“Never have I raised so many delicious glasses of wine in 48 hours.”
This, without irony and without drama, is my response to the question:
“But how could you possibly be tired? You’ve been at a Five Star Resort.”
I have indeed- hosted with the warmth (and loving excess) that marks Mediterranean hospitality in general, and the hospitality of the region of Pieria (Mt. Olympus, Dion, monasteries and museums, and much rural beauty) in particular. I am there along with 70 of my colleagues- people who love Greece, and love to talk about it. Wine was an integral part of our journey. We drank in the essence of the landscape, guided by the hands who tend it.
The Lyon of Greece
In less time than it took me growing up to ride the A train from SoHo out to Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn (Coney Island) to swim, I can be in the center of Katerini. A bus leaves from Thessaloniki every half hour, and there are many trains throughout the day- a perfect day or weekend trip. It’s a really fine town- more cosmopolitan than a village, but small enough that the structure of public life is not frayed by anonymity. Like R. W. Apple Jr. wrote of Lyon, it’s as though they liked the 1950’s so much they decided to stay there. This means: good manners, broad treesy pedestrian walks, and people dressing for promenade.
Plus, postcard pastel Vespas, and sleepy cats in just the right shade of orange.
It also mean (as in Lyon), that they dine very, very well- elegant, honest dishes, served without pretension.
This is not a wine tasting tour- wine is just one thoughtfully curated aspect of the whole experience. But that experience does start at a winery, and it’s not Napa. We are in the heart of an undeveloped, raw and wild landscape. The bus makes sharp turns back and forth as we climb a steep hill. The headlights catch tree trunks thick at the road’s edge. We’re so far from anything like electricity that the small, high moon is enough to illuminate the rugged hills. It’s a landscape that makes you feel thrillingly a little lost. In that heightened mood of finding something hidden, we arrive at the edge of Rachi- a few stone houses, a streetlight. The bus won’t fit, and we walk the rest of the way through the mountain-clear air. It has a bite, softened by the scent of wood smoke. Stacks of split wood in an outdoor kitchen- central to Greek country life- announce the rustic, authentic character of the Kourtis Winery:
Just off to the right of the patio are the wines in their modern vats. Apostolos Kourtis introduces us to his young winery.
Someone is asking what sound like all the right questions- about things like elevation and soil. Things I do not know enough to ask. The answers illuminate little.
In a stone cottage across the road,
There is a cava, and a tasting room upstairs. My friends and I end up sitting next to a genial, well-informed couple- the same that were asking the interesting questions. This is lucky- the couple shares their experience at wine tales, and are vibrant with knowledge and joy. And with glasses in our hands, wine begins to make sense in a way it never has before.
The Life of Wine
Our companions share a simple, beautiful truth- wine follows the path of life just like everything else, and all the impressions it contains- olives and almonds and apples alike- follow this path too. The flavors in the wine (the apples, the olives) are fresh and light and green when they are young; as they mature they acquire richness and depth. The green olive becomes in time a rich olive paste; the tart fresh berry grows dark, jammy, juicy and ripe.
This makes wine like us- replacing the bright, ephemeral freshness of youth with, we hope, fullness and complexity, as a thing becoming evolves into a thing that has become.
Everything that made Pieria the Land of the Gods is still there, in abundance. This site is enormously useful, whether for a planned trip, or a spontaneous weekend:
http://visitpieria.gr/pieria_15_en.html Have a wonderful time! We certainly did.
Travel Bloggers Greece- comparing notes on a spirited tasting.
Ktima Kourtis- Wine Tasting in the foothills of Mt. Olympus