By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 9 September 2017
My column this week is dedicated to one of the most inspiring winemakers, Haridimos Hatzidakis, who sadly took his own life aged just 50 last month.
Based on the beautiful island of Santorini (or Thira as it is officially called), Hatzidakis brought fame to this island, to Greek wines and most particularly to the ancient Assyrtiko grape.
If you have ever bought a bottle of Assyrtiko, it might well have been made by this talented winemaker. His bottlings have been the favoured pick of UK supermarkets and wine merchants for many years.
But Hatzidakis also went beyond the usual dry white quaffing style of Assyrtiko.
“He was the first winemaker on Santorini to make a single vineyard Assyrtiko from his 100 year old vines, unfiltered using indigenous yeast – and since then other wineries have followed his ambitious and pioneering lead”, says Mary Pateras of Eclectic Wines, who imported his wines to the UK for 15 years.
“He once told me his inspiration was the Aspa basalt volcanic terroir of Santorini which gives great minerality to the wines with iodine salty aromas. He wanted to make wines that had a real sense of the place”, she says.
Hatzidakis was born in Crete. He studied oenology in Athens and worked for Boutari in Crete and in the unique Cyclade island of Santorini. In 1996 he began planting a small half hectare vineyard which had been abandoned after the island’s devastating earthquake in 1956, when his wife’s parents had left for the mainland.
“He started working in a very small traditional cave winery, near the village of Pyrgos Kallistis that had belonged to his wife’s family”, says Pateras.
Hatzidakis had a great passion for reviving age-old techniques, native grapes and making authentic wine. His first wine was sweet Vin Santo made from native Aidani grape and a dry red made from Mavrotragano.
The ancient vines on Santorini grow in low nests close to the ground to store any humidity from the sea air, so yields here are very low, struggling to reach even two or three tonnes per hectare and no machinery can be used. It is a very harsh climate with all the work done by hand or using donkeys.
Hatzidakis experimented with organic viticulture first in his wife’s vineyard and then worked with the local monastery and other growers. He produced two organic winers from Aidani and Assyrtiko. Organic viticulture is particularly suited to Santorini’s hot parched dry climate - there are no rivers on the island, every drop of water has to be collected. The family winery make about 7,000 cases annually.
Recently Hatzidakis built a brand new winery underground along very green principles. It was his dream which he finally finished in time for the 2016 vintage.
A small vintage will be made this year by his friend Apostolos Thympiopoulos, who made the vintage in 2009 when Hatzidakis had his first breakdown. The early summer of 2017 had been particularly hot in Santorini; he died just a few days after the start of the harvest.
Hatzidakis is survived by his wife Konstantina and three children. The oldest daughter Stella (20) already has shares in the winery and the family plan to continue with his pioneering work.
ASSYRTIKO 2016 Hatzidakis
13.5%; £12.99-£13.75 The Wine Society; Waitrose
Crisp clean sleek version from Hatzidakis’s last vintage. Bone dry, white flower scents, tangy citric fruit, full flavoured with very dry salty notes and vivid minerally with a long distinct aftertaste.
AIDANI ORGANIC 2012 Hatzidakis
12%; £16 Les Caves de Pyrene & L’Art du Vin, Dunfermline www.lescaves.co.uk; www.aduv.co.uk
Made from the rare Aidani grape with very natural winemaking techniques – dense, pithy, mouthwatering minerality with a salty undertone: delicious served with salty cheeses
CUVEE No 15 ASSYRTIKO ORGANIC 2013 Hatzidakis
14%; £26 www.harveynichols.com; www.lescaves.co.uk; www.leaandsandeman.co.uk
Full intense wonderful depth of fruit and salty undertones in this ‘naturally’ made wine – for the seasoned Santorini drinker it makes a perfect foil with grilled seafood.
ASSYRTIKO DE MYLOS VIEILLES VIGNES SANTORINI 2016 Hatzidakis ***STAR BUY***
14.5%; £29 www.thewinesociety.com
Fabulous rich off-dry version from 100 year old ungrafted vines in Mylos single vineyard. Intense minerally style with rich guava and citrus fruits and leesy undertones: a piece of Santorini history to match with grilled bream.
VIN SANTO 2003 Hatzidakis
13%; £22 hf bt www.theatreofwine.com; Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com; Eclectic Wines
An astonishing wine with caramel, honey, raisined notes – fabulous with goat’s cheese. Made from 80% Assyrtiko and 20% Aidani grape blend. Santorini’s nectar.
Join Rose’s Hellenic Wine Tasting in Edinburgh on Wednesday 4 October £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com