The gradual roadway to Rhous Winery above the quaint village of Houdetsi on Greece’s largest island, Crete, is perilously narrow, hugging the hill on one side, a sheer drop on the other.
But once at the top, the pocket of paradise owned by winemaking couple Maria Tamiolakis and Dimitris Mansolas is a setting for relaxation and exploration into some of Greece’s most stunning indigenous varietals.
Crete is home to one of the largest wine-growing regions in Greece and is among the longest wine producers in Europe. Rhous’ rocky limestone hillside and fertile valley is a family project started by Tamiolakis’ parents. Today, Rhous’ wines are produced by the husband-and-wife team, who continue the history of the family estate.
Tamiolakis and Mansolas met while studying enology in Bordeaux, France, and now operate the small but state-of-the-art facility that produces a splendid suite of Cretan wines.
To know their story is to understand their passion and persistence, and it’s evident in the way they make their wines to the very labels that adorn their bottles.
While their facilities represent their modern style of winemaking, Mansolas insists, “The real character of wines is from outside in the vineyards.”
The wines are made in a contemporary fashion yet elevate the land’s ancient history of winemaking.
From the humidity and breezes off the Sea of Crete, which creates the desirable shift in day-to-nighttime temperatures, to planting on high-elevation north-facing vines to protect from the hot winds from Africa, the limestone-rich claylike soil is ideal for grape cultivation. Collectively, the wines showcase this unique terroir.
As ambassadors of Cretan wines, Tamiolakis and Mansolas produce red varieties of the Peza region, including the soft and full-bodied kotsifali and more structured mandilari.
Their forward-thinking, creative approach has resulted in the rescue of indigenous grapes on the verge of extinction, specifically vidiano, plyto and muscat of Spina.
Today, these varieties are producing exceptional wines and gaining recognition throughout Greece and beyond.
Rhous also produces international varietals, such as syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It has launched its operation into a full complement of offerings, thus creating an interesting promise of producing blended wines that combine both local and international varieties.
“We realized a constant progression to follow a path to achieve goals, so we chose the name Rhous,” explained Mansolas while holding up a bottle during one of the winery’s tastings.
“Rhous is an ancient name and represents the constant flow of things,” he added.
More specifically to Mansolas and Tamiolakis, it embodies their embrace of nature’s progression and symbolizes the stream of events that brought the two together in winemaking.
The labels themselves demonstrate the winery’s new spirit since the couple took over Tamiolakis’ family estate, yet they maintain a sense of origin. On the label of Rhous White is James Cook, one of the first Antarctic explorers, signifying Mansolas’ journey from Northern Greece to Crete.
The Rhous Rose represents Tamiolaki’s travels from Crete to France and back, through botanist Jeanne Baret, the first female to circumnavigate the world.
Representing the heart, convergence, flow and motion, Rhous Winery is clearly defined in its quest to showcase the new generation of Cretan wines. It invigorates interest worldwide for delicious, food-friendly and unique wines unheard of outside Greece just five years ago.