The Family name
140 years ago, people were only known by nicknames. These came from everyday life. People’s behaviour, profession, body type, characteristics, or some special quality (e.g. A a man with a large moustache was known as ‘George Moustakas’, a craftsman who made copper utensils was Kalaitzis. A tall man called Giannis was known as Giannaros. Giannaros went to war and, after suffering real hardship, he came home with only one leg. From then, he was known as Koutsogiannis [koutso=lame]. Koutsogiannis’ children, his ‘poulakia’ [chicks], were Koutsogiannopoulakia. This is how the family name came about.
From Laconia to Santorini
In 1870, the three Koutsogiannopoulos brothers from Katavrotha, Molai, Laconia, Grigorios (22), Dimitrios (24) and Theodoros (19), young traders in oil and potatoes, were selling their wares in Syros, the largest trading port at that time. On one of their trading trips from Kyparissia to Syros, their small sail boat, loaded with skins of oil, was blown off course by strong winds. The unknown island on which they landed was Santorini. At that time, it was a forgotten island. Life there ranged from hard to impossible. There was no rain and so there was little flora or fauna. The inhabitants would say, ‘We are not people, we are Santorinians’, in other words, they were used to hardship.The virgin Santorinian market immediately consumed their products, goods from another world, something they had been waiting for some time. Greatly excited by the unexpected reception their goods had received, the brothers Koutsogiannopoulos did not go to Syros again, instead, they sold – without competition – whatever they brought in from Peloponnesian Laconia on Santorini. Santorini was a dry island, without forests or rivers. It did, however, have a lush green carpet: its vines. With the shrewdness they were known for, the Koutsogiannopoulos brothers were quick to realise the value of these vines.They settled in Santorini permanently. They bought land and devoted themselves to the vines and the production of wine.Traders that they were, it was not hard for them to open up new markets for Santorinian wine.
The third brother
A decisive role in the rise and establishment of Grigorios and Dimitrios in their trade and their new ‘promised land’ was played by the ‘Benjamin’ of the family, their third brother. Theodoros served in the Greek army, completing three terms of military service: one for himself and the other two for his brothers! Nine years in total. In this way, his brothers did not have to leave the market and risk their customers in the market in Syros, their major competition, forgetting about them. They could gain experience that would not be interrupted by their military service. Of course, they had an obligation to make sure that Theodoros was provided for, so they gave him all their property in Molai. A powerful example of solidarity from another time.
Their work ethic and intelligence meant that within 20 years they had amassed quite a fortune: a fleet of sailing ships, which was necessary to transport their wine off Santorini; and movable and immoveable property.
Their rapid professional rise was aided by:
a) their knowledge of the sea and sea transport
b) the fact that they already knew what it meant to be a trader before they settled in Santorini
c) them being quick to learn the secrets of the vine and wine
d) their making use of the opportunities that they were given.
The largest part of their export activity was with Russia.
This was helped by the fact that,
a) the Orthodox Russians liked to use Vinsanto – the sweet Santorinian wine that was becoming increasingly well known – in their communion service;
b) the dry wine that was then produced in Santorini, with a high alcohol content (17ο-18ο), was also very popular in the Russian market, with its exceptionally cold climate.
c) the good relations between Greeks and the Russian tsar.
Trade relations between the Koutsogiannopoulos brothers and the Russians came to an end with the October revolution of 1917. However, new markets opened up. There was interest shown in Italy and France for the high-alcohol content Santorinian dry wine, as well as Vinsanto.
In fact, they would pre-pay the quantity wanted, before the harvest to guarantee that they would have it. Wine, therefore, became the brothers’ most important professional activity. The decade following the Santorini earthquake of 1956 was very bad for all its inhabitants. En masse, they sold their land, homes and animals and moved, mostly to Athens. The Koutsougiannopoulos brothers stayed and went through the hard years. The recession ended with the building of the public power plant in 1965. Gradually the first electric machinery arrived, changing the way in which wine was produced. The arrival of technology was instrumental in improving quality.The third generation, which has seen great changes in technology in the the production sector, envisaged an underground museum dedicated to their wine...
So, we made use of the great quantity of machinery and tools that we already had. The tunnels and the storage area of the old winery were ready and waiting to revive memories. It fell to the fourth generation to realise a plan, the like of which Greece has never known. The original plan related to the family’s history. However, this history was intrinsically linked with the history of Santorini and very soon, the museum went beyond its ties to the family and described, in a simple manner, the life of Santorinain wine producers, from the first simple wine press of the 1660’s to the changes in technology brought about in the 1970’s. The musem required 21 years to arrive at its current form; with the family as the one and only sponsor.
Today, the visitor can travel back in time and spend some time with the people of that era. To understand how demanding the work was.There are animated and static mannequins, with the relevant lighting and sound, and, with the help of an electronic tour guide, visitors can become a member of the family, as they travel through the centuries. Young Gregoris Koutsogiannopoulos, the 5th generation, is today a pupil in the first class of primary school.