Search

A little about Sant'Or



Located in a picturesque mountain valley in the Northern Peloponnese, an hour’s car ride from the port city of Patras, Sant’Or is a 4.5 ha biodynamic vineyard and winery run by Panagiotis Dimitropoulos. Panagiotis grows the primary Achaian red variety, Mavrodafni, a hyper local, nearly extinct variety called Santamariana and the ever present Roditis. The wines are wild fermented without additions other than modest sulfite inclusion using a mix of modern equipment like temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and heritage amphora from Crete and surrounding villages.


A little about Panagiotis…



It’s hard to capture Panagiotis (Panos) without sounding contradictory: the man is a bit of a paradoxical figure. His wide-eyed intensity and habit of never ever smiling in photographs tends to lead people to the false impression that he’s an overly serious figure. In life, Panos is a bit of a goof: ‘I’m like a kid!” he says as he carries on ‘conversation’ with the family of frogs that live in the well he uses for biodynamic preparations. The big man is a relentless worker with incredible dedication to cultivating traditional varieties almost entirely unassisted but despite his intensity he loves Mel Brooks, Warner Brothers cartoons and generally being silly. Everywhere he goes folk stop him to say hi, streetside fruit sellers insist he take a bag of apricots, restaurateurs take care of dinner free of charge, an old man at a nearby village offers to help him excavate a new vineyard over a serendipitous glass of wine. The man is blessed.


And yet, he toils in obscurity. The domestic market in Greece is accustomed to a perfectly predictable, aromatic style of totally limpid wine without the slightest suggestion of the ineffable, authenticity’s constant companion. Old-timers tasting Panagiotis’ wine like to constantly suggest he add Moschofilero and Moscato to aromatize his wines. In reply he merely smiles, ever gracious.


A former mechanical engineer, he runs what is essentially a one man operation. Keeping up with him is a challenge, he likens himself to an old German machine: working slowly but never ever breaking down or tiring. In order to have any hope of success, Panagiotis must be extremely economical in his movements which results in a constant and dizzying shifting of tasks as he bounces between vineyards and the winery, tackling each situation with alacrity.


There is a curious counterbalance of the mystic and the utterly rational in Panos' world. His vines spend as much time listening to classical music as the dulcet tones of passing goats. He venerates Socrates and Steiner in the same breath, works with modern machinery but protects it from the jealousy of outsiders with blue and white evil eye wards. He says “your work is a mirror of yourself” and he considers the aesthetics of the vineyard very carefully. Everything is just so in Panagiotis’ world, maintained only through relentless manicuring and metronomic commitment to his work.


The vineyards...


As remarkable as the man may sound, the proof is very much in the vineyards: these are some of the most vital and engaging vineyards I’ve ever had the pleasure to walk through. Every single vantage point reveals a new vignette of natural interconnectivity. When I point this out Panos smiles his impish grin and says “yes, this is civilization!”



Panagiotis’ vineyards lie in the valley below the quaint village of Santomeri, where his father grew up, not far from the port city of Patras in Northern Peloponnese. The soils here are dry and dusty Schist so irrigation is a necessary accompaniment to biodynamic agriculture in order to establish new vineyards and protect old ones during drought. He takes me to a three year old block of Mavrodafni that he’s only now needed to wire up because the growth is so slow under these conditions.


A great deal of energy is committed to the esoteric elements of biodynamic work. For chthonic energies, Panagiotis uses well water inhabited by a family of particularly chatty frogs. For actions pertaining to astrality, the cosmic forces at work in the vineyard, a cistern of rain water is used. He doses most sprays with holy water from one of the two nearby monasteries and if he feels the vines have been wounded he will add seaweed as a holistic medicine to show the vines they are loved and heard. He spent the better part of a day questing for river sand to harvest so that he could incubate cuttings of another nearly-extinct local variety because no other soil would do as well to nurture them in their tenderest moment of growth.





The wines…


As for the wines, they are clean and characterful without insisting too much upon themselves. Panagiotis cleaves to a philosophy of humility and openness and his wines follow suit: they call to mind a Terry Thiese line describing ‘wines of modesty,’ beautiful creatures that need no grand introductions, that delight more in accentuating friends and food more than the glories of the spotlight. All of the Sant’Or wines are single varietal expressions. He makes essentially two lines of wines: the so-called ‘organic’ wines that are filtered and dosed with higher (~60ppm) sulfite additions and the ‘natural’ wines which are unfiltered with half the added sulfite. Both fall into the natural wine category in that they are all wild fermented and contain no other additions but it is how he delineates his work.


Santamariana Natural…


It is likely that the historians will credit Panagiotis most with the rediscovery of the aromatic Santamariana variety. The grape, named for the nearby village clinging to Skolis mountain where his father grew up, was discovered in a local farmer’s field and lovingly replanted on the hill behind the winery, the most heartbreaking terroir Panagiotis has to work with. From the crest one can turn to see the whole of the valley in all its splendor. The wine itself is quite interesting and as a consequence of climate disruption, we’ve seen a great swing from one vintage to the next. There is always some risk of mischaracterizing novel varieties by latching them on to more familiar flavor associations but there is a certain overlap with Umbrian Malvazia here. In cooler vintages Santamariana is tremendously ripe and fully perfumed with a yellow hued orchard character that slides into deeply contoured basins of savor. In hotter years like the scorching 2018, the grape produces wines with more demure aromatics, amplified umami and a charming dry spice.


Santamariana Amphora...



The peak of Sant’Or’s production is doubtless the amphora skin ferment of Santamariana. The wine is destemmed before fermenting in Cretan amphora, a legacy of his mother’s homeland. The wines are aged in a series of locally-made amphorae Panagiotis has been teasing out of the hidden places, mostly in old-folks’ near-abandoned cellars or in back yards, relegated to the ignominious role of ‘lawn ornament.’ They come to him covered in decades of schmutz and his potter buddy places them between 50-150 years old. Each piece is a different size with all the individualizing imperfections of old-fashioned hand work. The wine itself is fabulous: heady and detailed without the feel of needless preciousness. Clay has become such a fetishized novelty that it is easy to forget that its role, like older barrels, was functional before it was transformed into a flashy commodity. This wine doesn’t stagger you with magnificence, doesn’t mount a grand polemic on the very nature of wine. No, like all the Sant’Or wines it merely suggests you pause and be present, rewarding attentiveness with simple, honest beauty. Although this could easily figure into a wide array of mediterranean inspired dinners and afternoon charcuterie boards, of all the Sant’Or wines this is the one that most rewards solo exploration. Could benefit from decanting but certainly doesn’t require it and of course, as with most orange wines, this likes to be served at a cool rather than cold temperature.



‘Krasis’ Mavrodafni…


Aris Soultanos (Eklektkon) discovered Sant’Or while searching out a single varietal, dry rendition of Mavrodafni. The grape is mostly associated with the German-owned Achaia Clauss and the story goes that Clauss, a Bavarian ex pat fell in love with a beautiful, dark-eyed and sadly doomed local girl named Daphni for whom he renamed the variety after her death. Achaia Clauss, a favored spot for a young Panagiotis and his friends to journey by motorbike, champions a super sweet, concentrated style that survived Nazi incursion because of the German ownership. The place is odd, emphasizing the importance of super old barrels marked by prestigious arrivals of foreign dignitaries full of centenarian wine that will never be drunk. Panagiotis doesn’t go in for that sweet thang…


The vines for his wine are the oldest he works in a small exposed, own-rooted parcel in brutally dry and cracked schistolithic soils. As a teenager, Panagiotis made his very first wine from these plants. ‘Krasis’ is a potent wine that Panagiotis insists needs to be open at least 8 hours and ideally a full day before the truth of the thing emerges. Like so many Greek reds, this is a wine of concentration and if it is marked by French oak, it is borne gracefully: it does not distract from the elemental personality of the vines. The ripeness and concentration make this a versatile wine with customers that gravitate towards more abundant, fully figured wines like Bordeaux and Rioja but want something new to connect with.


Roditis natural…


You may be thinking: “do they plant Roditis absolutely everywhere in Greece?” Why, yes, yes they do! Don’t dismiss it though! Like Sangiovese in Italy, it is a remarkable communicator whose ever presence is an asset to us wine geeks in seeking to understand Greece from the vantage point of terroir.


Panagiotis’ Roditis vineyards are a little different than the wickedly arid red blocks or the swooping hillcrest where the Santamariana thrives. The rows of Roditis are growing at the lowest, flattest point, punctuated by stately olive trees where it is cooler and substantially greener. Among these vines one feels wrapped in natural forces. So. Many. Insects.



There are some pretty hip riffs on Roditis out there with skin contact, clay, oxidation and other whacky notions in the mix but it shouldn’t surprise you that Panos doesn’t roll that way. This is a simple wine, no skin contact, all in steel but it is his favorite. Over a lunch of stuffed peppers and zucchini made by his wife he explains to me that it’s all about a crunchy texture as he gestures to a slice of grilled bread for emphasis. A few days later he unearths a 5 year old bottle that utterly redefines what I expect from Roditis. With even a little age the wine transforms into something glorious with aromatics that immediately make me think of aged Riesling.


Roditis Amphora…


With 2019's harvest, Panagiotis brought in another 4 old amphorae into the cellar (cleaned by yours truly) and took a crack at making an amphora riff on Roditis. The wine is vinified and aged identically to the Santamariana. Opened side by side they are like true siblings: obviously tied into a lineage but truly singular. The Roditis is the strident, extroverted counterpoint to the Santamariana's subtlety. Whereas the Santamariana requires time in a decanter and patience to really come alive, the Roditis is instantly open-hearted with a brilliant acidity that makes it almost crushable despite the structure.




Agiorgitiko natural…


Yeah it’s a bit of a difficult grape to pronounce but it’s crazy easy to drink! This is the only wine Panagiotis makes from grapes he does not grow himself. The fruit comes from a certified organic vineyard in Nemea he has access to through a family connection. The winemaking is quite like ‘Krasis’ with fermentation in temperature controlled steel tank, aging in neutral French oak barrel and bottling after assembly in steel with about 30 ppm of added sulfite. This wine makes me think about Sangiovese but with a purpler hue. It isn’t showy at all but it is supremely well balanced. Dependable and easy-to-love, it is an excellent staple wine that’ll make friends everywhere it goes just like Panos!


0 comments