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Remembering Haridimos Hatzidakis

Haridimos Hatzidakis died August 11, 2017. Born on Crete, he moved to Santorini to intern with Boutari in 1991; he soon became the winery’s chief oenologist. Since launching his own winery in 1997, he’s become a cult figure in the world of Santorini wines, focused on small-production, low-intervention wines from single parcels and rare varieties. Here is a remembrance from Tara Q. Thomas.

“Keep going; it’s just up this road.” That was third person we’d stopped to ask for directions to Hatzidakis. My Greek-speaking friend Nikos had rented a scooter for the day, and we were exploring the island, making pilgrimages to a few wineries. Hatzidakis was top on our list: Back in Athens, we’d tried his mavrotragano—one of the two first bottlings ever of this rare red grape, and the first either Nikos or I had tasted. Though it welded our mouths closed with tannins, the wine presented such a wild, untamed taste of Santorini we’d wanted to know more about the guy who captured it.

We continued to climb the hill on the road toward the monastery of Profitis Elias, sitting sentinel at the tallest point of the island. And we saw nothing that resembled a winery. Then Nikos pointed out a shack of wooden beams and galvanized sheet metal rising out of the bare pumice—what stands in for dirt on Santorini. “You think that could be it?” he asked. We drove up and saw grape bins, an old barrel, some tools, before hearing voices that led us to a hole in the ground. We climbed down to find a couple visitors in a cramped cellar talking with Konstantina, Hatzidakis’ wife at the time; they were placing an order for some wine. We introduced ourselves while politely maneuvering for space, and Konstantina called for her husband, who soon joined us, his big frame filing the last bit of space in the cellar.

Never one for words but glad we’d liked his red wine, Hatzidakis grabbed a thief from the wall and started clambering over the barrels, pulling tastes from this one and that. We tasted his whites, too—not just the Santorini, but a 100-percent aidani, the first bottling ever on the island, labeled with a sunny scene one of his children had drawn. We emerged hours later, giddy with the feeling that we’d just met a legend, someone who’d make a deep mark on Santorini’s wine scene.

That was nearly 20 years ago. I saw him once more, several years ago, in a new cellar he was digging next to one of his old-vine parcels. He was quiet, hard to draw out; the wines, on the other hand, weren’t shy at all: they were big, rich and concentrated. He raised them organically and vinified them without added yeasts or enzymes and a minimum of sulfur, often in old barrels. They were, on one hand, a throwback to older times; on the other, they spoke of an obsessive attention to farming and a commitment to low yields that could only happen today, when an international audience clamors for wines like these.

Today, many Santorini producers make single-parcel wines, as well as single-varietal wines from aidani or mavrotragano. And many are exploring low-impact ways of caring for their land and making their wines. Thank you, Hatzidakis, for leading the way.

This is a W&S web exclusive feature.