Kanaves (Santorini’s Underground Wineries and Wine Cellars)
One of the most interesting sites in the Aegean is the kanaves of Santorini. These are the island’s underground storage spaces, whose variety of shapes and sizes is inexhaustible. In the old days the vintners would bring the grape harvest into their family kanaves which were usually close to their homes. These underground, domed structures were excavated out of the volcanic tephra.
This white volcanic material, while easy to work, is also solid and dense enough to be stable. The islanders dug out homes and storage spaces in the same way. Each kanava would have at least two grape presses and two vats, one for the red wines and one for the whites. The grapes would be pressed and the must would flow into the vat which would be a cylinder dug into the earth.
From there the must would be moved to the barrels lining the edges of the kanava, taking up most of the space available. Elsewhere the locals would store the baskets, an important tool in bringing in the harvest from the vineyards. Each basket could hold about 50 kg and the Santorinians would wash them well in the sea after the harvest to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Santorini’s basket-weavers and coopers were excellent craftsmen in high demand elsewhere in Greece. The main characteristic of the kanaves, apart from their malleability and often labyrinthine layout, was that they remained cool and relatively humid year round, encouraging the proper fermentation and preservation of the wine.
Nowadays most grapes are processed in modern facilities and very few kanaves are still operational. Many have been transformed into houses or shops while a very few are preserved as museums at various wineries.