The Athonite discovery

It was in 1969 when Evangelos Tsantalis, during a casual day of hunting on Mount Athos, was caught in a sudden downpour, which caused him to seek refuge in the nearby Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon. When the storm ceased, Evangelos Tsantalis -in return for the Monks’ warm hospitality- gladly accepted the offer for a tour at the surrounding area of the Monastery. While walking, the site of vines caught his eye; old deserted vines, yet at a stunning location -called Metoxi (me-toh-hee) Chromitsa- with ideal exposure. That was the moment when the idea of the rejuvenation of Mount Athos vineyard was born, an idea that became a lifetime’s work for Evangelos and the Tsantali family.

A year later, Evangelos Tsantalis came to an agreement with the monks of SONY DSCSaint Panteleimon regarding the exploitation of the vineyards at Metoxi, committing himself not only for the rejuvenation of the vines, but for the full renovation of the winery and the support of the Monastery. It was clear from the start that it would be a very expensive and high-maintenance project, yet Evangelos Tsantalis’ unshakable belief in the potential of the land prevailed. When the head agronomist pinpointed the high costs, Evangelos replied “I am not asking you about the cost, but whether this vineyard can give quality grapes or not“.

Following two years of huge investment in hard work, infrastructure and specialised people, the first 10 hectares were planted. The chosen varieties were the ones that could adjust best to the conditions; besides the international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache rouge, Evangelos Tsantalis insisted on planting native grapes as well, like Assyrtiko, Athiri, Roditis and Xinomavro, while great attention was given to the preservation of the old vines of Limnio already planted. That was among the very first attempts of Greek autochthonous varieties’ systematic preservation, highlighting Evangelos Tsantalis’ innovative spirit and insight. 

At the same time, the works on the winery and the auxiliary facilities led to the renovation of exquisite samples of traditional Athonite architecture, a jewel on the crown of Evangelos Tsantalis’ Athonite vision.

Saint Panteleimon Monastery
It was founded by several monks from Kiev Rus in the 11th century, which is why it is known as 'Rossikon', and in 1169 was recognized as a separate monastery. It prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries being lavishly sponsored by the tsars of Moscovy, but it declined dramatically in the 18th century to the point where there were only two Russian and two Bulgarian monks left by 1730. The construction of the present monastery on a new site, closer to the seashore, was carried out during the first two decades of the nineteenth century, with the financial help of the ruler of Moldo-Wallachia, Skarlatos Kallimachos. Russian monks numbered 1,000 in 1895, 1,446 in 1903, and more than 2,000 by 1913. The Monastery of St Panteleimon was repeatedly gutted by fires, most famously in 1307 (when Catalan mercenaries set it aflame) and in 1968.

Saint Panteleimon Photo archive source: athosweblog.com

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