Heraklion: The wineries, the varieties and the wine routes

Today, the Heraklion vineyard is the most developed on the island and 2/3 of it has been classified as PDO.

The Terroir and the varieties

Heraklion sits poised between the Prefectures of Rethymno and Lasithi on the island of Crete. The towering grandeur of Mount Psiloritis reigns over its western confines, while its eastern border is defined by the sharp, craggy outlines of Mount Dikti, also known as the Lasithi Mountain. In terms of topography, Heraklion presents the smoothest, most inviting landscape on Crete. Especially in its central part, the geographical relief unfolds an array of spots ideally suited for viticulture.

In the summertime, the north-facing vineyards breathe in the relief brought by the Meltemi winds and deftly keep away from the baking effects of the warm southern gusts. The more mountainous vineyards can be found in Peza, with some reaching an impressive altitude of 800 metres.

Today, Heraklion’s vineyards are the most advanced on the island, with two-thirds of them having earned the designation of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) title. The region’s primary white varieties include Vilana, Dafni, Plyto, Moschato Spinas, Athiri, Thrapsathiri, Malvasia Aromatica, and several international grapes. Vilana is the most widely planted variety in Crete and gives rise to refreshing, fruit-forward wines.

Dafni and Plyto are local varieties that just a few years ago were teetering on the edge of extinction. Kotsifali and Mandilaria are the most significant red varieties in the region and throughout Crete. They complement each other beautifully, the former lending body and alcohol, the latter giving colour and tannins. Other red varieties include Liatiko, the Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and those from the Rhone region: Syrah, Grenache Rouge, Mourvèdre, and Carignan.

Within the prefecture, five distinct PDO areas exist. In the PDO Arhanes, vineyards lay between 300 and 450 meters of altitude and produce dry red wines from a co-fermentation of Mandilaria and Kotsifali. The PDO Dafnes primarily grows Liatiko and can produce both dry and sweet wines. In PDO Peza, vineyards reach up to 800 meters and produce white wines from the Vilana variety and reds from Mandilaria and Kotsifali. Other PDO areas of the prefecture include PDO Chania and PDO Malvasia Chania. Producers in the prefecture can also utilize the more flexible Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Heraklion and PGI Crete designations.

Each of these regions in the Heraklion prefecture boasts its own unique characteristics and offerings, contributing to the area’s rich, variegated wine tapestry. From fruit-forward whites to robust reds, Heraklion delivers a variety of wines as diverse as its terrain. Its vineyards, etched into the landscape, are a testament to the region’s history and its enduring commitment to viticulture.

Wineries and production methods

The family-run Daf Wines winery sits in the foothills of Dafnes, from where it derived its name. This family’s devotion to viticulture spans over a century, with their first recognition achieved by Evangelos Douloufakis in 1952 at the International Exhibition of Thessaloniki. Today, the baton has been passed to the third generation. Noteworthy among the winery’s labels is the trilogy “Aspri Gi,” its name honouring the white soils that dominate Dafnes. The white wine is a refreshing blend of two Cretan varieties—Muscat of Spina and Vidiano. The rosé version is made from Muscat of Spina and Liatiko, while the red wine, created from Liatiko, is characterised by its fruity aroma and mild tannins. The winery is open to visitors by appointment.

Address: Dafnes, Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-791009, dafwines@gmail.com, dafwines.com

The enterprise and history of the Boutari winery in Cretan land commenced in 1989 with the acquisition of the Scalarea Estate in Skalani, Heraklion. The estate was revitalised with vines in 2015, and a state-of-the-art winery with impressive hospitality spaces was created. The winemaking complex is complemented by three luxurious dwellings known as Scalani Hills Residences. Distinguished among the estate’s labels are the aromatic and balanced “Fantaxometocho,” a perfect marriage of Chardonnay and Assyrtiko, the full-bodied and rich “Scalarea White” from Vidiano and Athiri varieties, and the “Scalarea Red,” a highly-commended blend of Kotsifali and Syrah. The winery operates as a visitor destination.

Address: Skalani, Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-731617, crete.winery@boutari.gr, scalareaestate.gr

In the village of Siva, the Silva Winery, built by the Daskalaki family in 1998, stands as a tribute to the region’s rich mythology. The village’s name harks back to the deity Siva, also known as Dionysus, who was widely worshipped in the surrounding territory. The resurrection of a 90-acre vineyard began in 1998, organically farmed at an elevation reaching 500 metres. Beyond this, 20 acres in the coastal region of Fodele are cultivated, alongside an additional 50 acres of cooperative vineyards at altitudes between 600 and 750 metres. The estate’s labels include noteworthy offerings such as the ‘Psithiros’, made from Moschato Spinas, the ‘Enstikto’, crafted from Vidiano that delivers a robust body and an oily texture, and the sweet ‘Emilia’, produced from sun-dried grapes of the Liatiko variety, aged for ten years in French oak barrels. The winery welcomes visitors.

Address: Siva Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-792021, info@silvawines.gr, silvawines.gr

Aggelaki Winery came into being in 2015 through the endeavour of Evaggelia Aggelaki and her husband, Tasos Andriotis. The vineyard, spanning 11 acres, is their own. Noteworthy wines include the ‘Takimi White’ made from Vidiano and the ‘Takimi Red’, a blend of Kotsifali and Merlot. These are low intervention wines, fermented and matured in clay pots. The ‘Cornelia’ stands out, a unique red blend of Merlot, Syrah and Liatiko. The winery is open to visitors.

Address: Thrapsano Pediados Heraklion, Tel: +30 28910-41235, evagelia.agelaki@gmail.com, agelakiswinery.gr

Family-owned Alexakis Winery, founded by chemical engineer and oenologist Stelios Alexakis and his wife Sofia Alexakis in the 1970s, is managed today by their sons, Lazaros and Apostolos, both oenologists themselves. One of Crete’s largest, the Alexakis Winery collaborates with a multitude of island vintners. The rare, single-varietal white wine ‘Tahtas’, based on the homonymous Cretan grape variety dating back to the 16th century, stands out amongst the winery’s offerings. The winery also produces two fruity wines from the white Vidiano and the red Kotsifali grapes. The winery welcomes visitors.

Address: Peridi Metochi Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-252019, info@alexakiswines.com, alexakiswines.com

The tale of the Gavalas Estate arches back to 1906 when the first vineyards were planted by Emmanouil Gavalas in the Boria Monofatsiou region. In 2001, the vineyards were brought under the regime of organic cultivation and presently, their total expanse reaches 150 acres. Notable among the estate’s labels are the ‘Vilana’ white wine, which ferments in stainless steel tanks, and the red ‘Mandilari’ and ‘Kotsifali’. The winery is open to visitors.

Address: Boria Monofatsiou Heraklion, Tel: +30 28940-51060, info@gavalascretewines.gr, gavalascretewines.gr.

The Diamantakis family winery, conceived in 2007, was born of the passion and expertise of oenologist Zacharia and third-generation viticulturists Ioannis and Michalis. Situated in the province of Malevizi, this family estate boasts an extensive vineyard spanning 180 acres. The signature ‘Diamatopetra White’ is a harmonious blend of Assyrtiko and Vidiano. Under the label of ‘Diamantakis Vidiano’, the Cretan grape is fermented in stainless steel tanks, its stay with its lees imparting complexity and a creamy texture. The winery also offers the refined red ‘Petali’, composed of the Liatiko variety.

Address: Kato Asites, Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-200950, info@diamantakiswines.gr, diamantakiswines.gr

The Digenakis Winery finds itself at the heart of Crete’s most prolific wine region, Peza. Here, the Digenakis family has developed a contemporary and welcoming space that ambitiously merges high-quality wine production with other forms of cultural and artistic expression. Their vineyard stretches across 35 acres, with collaborations established with other grape growers in the area. The vineyard’s labels offer exceptional varieties, including the delicate ‘Bios Protos’ from Vidiano grapes, ‘Marisini White’ from Muscat of Spinas, and the robust ‘Kotsifali Livades’ red, each brimming with complex flavours. The winery is open to visitors.

Address: Kalloni D. Archanon Asterousion 7 Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-233999, info@digenakis.gr, digenakis.gr

The history of the Douloufakis Winery spans half a century, tracing its roots to Nikos Douloufakis’s grandfather. After studying oenology in Piemonte, Italy, Nikos leads the family business at a modernised winery in Dafnes. Their private vineyards are situated at an altitude of 350 metres, covering a vast 100 acres. Among the winery’s labels, the white ‘Aspros Lagos’ and ‘Dafnios’ from the Vidiano variety, along with the delicate red ‘Dafnios’ from Liatiko, stand out. The winery is open to visitors.

Address: Dafnes, Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-792017, visit@douloufakis.wine, douloufakis.wine

The Heraklion Agricultural Cooperatives Union (E.A.S. Heraklion) was established in 1927 and is one of the largest cooperative organisations in Greece. Their new winery, inaugurated in 2008, stretches over 25 acres. Among their labels, the white ‘Domenico Thrapsathiri’, with its crisp acidity and summery fruit aromas, and the ‘Domenico Vidiano’, with intense melon, peach, floral, and herbal aromas, are highlighted. The ‘Erofili’ label is a semi-dry rosé from the Liatiko variety. The winery welcomes visitors.

Address: Paliani, Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-378110, heraklionwinery@gmail.com, www.agrunion.gr

Established in 2004, after the family vineyard was replanted in 1999, Efrosini Winery holds its place in the renowned Dafnes PGI area and is known for championing the Liatiko grape variety. The winery is dedicated to the organic cultivation of local white grape varieties such as Vidiano, Malvasia di Candia, and Assyrtiko, alongside red grapes Liatiko and Kotsifali, as well as globally acknowledged varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. Among the winery’s distinct offerings, two single-variety wines stand out: “Mikri Evgeniki” made from Liatiko and Vidiano. The first boasts a light red hue, a bouquet reminiscent of cherries, and a gentle tannic structure, while the latter reveals a robust body, with aromas conjuring images of stone fruits, herbs, and mineral elements. Finally, the “Sophia” label marries Cretan Vidiano with Chardonnay. The winery accepts visits by appointment only.

Address: Kerasia Heraklion, Tel.: +30 2810-791989, info@efrosini-winery.gr, efrosiniwinery.gr

The Zacharioudakis Estate was first established in 2000 by journalist Stelios Zacharioudakis and his wife, Victoria. Their vineyard, based on the use of organic practices, is set in the south of Crete on the hill of Orthi Petra at an elevation of 500 metres, encircling the hill in a 200-acre sweep. The panoramic views capture the Psiloritis mountain range, the plain of Messara, the Libyan Sea, and the Asterousia Mountains. Among the winery’s labels, the white Vidiano wine stands out, matured for five months in oak barrels, as does the semi-dry rosé “Victoria” made from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Kotsifali varieties. The red “Orthi Petra” derives from the Syrah and Kotsifali varieties. The winery operates as a visitor destination.

Address: Plouti Heraklion, Tel.: +30 2810-96226, info@zacharioudakis.com, zacharioudakis.com

Idaia Winery, a passionate family venture, was founded in 1998 by oenologists Vasilis Laderos and Kalliopi Volitaki. Idaia is the first known name of Crete, given by the island’s king, the god Zeus, in honour of his wife Idaia, mother of the 10 Kuretes. The vineyard spans 30 acres, is situated at an altitude of 500 metres and based on longstanding collaborations with local growers. Out of the estate’s twelve labels, the refreshing single-variety Thrapsathiri “Ocean”, the fruity red blend of Kotsifali and Mandilaria “Idaia Gi”, and the “Hestia” from Mandilaria matured for a year in oak barrels stand out. The winery can be visited upon appointment.

Address: Venerato Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-792156, info@idaiawine.gr, idaiawine.gr

Lyrarakis Wines, a family winery, first opened its doors in 1966, with the Lyrarakis clan showing its wholehearted commitment to rejuvenating near-extinct indigenous Cretan grape varieties. Among these rare treasures are Dafni, Plyto, Melissaki, and more. With roots embedded in sandy and rocky soil 500 metres above sea level, the vineyard located at Plakoura bears the ‘Mantilari Plakoura’ label. ‘Lyrarakis Plyto Psarades’ emerges from the scarce Plyto variety, presenting an aromatic wine with highly concentrated fruit flavours. At the foot of Mount Kentros, from vineyards of the Liatiko variety shaped into low cup forms, the unique ‘Lyrarakis Liatiko Kentros’ wine is produced. The winery opens its doors to visitors.

Address: Alagni, Municipality of Archanes-Asterousia, Heraklion, Tel.: +30 2810-284614, info@lyrarakis.com, lyrarakis.com

The Menexes Estate, owned by the Kypriotakis family, is located within the Archanes PGI zone, a short distance from the Minoan settlement at Vathypetro. Here, the oldest wine press (4,000 years old) of Minoan Crete was discovered. Giannis Kypriotakis has created an 80-acre vineyard within the estate, featuring local varieties such as Vilana, Vidiano, Kotsifali, Mantilari, Malvazia di Candia Aromatica, as well as international varieties Syrah and Merlot. Winemaking began in 2008 and today yields approximately 30,000 bottles. The white label of the ‘Menexes’ series is produced from the Vilana and Malvasia di Candia Aromatica varieties, an intensely aromatic wine with refreshing acidity. The ‘Menexes Mantilari’ label is a deep coloured wine, with a rich body and intense tannins. ‘Menexes Merlot’ matures for 12 months in oak barrels and is characterised by soft tannins and aromas of wild cherry and vanilla. The winery can be visited by appointment.

Address: Agios Syllas Camp, Heraklion, Tel.: +30 6947260251, winerymenexes@gmail.com, ktimamenexes.com

The Miliarakis Winery (MINOS) is approaching its ninth decade of existence with a total production amounting to 300,000 bottles annually. Of this, 70% is consumed on the island, 10% is distributed throughout the rest of Greece and the remaining 20% is exported. The vineyard, partly owned and partly contractual, stretches over 120 acres and includes local varieties such as Kotsifali, Mantilari, Vilana, Vidiano, Moschato Spinas, Thrapsathiri, Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia Aromatica and the international varieties Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache Rouge, and Roussanne. Standout labels from the estate include the aromatic white ‘M Miliarakis’, a blend of Malvasia di Candia and Malvasia Aromatica, the refreshing and complex ‘Vilana Fumé’ and the red blend ‘Turtle Red’ from Rhone varieties Grenache Rouge, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The winery welcomes visitors.

Address: 9 Dimokratias, Peza, Heraklion, Tel.: +30 6944577488, info@minoswines.gr, minoswines.gr

The Paterianakis family winery, established in 1988, is now guided by the deft hands of the third generation, within the distinguished Peza PGI zone. Their vineyard bears the mark of certified organic agriculture. In recent years, they’ve been crafting wines with minimal intervention, void of sulphite addition, and a spectrum of organic distillates. The estate’s ‘Vidiano’ is an elegant, fruit-forward white wine, while their ‘Melissinos White’ is a harmonious union of the local Thrapsathiri variety and international Sauvignon Blanc. The ‘3.14 Red’ is a wine of gentle intervention and spontaneous fermentation, free from sulphite addition, made from the Kotsifali grape variety. The winery is open to visitors.

Address: Meleses Heraklion, Tel: +30 697768172, visit@paterianakis.gr, paterianakis.gr

Stylianou Winery is situated a few kilometres south of Knossos, pulsating at the heart of the Minoan vineyard. For four generations, the Stylianou family has cultivated indigenous grape varieties such as Vidiano, Thrapsathiri, Vilana, Kotsifali, and Mandilaria across their 30 hectares of private land. Positioned at the zenith of a modest hill, within a boutique winery, the visitor is treated to a captivating panorama of the entire region while tasting the winery’s organic offerings. The white wine ‘Theon Dora’ is dominated by stone fruit aromas and is a blend of the Vidiano, Thrapsathiri and Vilana varieties. The red ‘Theon Ghi’ is a matrimony of the Kotsifali and Mandilaria varieties, matured in oak barrels. Finally, a rare wine is produced from sundried grapes of the Kotsifali variety. The winery is open to visitors.

Address: Kounavoi Heraklion, Tel: +30 6936430368, stilianouwines@gmail.com

The Titakis family winery was established in 1950 and today is steered by the third generation. The vineyard is located in the Mesara region where varieties such as Vilana, Vidiano, Moscato Spinas, Chardonnay, Malvazia Aromatica, Merlot, Syrah and Kotsifali are cultivated. The ‘Impetus White’, with aromas of fruit and flowers and a rich texture, originates from the Vidiano and Malvazia di Candia aromatic varieties, while ‘Impetus Red’, with aromas of red and black fruits and spices, is a blend of Kotsifali, Merlot, and Syrah. The ‘Vidiano Moscato’ label represents an elegant, aromatic wine with crisp acidity. The winery welcomes visitors.

Address: Kounavoi Heraklion, Tel: +30 2810-743630, info@titakis.gr, titakis.gr

The story of Michalakis Estate begins in 1962 on a single plot of 450 hectares, at an elevation of 550 metres. Today, the Michalakis Estate team continues the tradition of creating quality wines. Standout labels from the estate include the mono-varietal Vidiano, an aromatic blend of Moscato Spinas, Vidiano and Chardonnay in the ‘Gold Cuvée’ label, and the crisp ‘Michalakis Estate Thèse Limited Edition’ made from Assyrtiko, Vidiano and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery accommodates visits by appointment only.

Address: Partheni Heraklion, Tel: +: +30 2810-381303, info@michalakis.gr

The genesis of the Haralabakis Estate was marked by the planting of private vineyards in 2015. Today, spanning across a vast expanse of 100 acres, these vineyards are home to a multitude of grape varieties – Kotsifali, Mandilaria, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Liatiko, Moschato Spinas, Vilana, Malvasia, Vidiano, Sauvignon Blanc, and Assyrtiko. In 2017, a state-of-the-art winery, covering a vast 1500 square metres, was founded in a place where only grapes from their own vineyards are used for wine production. Noteworthy labels from the estate include “Assyrtiko”, graced with fruity and mineral notes, the aromatic “Praxis II” from the Moschato Spinas variety, and the red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot known as “Alikos”. The estate is open for visits by appointment.

Address: Arkalochori Heraklion, Tel: +30 6980170410, wtpr@haralabakis.wine, haralabakis.wine

Sights and points of interest on the wine routes of the region

Scattered across the verdant Archanes region, Heraklion’s wineries offer you a journey that extends beyond the vineyards, immersing you in the rich tapestry of Cretan culture. As you explore the local wines, you’ll also be captivated by the diverse nearby attractions – from the ancient city of Gortyna and the Kazantzakis Museum in Myrtia, to the cultural hub of Houdetsi with Ross Daly’s Music Workshop “Labyrinth”, and the intriguing village of Agios Thomas with the ancient wine presses, as well as the Minoan villa in Vathypetro where the oldest wine press in Europe was discovered.

In the northern region of Heraklion Prefecture, home to the Alexakis and Skalarea wineries, the opportunity to explore the city of Heraklion itself and the famed palace of Knossos presents itself. The palace, which thrived during the Minoan era (2000-1350 BC), stood as the cornerstone of this ancient civilisation.

The Archanes region, which plays host to wineries such as Digenakis, Michalakis, Lyrarakis, Silva, Angelakis, Paterianakis, Euphrosyne, Miliarakis, and Menexes Estate, provides an enchanting canvas of vineyards, olive and cypress trees. Upper Archanes, a model settlement, has received significant recognition, boasting 200 preserved buildings. An extensive regeneration programme initiated in 1990 culminated in the town securing the second pan-European award for settlement upgrading.

Wandering the pedestrianised streets and alleyways reveals a multitude of delights, from old lampposts and beautifully restored neoclassical houses to fountains and Ottoman-era structures complete with gardens. Cafes, restaurants and stores selling local products line the square and the winding old market. Don’t miss the private Xotaris engraving museum, Eleni’s Factory, a textile workshop housing traditional Cretan looms, and the Women’s Cooperative offering local products. The archaeological collection and palatial complex discovered in the Turkish neighbourhood evoke echoes of Knossos and Phaistos.

Kounavoi, home to the Titakis and Stylianou wineries, is worth a detour. Observe the old houses, and the churches of Panagia and Afenti Christou, with their frescoed blue domes. The village name’s origins could potentially be traced back to the word “kanava”, referring to the Venetian wine presses, still evident throughout the region.

Kazantzakis Museum: In the village square of Myrtia, another attraction awaits – the Kazantzakis Museum. The life and works of the great author Nikos Kazantzakis are brought to life through manuscripts, correspondence, first editions, rare photographic material, souvenirs, personal items, and costumes from theatrical performances of his works. The museum also features a café-cum-reading room and a bookstore selling Kazantzakis’s works in multiple languages.

The “Labyrinth” Music Workshop, under the stewardship of Ross Daly, has turned the village of Choudetsi into a world-renowned cultural hub. Amidst lush gardens, a quaint old house hosts the “Labyrinth”, where a diverse collection of musical instruments from around the globe can be admired.

Ancient Gortyna: One of Crete’s most captivating archaeological sites, Ancient Gortyna, spans 4,000 acres and is situated near the Zacharioudaki winery and the Frangospito (Gavalas winery). As the largest city in Roman Crete and the first Byzantine period’s Metropolitan seat, its importance as a religious centre is evidenced by the early Christian basilicas discovered there, erected on ancient temple sites. Notably, the basilica of Saint Titus, near the Roman Odeon and the large ancient theatre, stands out.

At the permanent exhibition of the new Mesara Archaeological Museum, which was inaugurated in April 2023, you can admire significant exhibits highlighting the most significant periods of civilisation that flourished in the region of southern Crete, from prehistoric to Christian times. It is located 1 km away from the archaeological site. (Tel. 28920 27177).

Agios Thomas:Taking the time to venture from the main road south of the Diamantakis, Douloufakis, E.A.S., Euphrosyne, Idaea, and Daf Wines wineries leads to Agios Thomas. This unique village is sure to impress with its striking features such as the Kavalaris rock, the Grias Mandras hill with its carved Roman tombs, the church of Archangel Michael, and Saint Ioasaf the Indian, and its intriguing tale of the worship of chthonic gods. Historically, it was likely named Panona or Pannona and held an important shrine dedicated to chthonic deities like Dionysus, Demeter, and Persephone. The large necropolis with tombs that once served as family mausoleums for prominent citizens adds to the rich tapestry of this intriguing village.

A short distance from Agios Thomas, just outside the settlement of Prinias, you can marvel at the medieval presses scattered in the eponymous region. In the nearby village of Thrapsano, pottery and ceramics have centuries-old roots, which is why it is considered a major centre for these arts in Crete. You can witness the potters at work, with their kilns – always lit – where they mostly make pots.

Source: travel.gr