Cool Ceramics Made in Crete

Talented Greek American artist Alexandra Manousakis remodels her personal experiences into colourful abstract and ceramic art. Her cool collections, exclusively handmade in Crete, delight in small joys, bold lines and vibrant colours! 

When did you begin painting?

Insights Greece - Cool Ceramics Made in Crete

I began when I was four. My parents and teachers quickly saw that I loved it so I was enrolled in different classes and after school programs. I studied art throughout my education and eventually majored in Art, Hellenic Studies and Business at NYU’s Gallating School of Individualized Study. When I moved to Greece 13 years ago, I maintained painting as a hobby and even put on a few solo exhibitions here in Chania. I started to experiment with ceramics in 2012 when I created a line of olive oil and sea salt for our winery called ‘Terroir by Alexandra Manousakis’. Eventually I branched out into making different home goods for friends and family and decided to open my showroom in downtown Chania in July 2019.

What inspires your creations and how would you describe your designs?

I am very much inspired by my experiences here in Greece. Adjusting to a new culture and way of business was quite difficult in the beginning and I often reminisce on these difficulties and remember funny (or not so funny) stories of what it was like to be a Greek-American navigating the Greek system. That being said, the colors and lifestyle in Greece are incredibly influential on my work. It is hard not to be inspired when living in a place like Chania. Beyond my location, I am very much about my process. I love experimenting with materials and seeing how they interact. It’s a continual dialogue for me when creating art between me and the piece.

What do you love most about what you do?

Besides actually creating, I love the freedom I have when creating and the fact that I can mix art with business. I like the challenge of selling art. I love getting lost in color and materials and I love the endless possibilities to make things.

What are a few of your favourite pieces from your range?

Each piece serves a different purpose so I love all of them. I have some larger pieces that I am particularly fond of and then some pieces with names or words that remind me of specific people or events and those always put a smile to my face. I love making and looking at large paintings as well.

Your gorgeous creations are all made in Crete. Tell us more about the materials and craftsmanship? 

Everything is made locally and the clays I experiment with are all sourced from Greece. The art of making ceramics is deeply ingrained in Greek culture; it has been around since ancient times. In ancient Greece, ceramics were made for everything from storing foods and goods, transporting goods, making tableware to being used as urns after cremation. Ceramics were essential for every aspect of life. Today, their use is quite different but ceramicists in Greece are very aware that they are continuing this legacy and respect their craft very much.

Insights Greece - Cool Ceramics Made in Crete

I have spent the last three years refining the way we make our ceramics and what materials we use in order to reach the most desired outcome. It has been an incredible ride; I have learned so much along the way.

What colours do you love working with most?

I love all colors but I always finish off a piece with a bold black mark or pattern. I love the depth that black has. I love how certain and unforgiving it is as a color (of course this aspect poses its challenges as well!). I think it has to do with the way I see the world sometimes. I am very black and white in my thinking. I don’t do so well with gray areas, lol. I like for things to be defined and clear and because so often in life things are not that way, at least I can make them that way on my art!

How often will you release a new range? 

I’ve only had the showroom for the last year and my e-shop for a few months. The first two collections went better than I could have ever expected so I have held on to the last range. I am working on a whole new collection with different clay and that should be out by next Spring. I almost always am working on the next batch of designs which may or may not get released. I’m still testing out different ideas and seeing what works best.

What have been some of your most popular products so far and do you custom make?

I have noticed that most people buy entire table settings for their home. I thought people would be more interested in buying one or two pieces but that is not the case. The larger pieces are very popular and those are made to order. My paintings are the most popular and I just happened to sell the last one available yesterday! I have a new range of paintings coming out by next summer.

Is your studio in Chania open to the public? And do you ship internationally?

I have a showroom in downtown Chania that is open to the public and people can come and buy from. It’s a very small space but just what I need for now and quite central. We do ship internationally and have sent all over the world.

Tell us about your childhood growing up in the US and spending summers in Chania. What are some of your fondest memories?

I’d say my fondest memories were of coming here to Chania every summer! I grew up in Washington, DC. I had a very urban upbringing and I love big cities. Chania was the only exception to my rule of living in big cities (I went from DC to NYC for school and stayed there for a couple of years). I loved the contrast of my American life to my Greek life. This was the major pull that got me to try out life in Chania, this idealization of the place that I loved going to every summer.

What was it like moving from New York to Chania? Did it take time for you to adjust?

I’m still adjusting, lol! It was and is very difficult at times. As many times as I had been here, nothing could prepare me for such a different mentality or way of life. I was 23 years old when I came- a woman (girl by the standards here) and trying to do business in a predominantly male society. It was tough. Some things are still shocking or annoying but at least now I know what to expect and how to take care of it. Even today, I will ask a question in a business meeting and the question will be answered to my husband, not to me. I think the whole experience helps you choose your battles. What is worth fighting for and what isn’t. A very valuable lesson to learn in my opinion. Of course, every place has its pros and cons. Many times I get asked where life is better and that is just an impossible question to answer. Both places have so many great qualities and both places have some negatives. Washington DC will always be the place where I grew up, in fact I only recently stopped calling it home. Now Chania is very much my home.

Where are your favourite places in Chania to eat and drink?

By default I love going to my husband’s restaurant on the harbor which is called Salis. I also love Ginger, The Five, Kross Coffee and sitting at our winery and drinking wine. Don’t know if I’m allowed to say that but its true!

What is your favourite beach in Chania for a swim?

Falasarna beach. Just beautiful.


Organic Boutique Winery Set in a Serene Village in Chania

Manousakis Winery has been producing its 100% organic wines under the brand name Nostos since 1997. The winery is situated in the village of Vatolakkos, just 15 minutes (drive) from the city of Chania. 

This charming, traditional village setting is a perfect backdrop to try these award-winning Cretan wines and over the years Manousakis Winery has been holding tours and tastings for visitors from all over the world.

The philosophy of this boutique winery is to carefully cultivate the vines in order to absorb the scent-filled terroir so the flavours of the grapes combine with the herbs for an incomparable taste. Each bottle of Nostos Wines captures the character of this verdant island and the slopes of the Lefka Ori.

IN+SIGHTS GREECE recently spoke with Alexandra Manousakis, youngest daughter of owner and founder Ted, about their beautiful family winery.

Tell us about your family winery. How long has it been running and how did it all begin?

Insights Greece - Organic Boutique Winery Set in a Serene Village in Chania

The winery started in 1993 when we first planted our organic vineyards with the international varieties of Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. In 1997 we had our first vintage. The winery was started by my father, Ted. He loved wine and wanted to make world class wine in the village he loves. Since my dad is not a viticulturist nor an oenologist he hired a fantastic team of top people in the wine industry at that time and they advised him on which grapes to plant and how to cultivate.

Tell us about your wine and what makes it so special?

Our winery started as a passion project. Therefore we are truly interested in producing the best wine we can from the best grapes. We want to showcase the Cretan Terroir which is phenomenal and to show the world that fantastic wines can and are coming out of a small place like Vatolakkos. I have to say that I love wine and particularly our wines.

How would you describe your varieties- both reds and whites?

The varieties that we work with are international varieties that have now been living here in Crete for the last 30 years. We also work strongly with the local variety called Romeiko and produce a white from that, which is a go to summer white. We experiment with some other Cretan Varieties and have seen excellent results there. We believe in low intervention for our wines which means that we like to let our vines and grapes do their thing. We now produce 12 different wines and a total of 120,000 bottles approximately per year. That might sound like a lot but we are still one of the smaller wineries on the island.

Where are your wines stocked? Are they sold internationally?

Our wines are sold in 15 different countries and you can see where in the wine section of our website. Due to different laws in different countries we can only send directly to countries within the EU.

Insights Greece - Organic Boutique Winery Set in a Serene Village in Chania

What is your role in the company and who else in your family works with you?

I run the winery with my husband, Afshin. My father is based in Washington DC and is still involved with the winery. We are all quite involved with the production of our wines and love what we do.

Tell us about the rest of the team at Manousakis?

Since 1998, our oenologist Kostis Galanis has been head winemaker. Kostis is an amazing person as well as winemaker and together with his son, Giannis Galanis they make the wine production team. Giannis is our viticulturist and assistant winemaker. We have a wonderful team in our office as well and our tasting terrace. We firmly believe that you are only as good as your team is and we feel very happy to be working with the individuals that we do.

Insights Greece - Organic Boutique Winery Set in a Serene Village in Chania

Describe your beautiful vineyard and the wine tours and tastings?

Our vineyards are on quite rough terrain. We have a few different vineyards in a number of locations that range from 350m above sea level to 650m above sea level. Tours of our vineyards are arranged through Uncharted Escapes, a tour agency with land rovers to be able to get around the mountains. At the winery we have our tasting terrace and
restaurant which serves traditional Cretan delicacies and where you can try all of our wines. Normally, we do tours of our winery but due to the pandemic, we did not hold tours this past summer. The tasting terrace is quite beautiful and is located in our old winery in an olive and orange tree grove. It’s quite peaceful and relaxing.

What cultural events take place at the winery?

We normally host a series of events at the winery. We’ve done art exhibitions and every weekend we have live music on our terrace. People often rent the winery for private events such as small weddings, baptisms or parties.

Insights Greece - Organic Boutique Winery Set in a Serene Village in Chania

How has harvesting for 2020 been and are there any new wines you will be releasing for 2021?

The 2020 harvest was quite good. So far we are very pleased with the results and we are looking forward to the wines that will come of it. We are releasing a new wine in 2021! It’s a collaboration with another winery and it’s very exciting. I won’t say more yet but will make an announcement when it is ready.

What are your current opening hours are and are you open all year round?

The winery is closing the tasting terrace from November 1st and then operating by appointment only until March 15th, 2021. Typically we are open daily during the summer months but of course we don’t yet know what the 2021 season looks like.