The Tetramythos vineyards lie on steep slopes of Mount Helmos, on the most southern tip of Greece's mainland. When I last visited, in April, the soil was covered with alpine grass and wild flowers, a visible result of the organic farming that is meticulously applied. Standing amidst Greece’s highest vineyards at an altitude of nearly 3500 feet -- with a view of the open sea at the end of the deep valley -- is an unforgettable experience. Mount Helmos reaches up to 7700 feet and is home to a popular ski resort. It also hosts some of the finest terroirs in the world. The soil structure varies, but it's mostly made up of limestone and clay. The mountain is covered with pine forest; in the higher parts, lush, dark green grass grows thickly. Mount Helmos belongs to the area of Aegiala, which is the most important region for organic farming in Greece.
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The area is located close to a 25-mile strip of sea formed by the two gulfs of Corinth and Patras and has a unique climate. The wind accelerates towards the meeting point between the two gulfs, and the water has a cooling effect. The high altitude also contributes to the cooler climate in comparison with the Central Peloponnese. Approximately 1000 Ha of vines and 4000 Ha of table grapes are planted in Aegiala.
Tetramythos is one of the finest wineries in that area. Today, it features 14 Ha of land and has an annual production of about 60,000 bottles. It was officially founded in 1999, although the owners have been involved in growing grapes for many years before. In fact, their vineyards have been officially certified as organic since 1997. The grapes were sold to other wine growers in the area. Then the owners teamed up with the young and extremely talented oenologist Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos, who has been running the day-to-day operations ever since.
In 2004 the establishment of a winery featuring ultra-modern technology, a wine bar, and a small hotel was complete. More than 10,000 tourists visited during the first year. The vineyard holdings steadily increased, and the outlook was bright.
Then, during the summer of 2007 Greece was raged by a number of wildfires. On July 20, the fire broke away from the mountains over the town of Agio and expanded rapidly. Aegiala was in flames, and finally after 6 days the fire seemed to be under control. On the evening of July 26, the fire fighters told the Tetramythos owners that there was no danger anymore. They stopped their guard shortly afterwards.
The next morning Panagiotis drove to the winery to find only ruins. The fire had re-ignited overnight and had burned everything in its way. The building, all high tech equipment, barrels, and bottles had been destroyed. There was nothing left to be saved. Some of the vineyards located a few miles away from the winery were also exposed to the fires.
In the following weeks, many renowned wine estates expressed their solidarity to Tetramythos and offered their help. Some of the high placed vineyards had escaped the fire, and it was only thanks to them that the harvest actually managed to reach roughly half the yearly average. The grapes were processed at other wineries. The EU paid out reconstruction help for the region, and insurance paid for parts of the damages. By 2009, the winery had been completely rebuilt – but the partners had to shoulder a chunk of the costs themselves.
Now Tetramythos seems to be better positioned than ever before. The business has literally risen from the ashes, and this by itself is a remarkable achievement. Panagiotis and his partners have matured after the last trying years. What has remained unchanged is their love for the vineyards and their work.