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M. Nikolaidis

Wines of Xanthi

From Homer’s Time to Today

Viticulture has been a millennia-old thriving practice in Thrace, especially in the area near the Thracian Sea, as per the ancient records. In the Homeric epic, Odysseus offers the Giant Polyphemus wine from Ismaros port town, to get him drunk. The centre of the ancient vinicultural activities in the region was apparently located in the area of the mighty Avdira town, until it was conquered by the Romans. No wonder that Dionysus, the god of winemaking, was so venerated in this town.  The activity continued during the Byzantine Period and the Ottoman occupation, until the late 19th century. The vineyards were then attacked by grape phylloxera (an insect pest), which destroyed the crops, so the locals had to turn to tobacco cultivation, which had already shown signs of becoming very profitable for them. The refugees who arrived after 1920 from Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor were the ones who continued this tradition, although on a very small scale, mostly for their household needs.

An attempt to revive the vineyards of Xanthi, with Avdira as the hub of activity, started in the late 20th century, and is still ongoing, with a promising future, because tobacco isn’t as appealing as it once was, making farmers switch to other more profitable crops, such as vineyards.

The Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Avdira was registered in 1997; it includes - apart from Avdira - the Mandra, Myrodato and Magana (Topeiros Municipality) areas, and the local dry, semi-dry and semi-sweet, white, rosé, and red wines produced there. The following varieties can be used for white wine production : Athiri, Assyrtiko, Zoumiatiko, Malagouzia, Muscat of Alexandria, Roditis, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, and Ugni blanc - either as varietals, or as a blend. The Limnio, Mavroudi, Pamidi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache rouge, Merlot, and Syrah varieties are used to make red wines, while Roditis may be also used to make rosés.

Some of the above varieties, the white Zoumiatiko or Damiatis, the red Pamidi, and the red Mavroudi from Thrace, are particularly interesting, as they are native ones which once reached the point of extinction, as did a couple of other local varieties. The vineyards beyond the Avdira zone and the produced wines are listed under the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Thrace.

The wineries in Xanthi are growing and there are a number of very interesting labels they produce, which highlight the region’s potential. One of these wineries, the first one established in Avdira, offers visitors a complete tour of the facility.