Crete is a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea, famous for its rich history, culture and cuisine. But did you know that Crete is also one of the leading producers of olive oil and wine in Greece, and even in the world? In this blog post, we will explore how Crete produces some of the finest olive oil and wine in Greece, and what are the secrets of its production and quality.
Olive oil production in Crete
Olive oil is a staple of the Cretan diet, and has been for thousands of years. The island has more than 30 million olive trees, covering about 60% of its cultivated land. The main variety of olive grown on Crete is the Koroneiki, which is known for its high oil content and aromatic flavor.
The Cretan olive oil sector is looking to implement modern cultivating methods and production practices to improve quality and add value. According to industry professionals, Cretan olive growers are starting to adopt a more comprehensive approach to olive cultivation than in the past, with the goal of improving quality.
Some of the best practices that Cretan olive growers follow are:
- Pruning the olive trees regularly to allow more sunlight and air circulation
- Fertilizing the soil with organic matter and avoiding chemical pesticides
- Harvesting the olives by hand or with gentle machines to avoid bruising and oxidation
- Transporting the olives to the mill as soon as possible after harvesting
- Using cold-pressing and stone-milling techniques to extract the oil without heating or refining
- Storing the oil in stainless steel tanks under controlled temperature and humidity
- Bottling the oil in dark glass bottles or tin cans to protect it from light and oxygen
One of the examples of a successful olive oil producer on Crete is Biolea, an organic, stone-milled, cold-pressed olive oil production facility. The Astrikas Estate olive groves have been owned by the Dimitriadis Family for five generations. In 1994, they opened the Biolea facility to process and bottle olive oil from their groves and sell the oil under the Biolea label.
The tour of the production and bottling facility was both entertaining and enlightening. The guide walked us through the entire process from picking to crushing to bottling and labeling. It all starts here, where the olives are washed and leaves, debris and stems are separated.
The olives are then crushed by a large stone wheel that rotates slowly on a granite base. This method preserves the natural flavor and aroma of the olives, as well as their phenolic compounds, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The crushed olives are then transferred to a horizontal centrifuge, where they are separated into oil, water and pomace (the solid residue). The oil is then filtered through a fine cloth to remove any impurities.
The final product is a golden-green liquid with a fruity, peppery and slightly bitter taste. The oil is then bottled and labeled by hand, with information on the harvest date, acidity level, variety and origin.
The Biolea olive oil is certified organic by DIO, a Greek organization that ensures compliance with EU regulations on organic farming. The Biolea olive oil has also won several awards for its quality and taste, such as the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition and the Great Taste Awards.
The Cretan olive oil sector is also looking to obtain a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for the name Κρήτη/Kriti. This would allow Cretan producers to market their olive oil under a standard European Union quality label with extra added value.
Wine production in Crete
Wine is another important product of the Cretan agriculture, and has a long history on the island. The Minoans, the ancient civilization that flourished on Crete from 2700 to 1450 BC, were among the first wine producers in Europe. They traded their wine with other Mediterranean countries, such as Egypt and Syria.
Today, Crete produces about 20% of Greece’s wine, and has four main wine regions: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Lasithi. Each region has its own microclimate, soil and grape varieties, resulting in diverse and distinctive wines.
Some of the most common grape varieties grown on Crete are:
- Vilana: a white grape that produces light and refreshing wines with citrus and floral aromas
- Vidiano: a white grape that produces full-bodied and aromatic wines with tropical and stone fruit flavors
- Muscat of Spina: a white grape that produces sweet and fragrant wines with honey and apricot notes
- Kotsifali: a red grape that produces soft and fruity wines with cherry and plum flavors
- Mandilari: a red grape that produces tannic and spicy wines with blackberry and pepper notes
- Liatiko: a red grape that produces sweet and velvety wines with raisin and cinnamon notes
One of the examples of a successful wine producer on Crete is Dourakis Winery, a family-owned business that was founded in 1988. The winery is located in the village of Alikambos, in the region of Chania, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.
The tour of the winery was informative and enjoyable. The guide explained the history of the winery, the different grape varieties and the wine making process. The winery has a modern facility with stainless steel tanks, oak barrels and a bottling line.
The highlight of the tour was the wine tasting, where we sampled six different wines from the winery’s portfolio. The wines ranged from dry to sweet, white to red, still to sparkling. Each wine had its own character and personality, reflecting the terroir and the craftsmanship of the winemaker.
The Dourakis Winery produces about 300,000 bottles of wine per year, and exports to several countries, such as Germany, France, Belgium and Canada. The winery has also won several awards for its quality and taste, such as the Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge.
The Cretan wine sector is also looking to promote its wines to a wider audience, by participating in international wine fairs and festivals, organizing wine tours and tastings, and creating wine routes that connect different wineries on the island.
Crete is a paradise for olive oil and wine lovers, as it offers some of the finest products in Greece and in the world. The secrets of its production and quality lie in its fertile land, its favorable climate, its ancient traditions and its modern innovations. If you ever visit Crete, make sure to taste its olive oil and wine, and discover its rich flavors and aromas. You will not regret it!