Our walk in the roots of Psiloritis, in the vineyards of Fourfouras and Melampes, in southern Rethymno, with Iliana Malihin.
"Old donkey does not learn new walking". I think that if Iliana Malihin read it somewhere, she can only smile from inside. I say from inside her because I have the feeling that she does not express very easily her feelings or what she is thinking. Going up from Fourfouras to Melampes, in an almost unknown part of southern Rethymnon, I could not understand if my constant questions bothered her. Sharp in her answers, strict in her expression, almost Doric I would say, a different figure in a world that has been eaten by the uncontrollable chatter and the shameless - how much longer - exposure on social media…
But I really do not know if what I felt in this lightning trip - as we know - our trip, in one of the most beautiful and deep in viticultural areas of Crete, had even the slightest connection with reality. I have no idea how Iliana really is with her own people and whether this austerity-Doricism she emits simply has to do with the fact that a "child" at the age of 27 talks and collaborates with people who have - in several cases- up to three times his age.
In my mind the shocking field in Iliana's story is that she managed to inspire growers of this age and put them in her own "chariot". He learned from the old "donkeys" a new walk. Words such as natural cultivation, low interventions, compost etc. related to its philosophy. And she used every possible thought and intelligent way to achieve it, without even having the slightest financial comfort behind it.
We pass outside some unique steep "cups" in Melampes, planted on terraces in ravines that make you dizzy (yes, the point is so magical) and I see in the wire fence a sign that says "Organic farming". Shortly afterwards she explains to me that she made the labels and gave them to her organic growers to "decorate" their vineyards. Proud of my friends, and in Crete, especially in such places, they do not spare her…
Her philosophy in the vineyard # 1
Be aware that the "trick" with the signs has caught on. More and more vine growers who maintain the small fragmented vineyards of the wider area now come and find her telling her that they have stopped the chemical interventions in their vineyards and would like after three years, during which they will apply pure cultivation, that Malikhin buy the grapes their. It is not easy in these places to accept that someone is working with your neighbor and not with you Iliana has managed to stir up an entire area in the leg.
Keep in mind that the fact that Rethymno lags behind the other prefectures of Crete may have worked well. The lack of mass production and interest for southern Rethymno prevented phylloxera from reaching its vineyards and so one finds at 600m., At the roots of Psiloritis just before the Libyan Sea, vineyards whose age can exceed 140 years. .
Iliana Malihin is trying to revive this "treasure" together with a group of old and young winegrowers in the area. The old vineyards are "tangled" with plenty of varieties, those that are traditionally found on this axis that runs through Crete, from east to west. Fantastic dry Liatika, Vidiana, Thrapsathiria, Plyto, Melissaki, adorn this part of the island, in absolute "quiet" from external factors. Eliana and her collaborating vine growers, some of them over 80 years old and having never tasted bottled wine before, have started a series of new plantings. It has not been more than 25 years that the Melampes counted 700 acres of autonomous vineyards. Most were lost or abandoned.
The cultivation is done as she wants. It sets the criteria and is based on natural viticulture, without any chemical interventions. In order for a viticulturist to climb into her chariot, she must play by her own rules. This is not easy and obviously costs money. He pays an agronomist who advises and trains them, supervises everything from pruning to grape picking and above all pays the grapes roughly to give the grower support not to run away somewhere along the way. The fairy tale with Snow White and the seven elders is nice (it was my grandmother's favorite movie), but here we are in the real world. And beyond the vision, maintaining such a vineyard properly involves a high cost.
The small winery - cafe # 2
We stopped at the small winery, at about 900m. altitude on the edge of the village. An old warehouse of the local cooperative of Melampa that he rented in 2019 and even at the time of our visit, works were being done for the visitable (there will be this too) part of the small winery.
Usually I'm not impressed by wineries, I think my eyes have seen almost everything now. What could enchant me in a winery, no matter how beautiful its small tanks, such as those of Eliana that serve micro-winemaking from the many fragmented vineyards. And yet there was an extraordinary "aura" that I do not know if I can exactly explain to you. You will probably have to go through Melampes for a walk yourself.
Maybe I was crazy about the fact that while we were testing the tanks with this year's Young Vines Vidiano (it may already be on the market now that I am writing) and the Old Vines Vidiano, as well as the Fourfoura tank intended for Rizes2, had us then one of the grandparents of the village, in a phase of the type "I saw light and entered". We were trying from behind, followed by the grandfather, who was one of the old viticulturists of the village who collaborated with Eliana. He was already telling me something, but where should I take the Athenian for what he meant. It seemed to me that he spoke a foreign language…
So often, as Eliana told me, the door of the winery opens and the growers make a stop to see what their "girl" is doing. I'm not sure she's too happy about it, they might bother her with their theories or because they have more time to lose than her, but I found it amazing. I'm sure they would drink their coffee at the winery instead of the village cafe. A winery in which Eliana follows the same philosophy of minimal interventions, producing wines of mild natural winemaking and without commercial pastries.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Malihin-Chryssos project (Santorini viticulturist Spyros Chrysos is a close associate of Eliana) is one of the best new stories of the Greek vineyard. At the economic and technocratic level, no major producer could "dedicate" himself to the way Eliana does in Fourfoura and Melampes: mountain viticulture, steep slopes, exclusively manual labor, old vineyards, two areas that are considered the cradle of Vidianos, natural cultivation, gentle "hand" in the winery and I do not know what else one could ask for to "shake" the waters.
You will rightly ask me how the wines are… The wines are great, Vidiano itself is great as a variety. Vidiano young vines has an amazing "match" and nerve with lively fruit, while Vidiano old vines, has more introversion, thickness, volume and a depth that can only be related to the fact that it originates from the old vines. Of course, Eliana is also small and inexperienced, she tries, experiments, succeeds, fails, makes mistakes, falls and gets up again.
Some guys like Iliana make me want to smudge myself. At 27 I had already decided in my heart that there was nothing I could do to change the world. And yet she manages to change day by day the people around her, to contribute to the rebirth of a long culture, to revive forgotten vineyards, to be interested in how she behaves as an entity within an ecosystem.
Sorry guys but at this stage I do not give priority to how good its excellent wines really are. Every sip in the glass makes me think that this is just a generation that is better than me. And this is truly timeless. There is no way anything can go wrong with this idea, even if sometimes some fermentation sticks or Vidianos peels are forgotten more than they should with the juice. We were very dark…
Grigoris Michailos Dip WSET