September is California Wine Month. What better way to celebrate than with California Greek wines?! Didn’t know there was Greek wine in CA? Come along!
California Greek Wine for California Wine Month
Did you know there are several Greek-owned wineries in California? If you’ve followed me over the years, you’ve read my adventures of Greek wine tasting in California. I recently learned that September is California Wine Month. What better way to celebrate than to give you a little taste of California Greek wines?! Let’s call it California GREEK Wine Month! We haven’t explored them all yet — not for lack of trying ;-). Here’s a peek at the Greek wineries we’ve visited, including one not owned by Greeks, but nonetheless Greek-inspired.
My husband, Peter, has family in the Central Coast, so we visit often. One afternoon in 2011, his aunt offered to watch our daughters so we could go wine tasting. We set out to Foxen Canyon Highway, near Los Olivos, which is lined with wineries. We visited 2 wineries, then went out in search of lunch. On the way, we stumbled upon this gem.
Wine tasting at Demetria Estate
We drove up narrow, winding mountain roads, which evoked a sense of driving through Greece. A beautiful Tuscan-style building welcomed us, complete with majestic Cypress trees. This was not the tasting room — that was outside under some immense, shady trees overlooking the vineyard, just like in Europe. We checked-in and then found a table. Alexis Zahoudanis, son of owner John Zahoudanis, came to greet us and pour the 1st glass. We chatted with him a bit. Relaxed, enjoying the wines, and totally enamored with this place, we kicked back and day-dreamed about retiring on a vineyard.
A while later, John arrived. We asked him if he was “Papou”, as in Cuvee Papou, one of their amazing whites. We spent the entire afternoon there chatting with him, and have been back twice already. Papou John even told us to bring our kids next time and they can play with his grandchildren while we relax and enjoy. It’s our favorite Central Coast outpost, at the top of our itinerary for every trip.
About Demetria Estate
In 2005, John Zahoudanis, a native of Northern Greece, searched for a vineyard. When he came to this Santa Ynez Valley property, he was enamored, and the rest, as they say is history. Demetria Estate is a family affair. He named the vineyard after his daughter Demetria. Son Alexis lives and works full-time on the estate.
Demetria was one of the first in the area to farm biodynamically — this means no pesticides or fertilizers, and yields wine made without preservatives or industrial yeasts. They grow 10 Rhone varietals (5 white and 5 red) on 46 acres. Demetria also makes other Burgundy-style wines, made from grapes from select growers in cooler destinations.
- Cuvee Papou, a citrusy blend of 45% Marsanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 27% Roussanne, 3% Picpoul that will captivate Sauvignon Blanc lovers.
- Cuvee Constantine, an elegant blend of 41% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 32% Syrah, 3% Counoise, that will hypnotize you with berry, lavender, and chocolate aromas, and a smooth finish.
Demetria hosts wine events and is available for private parties and weddings. Buy at the winery or join the club, as the wines are not widely distributed.
6701 Foxen Canyon Rd, Los Olivos, CA Phone: (805) 686-2345. Tastings by appointment only.
Before we leave the Central Coast, we must tell you about a special Greek-inspired winery. Here, Philhellenes Peter and Rebecca Work have infused their love for Greece, and are sharing that love one pour at a time.
As the story goes, Peter’s sister married a Greek and moved to Greece. Peter visited her often and fell in love with Greece. Soon after he met Rebecca, he brought her to Greece and she immediately fell in love with Greece, too. The couple was married on the island of Folegandros. They read the book, Harvest of Joy, and dreamed that “someday” they would quit the corporate world and buy a winery. Then one day everything changed. Peter had a meeting scheduled late on 9.11.2001 at the World Trade Center. We all know what happened that day. Fate stepped in, and the couple decided that “someday” had come. They enlisted their winemaker son to show them the ropes.
The Works purchased a vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills in 1999. To celebrate their love for Greece, they named it Ampelos, the Greek word for vine. The inaugural harvest was in 2004. In 2007, they converted a leased building in Lompoc’s “Wine Ghetto” — a name affectionately dubbed to an industrial park full of stylish tasting rooms; you won’t find any grapevines there — as their tasting room.
Incidentally, 2004 also brought the opening of Ampelos Resort, a bed and breakfast on Folegandros, which is run by Peter’s sister and her husband.
The Ampelos philosophy is simple — produce high quality, eco-friendly wines with no added yeasts, tannins, artificial bacteria or coloring. Their goal is for every sip “to evoke cool ocean breezes on sunny afternoons wondering at the beauty of the rolling Santa Rita Hills”.
In keeping with the Greek theme, all bottles possess a Greek letter and name, each representing the special characteristics of the wine. Also, the wine club is called ‘Filos’.
Ampelos wines have gained attention from wine aficionados. Wine Spectator gave their Lambda: The Magnitude 2010 88 points, and called it, “elegant and graceful”.
- The Phi φ Viognier is a light and fruity white that will delight any Viognier aficionado. It’s a great, easy drinking summer wine.
(I misplaced my tasting notes but the φ absolutely stands out in my mind!)
Peter and Rebecca were in Greece when we visited the tasting room, but we had a great time — and lots of laughs — with their friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Shop online or buy in the tasting room.
312 N 9th St, Lompoc, CA; Phone: 805.736.9957
We had a fabulous visit there last summer. This area could be one of the wine world’s best kept secrets.
Did you know that Lodi is the unofficial “Zinfandel Capital of the World?”
About 40% of the premium Zinfandel in California is grown there.
Our first stop was Stama Winery, where father and son Gus and Foti Kapiniaris revived their family’s centuries old winemaking tradition and honor their legacy. We had just missed them, but have spoken to them many times since. We had a lovely visit to Stama, and they sure didn’t mind our kids running around outside. The tasting room staff was not only knowledgeable, but assured us we were in a family-friendly place: the owners were Greek after all, and Greeks are known for their hospitality.
In 2012, they teamed up with Franck Lambert, a French winemaker who had worked for Michael David Winery, home of ‘7 Deadly Zins’. We tasted in a brand new, rustic, Mediterranean style tasting room. Soon there will be banquet facilities and more, where they’ll host weddings and other special events.
- 2015 Sauvignon Blanc: Fruity and crisp. A great summer wine.
- 2015 Chardonnay Vintage: I’m not a Chardonnay fan, but this was a lovely surprise — not oak-y at all.
- 2013 Zany Zin Old Vine Zinfandel: A little bit peppery, medium-bodied; will appeal to zin lovers.
Wines are only available in the tasting room, so be sure to buy when you visit.
17521 N. Davis Road, Lodi, CA. 209.981.9592
Last but certainly not least, we enjoyed an afternoon with the Natsis Family at Omega Cellars. Frank and Astrini Natsis purchased property in Lodi and planned to someday retire there. After years in the restaurant business, he longed to return to the fields, and work the land as he had in his youth. In 1990, he went to Lodi to purchase a lamb for Easter. While there, he found a charming vineyard with a small house on it, and took it as a sign that it was time to shift gears. They moved to Lodi in 1995. In September 2002, they officially branded their winery as Omega Cellars, and began tastings in April 2004.
This family-run business is truly all about family. We visited with our two daughters, and they welcomed us without hesitation. As my husband and I chatted with Frank’s son Jim and tasted wines, “Papou” Frank took the girls for a tour. Outside they encountered “Yiayia” Astrini, who just as any yiayia would do, loaded them up with koulouria and hugs. We enjoyed our extended stay, and we left feeling like we were part of the family. Jim said that’s their goal.
- 2013 Omega White, a blend of 80% Chardonnay, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, & 5% Viognier, will please the palate of white aficionados. It’s easy drinking and light.
- 2011 Midnight Serenade, a dessert wine, is a lovely way to end an evening.
- 2013 Mourvedre Rosé: deeper in color and flavor than your typical rosé, we’ve re-ordered this one several times.
Wines are available only in the tasting room and online, so take some with you. And some of Yiayia Astrini’s olives, too. Join the wine club, too.
13731 N Hwy 88, Lodi, CA; Phone: 209.367.1910
California Greek Wines
We’ll continue to explore California’s Greek wines. If you travel that way, do visit these wineries, for some good Greek hospitality, and memorable experiences. Tell them we sent you! Here’s to California GREEK wine! Happy Harvest to all our friends in California! CHEERS!
Read more about Greek wine here
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