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Eileen, Edward THE FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS WE WERE SELLING A VISION, NOW WE’RE SELLING A NATURAL WAY OF LIFE

Edward’s knowledge comes from "working with what we have available to us on Syros. We work with what we call precision natural farming. We’re farming with organic practices on Syros, and we’re precision farming. Because the light on Syros is very strong, it has some of the strongest UV light in the world … It means the way that you grow grapes, the way you grow fruit, you have to adopt to the circumstances. Weather conditions are different here. It’s very light, very hot, very dry. So some varieties will work here and some will not work. We decided we’re going to push ahead and do something very unique in 2017. We bought Syros-grown grapes of the Serfiotiko variety, originally from Serifos, which is able to yield very fresh style of wine from very dry difficult conditions. The Ousyra Serfiotiko was one of the few Single Variety Serifiotikos on the market so was very unique. Thankfully, it was also very good."

Edward Maitland-Makgill-Crichton came from Scotland and married Eileen, a native from Syros, with rich family roots. Eileen is now touching us as a land and community artist. She runs an art center in Posedonia as well. This is actually her grandfather on the graffiti in Ermopolli, who used to run a textile company with his two brothers.

HERE, THE STORY SPLITS IN TWO! Since I met Edward and touched his world first, I will begin with him.

We grow Serfiotiko variety, originally from Serifos. Syros has one of the strongest UV lights in the world … It means the way that you grow grapes, the way you grow fruit, you have to adopt to the circumstances. They are different. It’s very light, very hot, very dry.

From my (Bojan's) perspective, it could be added that strong winds which blow at least during the entire summer, also give special character to vines on Syros.

One of many tiny vineyards where the Serfiotiko sort is organically grown.

“Our winery is tiny, it’s very small, but it’s well designed … So the flow is very simple. This is a really important part of designing a winery, in terms of long-term planning. All the systems are ready in case of increased production. For now We’re working on producing quality. My concern is that if we start making too much wine, we’re going to get very stressed about selling it, sending it, people paying for it, etc. All of these problems. If we produce small amounts, 12,000–15.000 bottles, we can really concentrate on making really top quality wine. And i’m not going to be really stressed all the time about problems with the weather, farmers, water. Once it gets too big, you get to the stage where you’re not really enjoying making wine. So our idea is to keep it small, and enjoy the process.

The reason why Edward is doing all of this is “the love of wine, we’re enjoying what we’re doing …" They set up their business while still living in Athens, for a year, and then moved to Syros and got everything moving: “It’s been a three-year project. We started producing wine two years ago. We got grapes from Syros and from the mainland, Athens, and we made wine in the winery in Athens, and then created our own label, our own brand. In the first year, we made 6,500 bottles of wine from the grapes that we had bought all around, and we sold out. The second year, we made 1,500 bottles of Serfiotiko, grown within vineyards surrounding the winery. "Single variety – single vineyard". The 2018 Vintage sees the 3 year project complete with us producing wines within our own winery, again from Serifiotiko grapes grown on Syros, and a Rose made with Cycladic Organic Grapes grown on Naxos.

“The story for the label was very important. Here on the island, both the Catholic and the Orthodox church established their churches on each of the hills. And so they all live together very happily. The religion is an important part of Greek life, but there is no animosity between the two churches. We thought that was very interesting. When you arrive to the port, it’s just extraordinary to see the two hills and that marble … We hope we’re going to be given UNESCO World Heritage status very shortly … And the other thing, here at the bottom there is my family’s crest. We are an old family from Scotland, with three families who joined together, that's why we have a very long surname. And the family crest is what they used to stamp and seal letters or various things with.”

We’re not getting into this to make lots of money, we are getting into this really for the way of life … It’s an honest way of life, which I like. And the cycles; everything is cyclical. One day, I might be in the winery tasting the rose, getting ready to bottle the rose, and then an hour later, we might be in the vineyard, thinking three years ahead, or we might be tasting red in the barrel, which is to be bottled and was made 18 months or two years ago. Everything is sort of moving forward, and every day is a little bit different, which is fun.

“The idea of organic farming is to work extremely hard so that we don’t screw up the natural environment. In some methods of farming, there’s lot of spraying, pesticides, lots of things that go on the plants … Here, we keep it to a minimum ....if and when needed. The number of times we do that depends on how many times it rains. This year, it might just be once.”

Why bio dynamic eventually? “For the air, the land and everything we’re living in. I’ve seen the results in other wineries, here in Greece and also in California for example. And I see a steep increase in quality of the product …I’ve seen super wines. Our team believes in bio-dynamic farming … This bio-dynamic way is a way of life … Slowly but surely, the organic movement has taken precedence over our farming and winemaking practices.

“Bio-dynamic is something that demands a lot of a dedication, and you’re working with the cycles of the moon and various other things. And I found out that the quality of the vines from bio-dynamic estates is better. And that's probably because of the dedication required from the team … It brings better quality of the wine.”
“We decided to build a multi-national team for the winery. The combined industry experience has given us great confidence to move forward rapidly. We feel very lucky to work with this team.

“I trust my own taste and my own judgement. I’ve always said there’s a reason I’m having my own winery and doing my own project. There’s no point for me in going to work with somebody unless I can do it my way, trust my vision and go where I want to. And we’re doing that now. We’re not taking any shortcuts.”

In every step of what we’re doing, everything is connected. We don’t spray in the evenings because of the bees, and the bees are pollinating the vines, the olives, and it’s all connected. I think it’s taken us a long time to get to here. I always knew I wanted to do this, it was just about how to create something that we could create some money from it and live simply and happily.

There’s no need to kill any bugs, animals in the vineyard. “You can always find a solution to problems in the vineyard in nature. Sometimes you just have to stand back a bit and think."
“I don’t think we [the islanders] should rely completely on tourism, because in a way, you lose a genuine lifestyle, culture. There’s also the way of life on the island, 25,000 people live on this island in the winter, and 45,000–50,000 in the summer.
My wife is Greek, so she can sell … We’re small, but it’s nice. We’ve been living in Athens and doing the same things all the time … But we decided Athens is Athens, we’d been doing it for 10 years, and we wanted to bring our children up in a little more humanistic way, with more variety, and I also wanted to spend more time with the kids and the family. Certain times of the year, I’m very busy with the winery, with the project, and at other times, I can step back and enjoy the family more, I can relax a bit more, and I am much healthier because of it.”
"We've taken the wine to London, we’ve taken it to New York, we’ve taken it around the world and people enjoyed it, they ordered it, so next year, they want more of it, so we’re going to export, slowly but surely. And it’s a small project, not a big one. It is manageable, which means we’re not taking too much risk, obviously the economic climate is very difficult in Greece, so we’re very careful about risk. The domestic market has been slow, however there is a great interest in Greek wines abroad.” So Edward is working on expanding to foreign markets, naturally where he finds it “easier to communicate … I’m from Scotland, I speak Greek, but the distributors work for us within Greece, which is brilliant. They are fantastic at what they do. We’re looking to export. Our goal is to live here and we have our business here, but also to travel, to see as much of the world as possible. So next year, we’ll be looking to travel. To travel and to export; to get our wine over to those markets, and share a taste of Syros. … Consumers want something that really communicates a place, 'takes you to the vineyard'. So from our point of view, from a business perspective, it’s very important to concentrate on foreign markets. Foreign markets for selling the wine, vineyard tours as well … So what are we doing today is what we love. We try to control every part of what we’re currently doing, coming and collecting clients in the morning, welcoming you to the vineyards, eventually up to the winery, which is also our home, which is nice. It’s a very personal way of doing business: I want people to taste what they see when tasting our wines with us in the vineyard … That’s really important."
AND
Eileen Botsford
Eileen Botsford

“Living on the island the whole year is incredible for me as an artist … Nature is a big part of what inspires me … I draw inspiration from the light, the shapes, the movement of nature, the change in nature. So if you have that from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep, no matter what, your work is going to be richer. Also, it’s not just about being inspired, it’s a state of mind, of basically being able to, because in the city, whether you’re productive or not, you’re always in a state of movement, without necessarily doing something substantial. Whereas here, it’s vital for somebody who is creative, to have a space to think and clarity, to be able to be creative … So, a place like Syros, it’s not slower, we do a lot here, but in between all the things we do, there’s a lot of stillness … And those are the moments that give you all the energy to be creative and to find who you are and what you are really interested in creating. And then, you don’t need to do anything; you just look around you, the sea, the trees, or the rocks ...”

“I’m striving for public art in the sense of land art,” and she's doing so in her special way; not “being invasive; not like ’This is me; boom, here I am’, but making little things, little interventions in nature … purely for my own happiness, no financial gain, nothing to sell, no competition, no price, nothing … Just things I need to fulfill, creatively and visually.”

In 2017, she did a project “titled with a Greek word which does’t exist in English”. The translation would be something like “the act of being looked after and looking after". Eileen worked with underprivileged children: “We became active givers instead of receivers of help. We went to the park behind the Municipality, and there we filled all the cracks in the walls with clay.” After that, they “painted them gold”, as an echo of the 15th century Japanese technique of filling the cracks in ceramics with gold. With this act, the underprivileged children stood on the opposite side than usual: instead of being the recipients, they became the givers.
(c) Photo Eileen Botsford – archive

“I studied public art, very much interested in working site-specifically, basically with respect and harmony with the environment, in which whatever you bring, you respect it aesthetically. How do you do public art? You don’t just do your thing and stick it there. It’s about the fact that at that moment and time, you’re working for the community, but you also want to send a message to the community, so you have to find a way to balance these things: respect the community, but also send your message. It’s a tricky thing, public art.”

The first time we met, she showed me an exhibition of the project that she initiated. ”Cruises" is about Boat Trips: A Visual Exhibition from the Cyclades and the Dodecanese. The purpose of this action, taken by Primary and Secondary Schools of Leros, Lipsi, Kos, Syros, Naxos, Milos and Thira, was a journey of imagination through artistic creation, the cultivation of artistic expression with emphasis on insularity and the common insular origin of students. Moreover, she wants to eliminate the distances between the Greek islands through artistic expression and exchange of ideas, experiences and information among students.
”Cruises" is about Boat Trips: A Visual Exhibition from the Cyclades and the Dodecanese...

Eileen loves “everything that has to do with time and traces, leaving traces in places”. She makes interventions in nature, but in the way that they “wear out” … “I don’t feel the need and I don’t think anything needs to stay for long.”

The "intervention" of her family was a textile factory in the town of Ermoupoli on Syros, now an abandoned facility.
In the past, Ermoupoli, the capital of Syros, as well as of the Aegean islands, was also the capital of Greece!

In every single workshop, we create a "group piece, an artwork, which for me is like my art …"

(c)photo Eileen Botsford -archive

"While doing it, I realize it is not only me doing it, it’s trying to put people together and create something together.” When working with people, “you learn so much … And honestly, the finished piece is nothing to me ... The most important thing is the process of doing it.” And “it’s not about the final piece, it’s about giving the sense to everyone that what they have achieved was important.”

The Cyclades Workers and Employees Center, widely known as the Anagnostopoulos or Velissaropoulos building, was once Eileen's family home. This exceptional all-marble building, one of the most impressive to be seen in Ermoupoli, was constructed between 1871 and 1873 and designed by the architect Ioannis Vlysidis. When the textile industry got in crises, the grandfather and the family owners sold the building for a symbolic price to the workers' union.

“Above all, every day I remind myself, every day I ask myself this really important question: 'Why are you doing this, why?' Because when you know why you’re doing something …”

"The Greek saying: The poor man and the rich man live the same luxuries."

Eileen Botsford - Public Artist : FB, Wix, TEDx

Edwards Serifiotiko OuSyra Wines

http://medland.life

Released by MED Land project / photography, audio conversations, editing: BB / cover photo: self-portrait by Edward & Eileen's family / on-location team: Charlotte Ballet-Baz, BB / transcription: Ivana Petan / text editing: Ivana Petan / proofreading: Tadej Turnšek /

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