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The Greek oenologist Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos will not soon forget the morning of July 27, 2007. On the Peloponnese peninsula, devastating forest fires are raging. Papagiannopoulos is a partner of the Tetramythos wine estate, which was founded in 1999 and is located high up in the mountains near Aegialia. The fires are eating through this region as well. But the night before, firefighters sent the nervous estate owners home. No more danger, they said - and later departed for the village themselves, finally taking a break. In the morning, the 34-year-old vintner set out early for his winery. But it no longer existed. He looked at a pile of rubble burning brightly. The fire had come during the night.

The new estate building before the fire

"There was nothing left to remind me of our estate," he says. Although everything was full of smoke, he tried to get into the cellar. But the steel tanks installed as late as in 2004, the wine presses, the stored wine stock - all that was no longer there. He saw remains of walls, shards of broken bottles, and melted pipes. Tetramythos is the only wine estate in Greece that was destroyed by the flames.

The four other part-owners arrived shortly after. They were crying. Oenologist Papagiannopoulos had already called the fire department. But they did not come. It was not until the evening that two fire brigades arrived. But the firemen didn't have any breathing masks with them, and the pumps didn't work either. When they finally started to extinguish the fire, nothing could be saved. One of the partners also lost his house in the flames.

"For two days we were unable to speak, so shocked and depressed was everyone," reports Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos, whose voice still fails him when he tells the story. The fire did not only destroy his wine estate, but it also ended a success story overnight. The Tetramythos wine estate, named after an ancient pear variety native there, had belonged to the Aristidis and Stathis Spanos brothers as well as Panagiotis and Yiannis Ntotas for years. They cultivated Roditis grapes on 3.2 hectares and sold them to vintners. In 1999, Mr. Papagiannopoulos, 34, who studied oenology, joined them as a partner.

In 2003, they decided to build a modern winery. The owners extended the vineyard area to 14 hectares and additionally planted Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc as well as the autochthonous sorts Agiorgitiko, Mavro Kalavritino and Malagousia. The vines are farmed organically. "Working organically is a way of life for us", the young vintner emphasizes.

Within one year, the winery, including modern cellar technology, a wine bar, and a small, elegantly modern hotel, was built with subsidies from the EU. In order to secure Tetramythos financially, the owners relied on eco-tourism: The guests were to come to the charming region, to taste and buy sophisticated eco-wine, but also to eat well and to stay overnight. The concept worked: As early as in the first year, more than 10,000 tourists came. In 2006, the Tetramythos team brought in as much as 105 tons of grapes, bottled 40,000 bottles, and sold the rest on tap, as is customary in the country. Everything seemed to be going perfectly. Until the morning of July 27.

The fire left nothing of the modern cellar

After Papagiannopoulos and his colleagues had gotten over the first shock, they took stock: The estate had burned down completely, bar and hotel escaped with slight damages. Even the damaged vineyards didn't seem to be completely lost. In a small storage hall of the wine bar, there was still a remaining stock of 7500 bottles - whether they all survived the heat without damage is not yet clear.

"We all went up the mountain together. Up there, at 1050 meters above sea level, we own a vineyard planted with Sauvignon Blanc, the highest vineyard in Greece", Papagiannopoulos tells. "We were looking into an ash-grey, burnt region. But we also saw some green hills: our vineyards," he reports. That view, he says, "gave them hope." They decided to start again. From scratch.

The manor house was also severely damaged

A wave of solidarity from neighbors and friends encouraged them to tackle it. August, the harvest time was approaching. Wineries in the area offered to press the grapes for free in their facilities. Well-known fellow winemakers like Skouras, Spiropoulos, Rouvalis or Katogi & Strofilia were among the first to offer their help. "We harvested, but we didn't have a clear head yet," says the oenologist. The harvest yielded 60 tons of grapes - barely more than half of the previous year - which they pressed in two friendly neighboring estates.

The state soon offered 3000 euro emergency aid for each family. Tourism minister Fani Pali-Petralia inspected the damage and promised to help unbureaucratically. Because it was an election campaign in Greece, and solidarity addresses in times of need bring votes. So, she promised to rebuild the winery with state help. After all, it was of enormous importance for the region from a tourism point of view. But Pali-Petralia did not get a ministerial post in the new cabinet. Tetramythos was poorer by one hope.

The Jungfelds were also helpless in the face of the fire

Currently, the wine estate is a ruin. A hope for the vintners: The EU increased the subsidies for the reconstruction of the region, the insurance pays a part of the damage, though by far not all. However, the vintners, who are already in debt, have to finance a large part of the reconstruction themselves. The future income from hotel, bar and wine estate, however, is uncertain. Only few tourists stray into the ashes of burned villages.

However, the five are getting down to work, they have already attended the first wine fairs again. The new building is being planned, a state-of-the-art sprinkler system is to secure it against fire. Papagiannopoulos laughs bitterly: "What should catch fire here again? The whole region has burned down." But at least things are continuing with Tetramythos.

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