This weekend marks the return of the Original Greek Festival. Now in its 49th year, the formula should be familiar to most Houstonians: Thousands of people descend into Montrose for their fill of gyros, souvlaki, baklava, dancing and more.
And everyone has a good time.
Still, organizers are always looking for ways to expand their offerings. This year they're bringing in the Holy Archangels Monastery and Winery. Based in Kendalia, Texas, the monastery is home to Greek Orthodox monks who make wine.
During the festival, the monks will be on hand at the festival's gift shop to sell their wine to attendees. Prices are $30 for Chardonnay and $45 for Syrah (plus tax).
"One of the goals of the Original Greek Festival is to share all aspects of our culture and faith with our guests," wrote festival co-chairs Ted and Pauline Koinis in an email. "Having wines from The Holy Archangels Winery represented this year presents our festival-goers with a unique opportunity to sample award-winning Texas wines made by monks, who in addition to their lifelong dedication to the Orthodox faith, have a passion for winemaking."
The monastery began making wine in 2001. The process became more serious when Father Michael (the monks do not use surnames) joined in 2003 and brought experience as a professional chemist to the effort. Seeking to improve their product, the monks turned to Napa Valley winemaker John Kongsgaard, who helped them source grapes from California. By 2011, Holy Archangels had achieved commercial status.
"Modern wine making practices were developed by monastics," Father Michael explained in a telephone interview. "All of the varieties we know and love were cultivated by monks."
Under Kongsgaard's guidance, the three-person winery committee led an effort to improve their skills that began to pay dividends in the forms of awards including gold medals at the Finger Lakes competition and TexSom. "We wanted to make sure the wine isn’t being purchased just because of the monastery. We want something someone would be proud to order in a restaurant," Father Michael explained.
Asked about what makes their wine stand out, Father Michael cites the purpose they bring to their work. "I think, for us, because we’re not paid employees it’s more something we do with love. It’s for the glory of God and not for ourselves. We’re not buying Ferraris or vacations. We’re doing our duty here."
If all goes according to plan, the monastery will begin construction of a facility that will allow it to produce more wine.
"We want to get to 60 barrels of wine," Father Michael explains. "Then we also plan to expand to around 10,000 square foot winery eventually, but you know, small steps. I think our goal is not just to get to 5 or 10,000 cases per year, but also to produce the highest quality we can. We think it will grow naturally on its own."
The Original Greek Festival takes place October 1 through 4. For details about hours, tickets and parking, consult the festival's website.