Monthly Archives: August 2009

Oia Santorini – Scenes from a Greek Island weekend…

It’s a shame there isn’t some kind of photo gallery that we can go to and look at images of people’s weekends from all over the world. Hundreds of cities… towns, villages and “small islands”, all over the world. Maybe one of the flicker or youtube whiz-kids will read this and do something about it. In the meantime… here are some images from my weekend in my little part of this beautiful planet we all call home.

mist

Saturday morning I woke up early to find mist and low cloud… a rare treat for August.

 

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I saw the mist drifting fast… creating some beautiful images on the landscape in front of me…

 

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 I then went for an early walk and saw Oia from a new vantage point… one I had never been to before,
but will surely be visiting again and again…

 

taxiThat night our next door neighbours were returning to Athens… so they called a taxi – as you do!
But of course this is Oia… and our taxi is a bit different to yours, at least until you get up the steps
to the village centre.

 

meteorNext morning I got up early again… my coffee shop (Meteor) was still closed.
Yes… that’s the cafe on the left and the tables on the right… welcome to Oia ;-)

 

grapes

I then rode to the winery where I saw grapes being dried in the sun. This is the grape they will use
to make the famous Santorini VinSanto… multi-award winning sweet wine.

 

boatsAfter a swim I got home in the afternoon in time to see this almost surreal image.
It’s the daily parade of boats cruising past below the house in mid-afternoon,
full of tourists looking up at Oia and no doubt taking thousands of photos. 

 

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Speaking of boats… this little boat turned up late afternoon. But this is not just any boat dear friends…

 

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This… is the “Rising Sun”. One of the biggest private yachts in the world, belonging to 
Larry Ellison (Oracle Corp). I may not agree with the man’s technology ideas… but he has
fantastic taste in yachts. It’s lean, understated, elegant and simply stunning.

 

rising sun4It’s 138m long and has 8,000 sqm of living space. That’s 8 thousand square metres friends. 
Heli-pads front and back… the back one doubles as a half-basketball court.
 

rising sun 3

So I sat on the front balcony with binoculars… took these photos and admired. He is a self-made man
and you have to love that.

 

I have to say that I absolutely love the view from the house. The caldera is like the best possible live theatre on a grand scale…daily. Each day the show is different and you just never know what the next day will bring. I know I am very fortunate to have this view in front of me daily.

So that was the last weekend of August for another year dear friends. A bit of everything thrown in. From the sublime pleasure of watching the early morning mist  roll through my small village… to breathing in the aromatic scent of grapes drying in the hot August sun… to the magestic image of the “Rising Sun” under my house. It’s a small village on a small island… but it’s different.

To be perfectly honest I am very pleased August is gone and I am really looking forward to September. There is always a far nicer atmosphere on the island during September and we are a month closer to winter, when all the real “business” is done… and what a winter this promises to be dear friends. More on that soon ;-)

I hope you enjoyed the images from my Greek Island weekend….

PS: My best wishes for a speedy return to full health for the lovely Lala  xxx

 

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Oia Santorini – being here !

Waking up at 6am…. some weights, a walk or a swim, quick juice and then off on the Vespa. Running around all day, dropping in and out of the studio, meeting with people, checking out properties, seeing people at the winery, a coffee or three, back to the studio… then a ride home in the evening.

Living in paradise doesn’t always mean you have the time to enjoy it. In fact…. if you’re not careful, the same thing that happens in any big city can just as easily happen in Oia and/or Santorini.

If you let it that is…. and I have been letting it lately. A lot !

But then something happens. Something that reminds you that you live in a very, very special place. Something that makes you realise the need to keep in mind why you are here in the first place.

Let me show you.

On the way into Oia village you can’t see the view on the volcano side… only the north side, which is spectacular in itself. But the “real view”, the one that makes your jaw drop to your knees, stays teasingly hidden until you are almost in the village proper. Then, in a fleeting moment…. it opens up. It’s the spot I call the “Oia Pass”. Suddenly the caldera view opens up for you on the left as you drive in… and your eyes can hardly believe what they are seeing. It’s a narrow pass and you can’t really stop there unless you are waiting for oncoming traffic to clear. But the most gorgeous village on earth gives you a teasing little glimpse. It’s like the most beautiful caldera in the world smiling and saying to you  “Pssssssssst….welcome to your dream ” as you’re driving through.

You turn… and your eyes see this:

4 On the left you look towards Imerovigli and the main port….

 

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below is the magnificent cliff side with the beautifully carved out hotels…deep blue caldera opening up below them…

 

5 the volcano and Therassia island ahead…

 

3and a large cruise ship gliding majestically passed.

 

The photo that will do this scene justice hasn’t been taken yet… the photographer that can capture it hasn’t been born yet and the camera that can take in what your eyes can see hasn’t been made yet. But you will have to take my word for it dear friends… there is nothing like it anywhere on this planet.

So, in the mad rush to stay on top of things… to run around and do what needs to be done, I occasionally have to stop here and remind myself where I am, what it’s taken to be here and why I must never, ever take it (or my time here) for granted !

 

 

Oia BBQ… with a view !

So you’ve finally come to visit… to see my little village… to see the small island in the Aegean that makes people lose their hearts and minds.

Like a good host I have taken you for a long ride on the Vespa…. showing you the sights and let you breath in the air that makes people light headed. We then had a lazy afternoon on the beach (siesta on the beach chairs included) and then back to Oia for dinner.

“Where are we going for dinner?”  you ask…

“Nothing special… thought we might have a casual bbq, just relax and enjoy Oia at sunset…away from everyone.
Some wine, some music, some nice food… and a bit of a view”.

So we take our food, our wine, our music and we ride to my little special bbq. Why special you ask? 

Well… 

 

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It’s a bit rough…I’m sorry, but there is plenty of room and it’s secluded.

 

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All very basic… I know, but it has a certain charm about it… don’t you think?

 

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There is also a fair bit to look at while waiting for the food to cook.

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It’s nothing fancy… I know.

But hey… when in Oia !

 

I know my little bbq is not high tech, it’s not designed for extreme comfort and it’s certainly not designed for a big crowd.

Call me silly… but I like it  ;-)

 

 

Living with Intent…

It has been said that what separates us the most from our close primate relatives is what is known as “intentionality”. Without getting too much into the use of the term “intentionality” in a number of fields, let’s just say that intentionality is our ability to apply thoughtfulness in action or decision. Our “being” as a result of “intent”.

Keep these words in mind…. “being” as a result of “intent” !

Let us now very briefly examine a famous experiment conducted by John Searle (b. 1932, Denver, CO; Ph.D. philosophy, Oxford; currently Professor of Philosophy, UC Berkeley). The experiment – known as “Chinese Room” – was conducted in 1980 and in very simple terms it goes something like this: there is a man sitting in a room which is empty other than a set of rules which are set out in the classic  “if >> then” fashion. The room has two windows through which messages by another two people are passed through the man in the room. Where it gets interesting is that the two people outside the room are passing messages to each other in Chinese. The man in the room does NOT speak or understand Chinese…he simply follows his “rule book” which tells him when he sees character “X’ he places character “Y” on a piece of paper and so on and so on….. and then passes it through the other window.

Simple… right?

If only. This experiment my dear friends has created such debate in the fields of philosophy, psychology and AI, that we will not even go near it in this little blog at this time. However…. let us simply accept the words of Mr Searle that the man in the Chinese Room lacked “intentionality”. In other words, although he answered messages in Chinese from one person to the other, he himself had no idea what they were saying or what the messages were about. He was simply following his “rule book” and the classic “if >> then” scenario.

Now…. forgive me for oversimplifying what is a truly profound experiment…. but like my interpretation of the lyrics of “Comfortably Numb”, this experiment has always left a very clear impression in my mind in terms of what it really represents. Let’s forget the questions of consciousness and deep AI for now. Let’s focus on the man in the Chinese Room and his “if >> then” rule book. He does things simply because the rules tell him so…. he has no real idea what’s going on around him…. he serves a purpose without questioning….

Does he remind you of anyone?

For years I have asked this question of managers, of staff in large corporations and just people in general. Who does the man in the Chinese room remind you of ?

At times the answer was immediate, other times it wasn’t so obvious to the audience.

Personally I think we have all been the man in the Chinese room. We have all worked to a rule book…. the most common “if >> then” rule being: “If I turn up every day… and I do exactly as I am told… then I get paid on Thursdays”. You can substitute “Thursdays” with any frequency you like…. but the concept stays the same. You turn up, you follow the rules to the letter….then you get paid and you get to play the game again next week. It’s what makes the world go around…. and around.

Only one thing wrong with that picture. What a pathetically sad world this would be if we all did that. If we all just worked like mindless robots…. without any real understanding, or motivation, or creativity, or intentionality. What would this world look like if we all followed that “if >> then” formula?

Sadly my friends I believe an awful lot of people get caught in this trap. They turn up, they have no desire, no motivation, no real understanding, no purpose….no intent. They simply live to get paid… or to just exist. A life without purpose… a life without clear intent.

The good news of course is that it can all be changed in an instant. All it takes is a dream, an idea, a notion, an epiphany and your life has changed. You just need to allow yourself the pleasure of running with the thought in your mind. Trusting your instinct that what you think is right… really is, that it can change your life…. that it can change the lives of many. 

It is amazing how you feel when your life is full of purpose. Full of INTENT. One of the main reasons I wanted to follow the theme of “finding your passion” is exactly that. Finding your passion is finding intent. Finding your passion is “living with intent” !

Another enormous benefit of “living with intent” is that you tend to substitute “impossibility” with “possibility” thinking. The negativity of thinking that everything (or at least most things) are impossible, suddenly is replaced with positive “possibility” thinking. Everything is possible when you have clear intent. Your dream is suddenly a blueprint for your life and your new sense of purpose fills you with energy and excitement. All of the sudden everything feels new, fresh, exciting and yes…. possible, doable, achievable.  It’s like being very much in love… which not surprisingly is exactly what the lovely  Carla Coulson told us she felt when she discovered her passion for photography.

It’s also amazing how infectious your intent can be. People are attracted to people who have clear goals, living with passion and clear intent. You suddenly find all kinds of similarly minded people gravitating towards you, adding to your momentum, just as you are adding to theirs. It becomes a positive forward motion that carries you to places you never thought were possible to reach.

The funniest thing of all? Intent is not conditional, it’s not based on race or ethinicity, it’s not based on education or cultural background, there is no age limit attached and there is no minimum income requirements. It’s simply a matter of choice. Our OWN choice. We can either choose to live with a purpose or we can choose to live like the man in the Chinese Room.

Dream…

Find your passion…

Don’t just live…. “BE” with full intent !

Let’s make this a great week for all of us ;-)

 

 

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Just wanted to wish a speedy recovery to the lovely Lala at My Castle in Spain… get well soon gorgeous girl ;-)

 

Also wanted to thank the lovely Kirsten at Write on Thyme for her mention of this little blog while she’s enjoying San Francisco (one of my fave US cities). Thank you Kirsten…hope you enjoy your visit ;-)

Isle of Saint Nicholas – Ammoudi… Oia, Santorini

It’s been a busy summer and I haven’t been able to spend anywhere near enough time with Alessi as I wanted to or should have. But this morning we decided to go to Ammoudi for a swim together, at our usual spot away from the tourists that flood the tiny rock beach.

 It’s a good thing that most tourists don’t stay long enough to learn all the secret spots on this island. Ammoudi… the little port below Oia becomes very busy in August, all the small tavernas working hard to make the most of the busiest month. The small beach opposite
St. Nicholas island is also a very popular spot and for good reason. The water is absolutely crystal clear and very deep… making it cool and refreshing in the middle of summer.

I took up my usual spot on the rocks….

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It doesn’t look like much… but the flat rock that’s constantly washed by the sea and a wet, folded sarong for a head rest, feet hanging in the water… pure bliss for several hours. You just have to take a step and you’re in the azure water…

Alessi has his own favourite spot… sitting on top of a buoy the fishermen use in winter. He loves sitting on top of it and look at the fish below the water, as well as watch the big cruise ships sail by Oia.

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We sat there for a couple of hours, enjoying the sun and the beautiful clear water. Our little island is a favourite in summer as well as winter…when there is nobody else here. That’s certainly not the case in August though… it’s a fight for space for most tourists, unless they are willing to venture out into the lava rock formations. The small island is a magnet for people throughout summer and it’s not surprising…

 

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It’s only a 20m swim across from the main island and the water is just too perfect for words. What a lot of people don’t realise is that around the small island there is 2-3 meters of rock… followed by a sheer vertical drop of more than 1,000m depth. Imagine what it would look like without the water…. would make Grand Canyon look like a creek.

Here is a view from the top of the cliff in Oia… looking down at the small island in late winter:

top

To the right of the small island you can see a lagoon forming, around 20-30m deep… you can drop a coin and watch it all the way down on a calm day. To the left of the small island…lololol, you can drop whatever you like there folks, you are NEVER going to see it again.
It’s a loooooooooong way down. A scary thought as to what this scene would look like if the sea water wasn’t there.

Just another day at our local beach and small island…. another little adventure in this mystical island called Santorini !

Have a great weekend and I hope you get to spend some time with your kids too ;-)

 

 

 

Santorini Wine – a special grapevine… on a special island !

If “necessity” is the mother of invention then “practicality” must surely be its father.  Out of necessity comes the need, out of practicality comes the solution. Add to this the genius of Albert who taught us that “things should be made as simple as possible…but no simpler” and voila. We have all the ingredients required for one of the most ingenious inventions in the history of viticulture.

What you are about to see may not be new to some of you, but will be new to a lot of you. In my mind it is the very essence of what being a farmer is about and it is the absolute epitome of what being a farmer/grower on an arid, windblown island is all about. Necessity, invention, minimalism… practicality. Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate, nothing wasteful. Sheer, practical, evolutionary design at work on the land.

Ladies and Gentlemen…. meet the humble Santorini Vine !

santo vine

 

It doesn’t look like much… does it? Come to think of it neither does the soil. It simply looks like a desert, or some kind of arid  mountain side plant. When you think about it… that’s exactly what it is. But this simple image hides so much, as is often the case with so many wonderful creations.  

As you can see, the soil this vine is growing on is not what you expect to see in a vineyard. Its a mixture of lava pebbles (you can clearly see them), volcanic ash, pumice and other materials that combine to make for an un-inspiring soil mix. But the vines love this soft, porous soil as it retains the morning mist – the vines only source of moisture and it allows it to develop a deep root system.

To all of you wine growers out there, or to those who – like me – take great pleasure in walking through or near vineyards just to enjoy the gorgeous views they offer, the Santorini vineyard is a completely different experience.

 

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The terrain is not always flat or gently slopping, as in the picturesque French & Italian vineyards. The islanders will build terraces to take advantage of every available piece of land they own. 

 

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That’s not to say however that there aren’t vineyard views to enjoy on Santorini…far from it. The vineyards here seem almost “free”. They are far less formal, far less mechanised, far less “interfered with” than their landscaped cousins around the world. There are no poles or wires holding them up, there are no nets over them, there are not even fences around them. Necessity and practicality rule.

ditch

This by any standards is a small ditch…but the growers felt they could fit 10 or so vines in there, so they did and they thrived.
 

 

roadside

This is a long strip of roadside land… probably 7-8m deep. Useless anywhere else in the world. Here it’s perfect for a couple of hundred vines…no poles, no wires, no irrigation necessary. Its magic.
 

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In August…during harvest, the whole family comes out. Everything… and I mean “everything” is done by hand. There is no machine harvesting here… everything is still done the way it has for thousands of years. Same land, same vines… same methods. Just add the love of the growers for what they do… and you have a product that’s unique.

The vines of course are not grown in your typical (vertical way). In the photos above you see them at harvest time, which hides the ingenious work that’s taken to get them to this stage. Let’s take a look at a growing method that is unique in this world we live in.

 

ampelonas

This is earlier in the year and it allows us to see the “kouloura” (bird’s nest) that the growers have shaped the vine into. This means that the plants profile is low and the winter winds will hardly touch it. All the fruit will grow inside the “kouloura” which protects it from sand storms, birds and all else that can harm it. Then as summer approaches the full foliage of the vine will also protect the fruit from the harsh summer sun. All along however, this ingenious bird’s nest helps trap the morning mist as it goes through the vineyard. The moisture captured is kept under the foliage and transferred to the deep root system through the porous soil. It is the “only” form of irrigation these vines ever receive.

To get the vine to grow in this form is an art, a skill developed over thousands of years and passed on with every generation. It’s simple, highly effective and absolutely ideal for the island conditions. All kinds of technology could have been introduced…. but it hasn’t been. Necessity and practicality, as well as a love for tradition and history, has meant that we are all lucky enough to this day to be able to marvel at this ancient growing method, still working and still producing sublime fruit recognised the world over. 

There are a lot of lessons here for all of us dear friends. The yield of these vineyards is low, the temptation from other sectors is very high. The growing method is very difficult and it makes harvest by hand the only option. Yet… I look at the faces on the growers that bring their harvest to the Co-op daily and they are beaming. They simply love what they do, they love what they produce and to them mass production and commoditisation of their beloved grapes is unthinkable. They do this for the love of it.

Maybe that’s why (in my opinion) drinking VinSanto, the world famous naturally sweet dessert wine produced on Santorini…
is as close as you can get to kissing an angel !

 

 

Santorini wine – history, legacy, tradition… uniqueness

“Michael..8pm tonight… bring the family”.

With these words and a big smile, Markos invited us to “Vedema” night. The Santorini growers co-operative (Santo Wines) celebration of the start of harvest.

It was a windy day all over the island and  by evening the winds got even stronger. The magnificent site where Santo Wines has its headquarters sits high (read: very high) above the volcano and although the views below are breathtaking, on that night the wind was making life for the organisers & guests very difficult. But the guests were arriving in numbers and other than hair being blown all over, nobody seemed to care much about the wind. This was their special night and they were going to enjoy it no matter what.

The thing that struck me as I watched the growers slowly fill the allocated seats with their families, was that the average age was probably way over 60. These were people that had lived on this island when life was not as easy as it is now. They lived through wars, earthquakes and the ever present problem of remoteness from the mainland. These were faces full of character and hands that spoke volumes about what their owners did for a living. These were proud Santorini grape growers, often 4th, 5th or even 6th generation. There are many vineyards on the island that are much older than 300 years old and for the most part they are still worked the same way today as they were back then. As I watched these people filling the seats that night, it occurred to me that they were the carriers of a legacy dating back almost 3,500 years.

Three and a half thousand years…. 3,500 years…. it really doesn’t matter how you write it folks. It is a looooooooooooooong time.

That my dear friends is how long vines have been grown on Santorini. Since before the last cataclysmic volcanic eruption there is clear evidence of vines being grown on this island and enjoyed by the then residents of Acrotiri… and major disasters aside, vine growing & wine making has continued ever since.   

During those thousands of years Santorini vines and growing techniques, have both evolved to adapt to the unique ecosystem of the island. Volcanic soil… very low in nutrients, very high temperatures, extreme winds and very little moisture are not ideal conditions for growing grapevines. That is unless you have an indigenous variety called “Assyrtico” and you have thousands of accumulated years worth of grower’s knowledge and expertise working on your side. To see a Santorini vineyard (having come from the land of the endless “formal” vineyard – Australia) is quite an experience. This is completely different…. utterly unique and totally ingenious. It is also quite obviously a labour of love for all those involved… let me explain why.

The soil is called “aspa”… it’s a mixture of lava, pumice, ash and rust over a subsoil of lime and slate. It is almost devoid of any nutrients and you would think that nothing would grow in it. Right?  

The winds that lash almost every inch of the island most year and especially during winter, are relentless and severe.

The water… well, there isn’t any. Plain and simple.    

The terrain…. lolololol, well let’s just say that our Australian, French, Italian & US vigneron friends would get a nose bleed if they saw some of the terrain on which vines are grown here.

So… in summary, the soil is a shocker, the weather unforgiving, the water non-existant and the terrain is better suited to goat hurding… if there was only something that would grow so the goats can eat. That would probably be the summary provided by most vignerons upon first glance of Santorini.

But ‘O’ how wrong they would be. The terrain is not an issue to the islanders… it’s all they have ever known. They will prepare and cultivate anywhere they believe there is a chance of growing grapes. Its what they have done for thousands of years.

As for the soil…you see my friends the soil is in fact a treasure. Its porous texture helps to perfectly retain the precious moisture provided my early morning mist. The unusual soil constituents also combine to give the wine its unique complexity of flavour, high alcohol content while retaining high acidity (not a bad trick). But there is a “something else” that the special soil of Santorini has done for it’s vines…
and I would like you to read this very, v e r y carefully:   

(if you are familiar with “Phylloxera” in Europe… please skip the next two paragraphs)

So you thought the vineyards of France and Italy (the old world vines) were the pure-bred vines of Europe? You thought that the legendary estates of Europe have been growing their vines for many hundreds of years. That each famous wine region in France and / or Italy has its own pure-bred stand-alone vine varieties. But you would be wrong.

The Phylloxera plague started around 1862 and within 15 years proceeded to wipe out the entire wine producing industry of Europe. The parasite imported from America caused such devastation that there was almost no vineyard left across France, Italy, Germany, Greece or any other winemaking region of Europe.. The furiously reproducing aphid (25 billion descendants from a single female in 8 months… no male required – how is that for breeding?) spread like wild fire, destroying the root systems of vines across the whole of Europe and even Australia. After years of failed attempts the French finally realised that the answer lay with the problem. The original vines the aphid was brought to Europe on were American… and therefore American vines (as distasteful as the French found them) appeared to be immune to the parasite. The answer? Re-plant every European vineyard with American rootstock, then graft the European varieties onto them. The result? It worked! But… is also means that you have probably never tasted wine from a “single”, self-rooted vine. It means that every European wine you have ever tasted comes from a vine that has American roots and a European graft on it. Not quite the pure-bred you thought perhaps!

But guess what… remember that seemingly useless soil on Santorini? Hmmmm… it turns out to be a bigger treasure than we gave it credit for. You see dear friends, whilst the wholesale destruction of every vineyard in Europe was taking place Santorini vineyards were not effected… at all. To this day they remain the only self rooted vines in Europe and the world, with the exception of Chile (there may be another volcanic island that was similarly saved).

So, we don’t only have  3,500 year-old unique varieties but they have also been grown “directly” into this volcanic soil, producing unique characteristics and flavours. How is that for pure-bred?

But all is not rosy. The quality of fruit is very high, but the yield per vineyard is very low by global standards (we’ll explore that more in the coming days). Land is scarce on an island like Santorini and the vineyard is always under threat from yet another hotel or villa-complex. The old growers are men that have worked on their knees all their lives to carry on a tradition that is ancient and unique in the world. The Co-op helps them by buying all of their crop every year… but is that going to be enough in the future?

I looked at the growers and their families mingling at Vedema. Smiles all around for a good season given difficult times. I looked at Marko working the crowd, justifiably proud of what he has managed to achieve during his short time as president of the co-op. I looked at the little kids and the young men in the crowd. How do we convince these kids to continue this legacy, this inheritance, this history?

As we look closer at Santorini wines in the coming days and weeks through words and images, I will try to bring you into the world of the grower, the master winemaker and my friend Markos…the man that has a 3,500 year-old legacy in his hands. They all face many challenges ahead and I will certainly be doing what I can to help them.

 

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TIP OF THE HAT

Being unwell is never fun and the last 3-4 days have not been fun at all. Haven’t been sick in over two years and this viral rocket hit me between the eyes….it was an absolute shocker. Completely slept through by birthday on Saturday and most of Sunday. But about 3-4am this morning it cleared away, just as quickly as it came. For that I am very thankful… but I am also very thankful to the lovely ladies that bothered to leave some kind words while I was away with the pixies. Your thoughts and comments were very gratefully received… ty xxx