On their recent trip to Crete, Maria A. Karamitsos and her family spent the day with Chania Wine Tours. Come along on their unforgettable tour. (photos & video)
An unforgettable day with Chania Wine Tours
In our recent article about our stay in Crete, we mentioned the day we spent with Vasilis Kokologiannakis and Anna Maria Kambourakis, owners/operators of Chania Wine Tours. We first learned about them several months ago and profiled them in our Greek-American in Greece series. When we were able to add Crete to this year’s Greece itinerary, we quickly planned a tour. This was one of the best days of our entire trip, and one we will never forget.
Crisis yields opportunity
Recall, Vasilis grew up in Modesto, CA and Anna Maria in Methuen, MA. Both of Cretan descent, they’d spent many summers on the island; they met there. Vasilis worked as a Master Technician for BMW and Mercedes, Anna Maria worked a sommelier. One of the things they always talked about was their love for their ancestral home, and planned to relocate to Crete in 7 years — it would be a great place to raise their children. They said the 7-year plan “became a 7-month plan” and they moved to Crete just before their wedding in 2013.
They moved to Greece in the middle of the economic crisis. Few people were driving luxury automobiles and so finding work was difficult for Vasilis. At the time, Anna Maria learned that she was the only Certified Sommelier on the island (there are now two). The wheels started turning and the idea for Chania Wine Tours was born. In the summer of 2017, the couple decided to “go for it” and “with a new van and a website”, started the business. Incidentally, Anna Maria is the only sommelier in Greece that does wine tours. Judging from the day we spent, and all the 100%/Excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, I’d say they are poised for tremendous success.
Now come along on this memorable adventure.
The full-day tour
Promptly at 9:00, Vasilis and Anna Maria picked us up in the van. They greeted us with that famous Cretan hospitality. You’d think we were old friends, but this was our first meeting. From that moment, we got the VIP treatment – mimosas for adults, juice for kids, and lots of local baked goods. We learned so much about the island.
Half-day tours are available, but I highly recommend the full-day tour because there’s so much to explore. And this tour was about more than wine. Vasilis and Anna Maria gave us a taste of their Chania – the land of their ancestors, their home, their pride.
History comes to life
The first stop was the village of Marathokefala, Kolympari, about 25 km west of Chania. Here, we saw the cave of St. John the Hermit. Based on marble artifacts found in the cave, it’s thought to be a sanctuary from pre-Christian times. A walk inside revealed three churches, and a Kryfo Sxoleio – a secret school from the days of the Ottoman occupation. We learned about the Kryfo Sxoleio in Greek School, but never saw one in person. How amazing to have history and lessons come to life! During the days of Ottoman rule, Greeks were prohibited from practicing their religion or even teaching the Greek language. Hence, they went “underground”. These Secret Schools, which are found throughout Greece, are the reason the language, religion, and culture endured following 400 years of occupation. Everything is as it was – with icons and tree stump seats for the pupils.
Doing it the old-fashioned way
Next, we visited Biolea, an olive oil producer in Astrikas, Kolympari (32 km from Chania proper). Here, we met Greek-Canadian Chloe Dimitriadis, the 6th generation olive oil producer, who now lives on and manages the estate. Using millstones and presses – the old way – Biolea produces an extraordinary artisan olive oil. This process preserves many more nutrients that the modern way, resulting in a richer tasting oil. They’re only one of two producers in Greece who use this method.
We also learned that about 50% of Crete contains olive trees. Also, a stunning 5% of the world’s production of olive oil comes from olives from this remarkable island!
Oldest in the world
Onward, we stopped in the village of Ano Vouves in Kolympari to see the Olive Tree of Vouves. At some 3,000 years old, it’s the oldest olive tree in the world, and was declared a protected natural monument in 1997. The tree continues to bear fruit and olive oil is produced on the premises . According to Wikipedia, branches from this tree were used to make victors’ wreaths for the Athens 2004 Olympics and the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The Olive Tree Museum of Vouves, dedicated in 2009, is situated near the tree in a 19th century house featuring exhibits of old olive oil making, and more. Stop in the shop to buy products made from the tree, grab a cold frappe, and a snack. Skip the white pants or other fancy outfit if you’re visiting there, because the tree is hollow, and you can crawl inside of it!
Bring on the wine!
Next, we stopped for a wine tasting at Anoskeli Olive Mill and Winery in Anoskeli (about 37 km from Chania Town). This estate was founded in 1983 by the Mamidakis Family. Here, you’ll find a state-of-the-art olive oil plant and a boutique winery. In the ‘rustic chic’ tasting room, with lots of windows to let in the spectacular light, one can sample wines, as well as olive oil from their Koroneiki trees.
With a small plate of snacks, we sat down for some wine education. Anna Maria gave us some tips on how to look for a good wine – color, smell, taste – and told us to trust our own instincts and unique flavor palate. She guided us through the wine tasting, including wine from their Ano Playa line, including international grape blends, as well as a fantastic dry white with a blend of Vilana, Vidiano, and Assyrtiko, all indigenous grapes. We also tasted some of their limited edition Anofereia wines, particularly a delightful Malagouzia. We took a walk out to the vineyard, where Vasilis told us about the indigenous grapes and a bit about the farming process.
Another Greek-American success story
Our final stop of the day was Mnousakis Winery in Vatolakkos (about 15 km from Chania Town). As the story goes, founder Ted Manousakis was born there, and later went to America, and became a successful businessman. His heart still in his beloved village, he pondered a way to give back, and essentially put Vatolakkos on the map. He fondly recalled that winemaking was a way of life there. Manousakis was established in 1993, to honor his homeland. Today, the winery is astutely run by his daughter, Alexandra. Everything here is done with respect and love for the land, for its people, and its history. There are many sweet nods to family history – the logo includes three Narcissus flowers to represent the three Manousakis daughters.
Anna Maria took us throughout the property to see barrels being prepared for an early harvest, and through production areas. Then we stopped in the shop. You can buy wine and other products here but be sure you have those special sealable bags, or the airlines may confiscate your wine. (It’s happened to me!)
From the shop, continue to a bar where all the wines may be sampled, and then out to a glorious outdoor terrace and tasting room. Here we had a fantastic lunch, beginning with traditional Cretan rusks dipped in local olive oil, and a delectable Youvetsi, a Greek-style beef stew with orzo. We tasted several varieties, including Nostos Vidiano, Muscat of Spinas (a dry, medium-bodied white); and a fantastic rosé called Nostos Pink (a great summer wine). Honestly, I can’t pick a favorite. While we ate, we spied the staff setting up for a wedding. What a spectacular place for an event!
We had the pleasure to meet Alexandra; her husband, restauranteur/chef/winery manager Afshin Molavi; and their adorable daughter Adriana. And of course, their super cute dogs Soko Freta and Matilda, who capped off the day perfectly for our daughters.
A day you won’t soon forget
With full-day and half-day options available, there’s something for every itinerary — just do not skip it. On their private, luxury tours, you will see, taste, and experience Crete in the most extraordinary way. You too, will have day you won’t soon forget. Tell them we sent you!
Greek-Americans in Greece: Meet Anna Maria & Vasilis Kokologiannakis of Chania Wine Tours