If you choose to hire a car I would suggest two itinerary options. The first is the cluster of five wineries in the middle of the island that I mentioned above. The second is a cluster along the western side of the island. These are Santo, Venetsanos, Boutari, Gavalas and Hatzidakis (which is a little more inland).
Both itineraries will offer a wide range of Santorini wine tasting experiences (if you can fit them all in) and will mean you will spend your time tasting wine rather than driving. If you choose to do the cluster of wineries in the middle of the island I would suggest that you then add in either Santo or Venetsanos as an extra final stop to experience their amazing views.
However, the major downside with driving is that someone has to not drink or spit. Additionally, Santorini wineries are very popular so I would recommend booking all of your wine tastings ahead of time. If not you may face a winery that is already full of people enjoying tastings or a lengthy wait.
Santorini Wine Tours
Unsurprisingly, wine tours are very popular on Santorini as they overcome both the driving and the making bookings hassle. Several companies run wine tours on the island. I took my wine tours with Santorini Wine Adventure and I would highly recommend them. My guide and driver was extremely knowledgeable about Santorini and wine in general plus great company.
In the season most wine tour companies offer two tours each day. The first is generally an 1130 start and 400pm finish. The second will be billed as a sunset wine tour and start around 4pm and finish about 8pm. Most tours will either pick up and drop off guests at their hotels or a spot that is very close to their accommodation.
Each wine tour company works with a number of wineries. The majority of tours visit three wineries. Visits include a tasting (of course) and a generous platter of local delicacies. I took a lunch/day tour as well as a sunset tour. Both tours provided more than enough food to constitute a meal. Also, as the tour companies work with a range of companies I visited totally different wineries on each tour.
If you are limited on time or only want to visit a couple of wineries I would absolutely take a wine tour rather than rent a car or try another way to visit the wineries of Santorini.
If you love your wine and are keen to explore I would suggest hiring a car for a day to visit wineries as well as experiencing at least one wine tour. This will allow you to visit a good number of wineries and to spend some time relaxing and genuinely enjoy Santorini wine.
How to buy some Santorini wine to take home
Of course all of the wineries sell their wines so this is the easiest place to pick up some wine for your suitcase. Not many wineries offer shipping. Santo is the exception to this rule but there are minimum order requirements.
Head to the minimarts in any of the towns and you’ll be able to pick up some more reasonable priced bottles of local wine although I can’t make any promises on the quality. The best Santorini wines that I tried were all around the 30 euro per bottle mark which isn’t cheap.
I took home 2 bottles of assyrtiko from the minimarket that were around 20 euros each. They were pleasant but both more on the acidic side versus the french oak buttery side. If you like sauvignon blanc you will most likely enjoy these wines. If you’re an oaky chardonnay lover like me don’t bother buying unelss you’re willing to spend.
Santorini airport has a limited quantity of local wine available for purchase after security. Most of the wine for sale was from the very nearby Gaia winery. However, there was quite a bit of vinsanto wine available for purchase in many different sizes.
How to Get to Santorini
Santorini has its own international airport. I flew from London Stansted with Jet 2 Holidays. Package holidays to Santorini are a fantastic option. Most flights to Santorini go through Athens but a package holiday provider like Jet 2 offers direct flights.
The flight from London Stansted to Santorini direct was just over 3 and a half hours. Jet 2 Holidays also provides a transfer service. Our Jet 2 representative had us in our transfer within minutes of exiting customs and we arrived at our boutique hotel in Oia just over 20 minutes later. If you’re looking for holidays this summer check out Jet 2.
Where to Stay on Santorini
When I was first contacted by Jet 2 Holidays I was a bit unsure. I usually think of package holidays as being 2 or 3 star and not for me. When I expressed this concern Jet 2 sent me a long list of links to some of their boutique/luxury properties. I was very impressed – definitely sufficient thread counts on the sheets for this traveller!
In Santorini I chose to stay in Oia in the north of the island at Mr and Mrs White Santorni. This charming boutique hotel sits on the caldera and has fantastic views. It is very modern in design but combined with the traditional style of the island.
We stayed in a mezzanine room that had a bathroom and sofa bed on the ground floor and a double bed on the mezzanine. But the highlight was the absolutely massive terrace that was part of the room with views straight out onto the caldera and the Santorini sunset.
The design theme is black and white which works very well on this often blue and white and oh so bright island. Breakfast is served above the main reception and also provides fantastic views. The buffet includes hot food and I highly recommend the spanokopitas. Greek or traditional style omelettes are also available.
The hotel has a pool area and a second area for a smaller pool and jacuzzi. It is a slight maze of rooms and arches and otudoor corridors but this all gives a nice sense of privacy. The staff were very friendly – particularly at breakfast where they remembered our coffee order each morning!
Location wise, Mr and Mrs White is perfect. It is a quite flat approx 10 minute walk into the heart of Oia. There are quite a few boutique hotels within Oia but they all looked like they had quite small rooms and of course no full size pool. Plus Oia can get quite loud. Mr and Mrs White was the perfect mix of being close to the action but removed enough for privacy.
Jet2 covered the airfares, transfers and B&B hotel costs associated with writing this article – thanks guys! I paid a press rate for my wine tours which is about a 10% reduction. However, as always my opinions are my own. Also, this wineries on Santorini post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.