Time-honoured values and striking memories
Mega Spileo Estate is intrinsically bound to one of the most significant religious monuments and reference points in Greek history. The Mega Spileo Monastery is the oldest continuously occupied such institution in Greece and the 2nd in the world, after St Catherine’s Monastery on Mt Sinai. It was named after its location, built inside a large cave in the Vouraikos Gorge near Kalavryta.
The Monastery was established in 362 AD by the brothers Symeon and Theodore, both monks from Thessaloniki, who discovered a Holy icon of the Virgin Mary here. The icon is made of mastic and wax, and was fashioned by Luke the Evangelist. The monastery has functioned continuously ever since, a beacon of Orthodoxy despite the major destruction it suffered from fires in 840, 1400, 1640 and 1934. The last of these was lit by the German occupation forces, which also pillaged the monastery. However, the Holy Icon made it through all these disasters miraculously untouched.
The Great Vineyard, today’s Mega Spileo Estate, was a dependency of the monastery and belonged to its property. It was also known as the metochion of Agios Athanasios. From the mid-15th century onwards, the monks grew grapes here and produced wine for the Holy Communion and to supplement their diet, both for themselves and for visitors to the monastery, but also for the inhabitants of the wider region. The monks built a wine press, sleeping quarters and a chapel in the estate. The grapes were harvested and pressed in the vineyard, and the monks would then transport the wine by mule to the monastery in order to store it in barrels in the cellar. It was during this time that the Monastery obtained its cellar with its two massive barrels, named “Angelis” and “Stamatis” in honour of the coopers who made them. Each of these barrels could store 12 tons of wine, and both were intrinsically connected with wine production. Unfortunately, one of these barrels was destroyed in a great fire, while the remaining barrel, “Angelis”, survives to the present day, as do some other smaller barrels.
Wine production occupied a prominent position in the monks’ everyday life and wider world-view. The monks viewed wine as a nutritious dietary supplement.
It is worth noting that during the period of Turkish rule, sultan Mehmed had promulgated a decree protecting the Monastery. Ottoman soldiers were only permitted to approach the monastery on peaceful terms, for hospitality, while any hostile intentions would lead to harsh reprisals, including the death penalty.
When the Greek War of Independence broke out, resistance fighters sought refuge at the Monastery, where they could find money, bread, cheese and wine. The Mega Spileo Monastery played a crucial role throughout the war, bolstering the faith and heroic efforts of the Greeks. From the revolution onwards and up to 1870 the monk population exceeded 200 people, and demand for foodstuffs and wine increased dramatically.
Several decades later, around 1930, the number of monks was significantly reduced, which meant that there were fewer able hands to cultivate grapes, and production fell precipitously. In fact, a few years before 1960 the monks were so few that the Estate had to be completely abandoned for lack of hands.
Mega Spileo Estate today…
A new chapter opened for Mega Spileo in 1999, when brothers Giannis & Theodoros Anastasiou received a long-term lease on the Estate from the Monastery. Guided by their vision of revitalising the historical vineyard, Giannis and Theodoros, along with their team of experienced wine producers and oenologists re-planted vines and implemented best practices for the cultivation and the production of quality wine, creating a completely new and unique Estate. The Mega Spileo Estate.
The local varieties Mavrodaphne, Mavro Kalavritino and Lagorthi, as well as the international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, are cultivated here.
With its top-quality products, Mega Spileo Estate has become a point of reference for Greek wine production, earning recognition and awards both in Greece and abroad.