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The history of Greek wine

Giving an account of the history of Greek wine can well amount to a fascinating journey down the passage of time, being such a multi-faceted and complex endeavor that can only be compared to giving an account of Greek history itself!

The mere mention of the key points of the history of Greek wine would require an inter-disciplinary study that would take many years and tens of volumes to cover the innumerable sources: the archeological finds, the historical references, the research, studies and publications on viticulture, winemaking, the wines themselves and their importance for Greece and its people over the centuries.

Still, every true wine lover stands to gain much even from a brief overview of the history of Greek wine that will initiate him into the exploration of a "magical" wine world; even though it would concern the most ancient part of the "old world" of wine, it can steer wine lovers into an experience of discovery and exploration by proposing something even newer than "New World" wines: the new wines of Greece.

Throughout the age-old history of Greek wine, the association of vine and wine has been inextricably linked with the inhabitants of this corner of the world, in every nook and cranny of the country. And so, inevitably, any account of the history of Greek wine will encompass elements relating to Greece's culture, economy, religion, social as well as everyday life, and include the regions where viticulture, winemaking and wine consumption flourished.

The history of Greek wine spans a remarkably long period of time in the annals of History. When it comes to vine cultivation and wine production on an uninterrupted basis that period is the longest one worldwide. The beginnings of winegrowing in the Greek domain lay behind recorded history and are lost in the mists of time. Since time immemorial, vine and wine have faithfully traveled together with Greece and its inhabitants on their historical journey, time after time, insouciantly moving forth without ever pausing or ceasing! There have been times when both vine and wine have received their due and have been touted. Yet, there have been other times when they have remained in obscurity, cast in the shadow by the momentous events occurring in the much-tormented land they have been born of. In each and every case, plunging into the unchartered depths of time undoubtedly indicates the degree of maturity behind Greek terroirs and winegrowers in the creation of the new wines of Greece.

The Classical period of GREEK WINES.

The Golden Age of Athens (5th century BC) is part of the Classical period (480-323 BC). It was an age which has become interwoven with perfection and timelessness; with the birth of democracy and philosophy; with the building of the Parthenon, and with Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine" and so much more; it was the age of great classical writers, tragedists, and philosophers whose works and deeds sang the praises of Greek wine; it was the age of the greatest wines of antiquity; it was a time when, by the standards of that time, international wine commerce experienced its most remarkable growth ever. Transactions were often carried out with "wine" coinage as payment and advanced viticultural and winegrowing means and techniques were being firmly established.

Above all, during the Classical period, the growth of a significant winegrowing culture laid the foundations for today's winegrowing culture and legislation as those have been expressed through: the establishment of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications; the safeguarding of winemaking activities of unique and singular terroirs; the promotion and distribution of Greek wines abroad; the formulation of special terminology applying to the description of wines; and, most importantly, by establishing wine at Attica's symposia as a part of everyday life and social interaction. It was during those symposia that wine played a leading role and contributed to Greek philosophy as expressed by Socrates, Plato, and other seminal minds of the time. It also contributed to an unrivalled wine culture in terms of wine knowledge, wine reviewing, wine pouring, and the art of wine in moderation, in other words (Greek ones at that!), enjoying wine in a wise, measured manner.

In the Classical period, wines that had made a name for themselves were Ariousios from the area of Ariousia in Chios; Lesvios; Peparithios; Samios, Thassios -the world's first PDO wine; and Mendeos from Halkidiki, perhaps the world's first famous and brand-name, white wine.

In the 4th century BC, which is also part of the Classical period, with Athens still clashing with Sparta and other Greek city-states, the leadership of the Greek realm would pass to another Greek region, Macedonia, and its king Philip. As both he and Alexander the Great, his son and successor, were great admirers of Greek wines, Greece's important winemaking and wine commerce hubs would be joined by those in northern Greece: Pella (capital of the kingdom of Macedonia); Vergina; Amphipolis; and Philippi. Wines produced in those areas were also destined to become as famous as their Aegean counterparts, which continued to enjoy high acclaim. The highly developed art in Macedonia would produce pottery masterpieces such as vessels and wine vessels while, Aristotle, the major philosopher and teacher of Alexander the Great, would become not only an inexhaustible source of wisdom but of information as well on the vineyards and the wines of his time.

Modern times - The new Greek wine revival

Modern times also saw the first classification of Greek wines 25 centuries after the ancient Greeks had been sealing amphorae to safeguard the authenticity of their contents (1971) . The first designations of origin of Greek wines are legislated following the French model of wine legislation. In contributing to this effort, the Wine Institute,produced an impressive body of research into Greek wine. Τhe Wine Institute multi-faceted task led to showcasing the timeless wealth of the Greek vineyard and the new Greek wines, paving the way for many of the historic vineyards of Greece to acquire legislative recognition and protection as well as the right to display their name on their wine lables. In later years, around the time that Greece became a full member state of the (present) European Union, Local Wines also gained legal recognition. Ever since then, legislation, winegrowing production and the wine market have been directly aligned with the rest of the European Union. It was also during this period that the establishment of Greek wine agencies took place.

The new Greek wine revival, as it is called by many, occurred during the last decades of the 20th century, marked by various events in both the vine growing and winemaking domains. In those days, the large winemaking concerns aside, small-to-medium size producers began to emerge. They were vertically integrated, winegrowing concerns producing wines on a limited scale from Greek as well as international grape varieties. Enthusiastic vintners, numbering many oenologists in their ranks, cultivated their vineyards with dedication and vinified with a view to a broad market either by continuing the cultivation of and reviving the historic vineyards of Greece or by planting new ones. In the meantime, the return of hundreds of Greek oenologists who were graduates of European–mainly French- or other foreign universities; the graduates emerging from the newly established Department of Oenology and Beverage Technology at the Athens TEI; and the graduates of Greek universities specializing in Viticulture and Oenology, would join forces to bolster the country scientifically. Together, this committed group would steer production towards taking advantage of the potential Greece's unique grape varieties have by means of contemporary technology and vinification methods. During the same time period, other professions related to the wine sector also emerged such as wine journalists and sommeliers. Important new, Greek wine exhibitions were established (Oenorama and Dionyssia), together with a Greek wine competition, the Thessaloniki International Wine Competition.

The efforts exerted were not in vain. The Greek market began to feel the difference as Greeks and visitors from the world over continued to discover the new Greek wines. Towards the end of the 20th century, the new Greek wine revival would continue with the establishment of a new wave of small wineries which reached a peak during the first decade of the 21st century. Many of these wineries belonged to traditional vintners who counted on the excellence of their wine. At the same time, old and new wineries alike began showing an interest in wine tourism.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the new Greek wine revival is evidently paying dividends: the distinctions the Greek wines amass have never been more steadily bestowed or more numerous. State-of-the art wineries, dedicated, enthusiastic vintners, and highly specialized oenologists have put their heads together to take full advantage of the grapes the vineyards of Greece yield from rare, native varieties and international ones alike and to produce excellent, distinguished wines, highly acclaimed worldwide. It is thus evident that the upgraded quality of the new wines of Greece is neither coincidental nor transient. Meanwhile, more and more eyes are turning towards the vine itself, with a view to optimizing cultivation by means of modern and approved methods and to showcasing the native Greek varieties. The process is certain to further consolidate quality and ensure that the 'dark ages' of Greek wine are definitely a thing of the past.


Today, wine lovers the world over can enjoy the excellence of the new THEMISTOKLES Greek wines, produced from varieties and vineyards which for millennia on end have yielded wines which were renowned in their time and have been entered in the annals of world wine history. What is more, the new THEMISTOKLES wines of Greece carry within the history of Greek wine and are the ideal vehicle to a journey through time. The history of Greek wine is difficult to understand if torn away from Greek history itself and even more difficult to describe. However, it all becomes simple and clear when enjoying a glass of new THEMISTOKLES Greek wine responsibly and in moderation. "Evi evan!" was the toast at the celebrations of the cult of Dionysus. "Let us be merry but never drunk" Socrates used to say at the symposia he would attend. "Wine gladdens the heart of man" acknowledged Christianity. To all that, the Greeks of today come to add their own toast and literally mean every word of it: "Yia mas!" ("Here is to health!")

Wine equals culture

In the history of humankind, many have been the cultures whose foundations were anchored on winegrowing and winemaking. Even today, a great many people instinctively think that wine equals culture. During prehistoric times, in lands where the climate favored winegrowing, the "birth" of a civilization and its culture would not be far behind and vice versa: Once that culture had sprung forth, its prosperity and welfare would be closely associated with vine and wine. That is no coincidence: Winegrowing presupposes settling in one place and abandoning nomadic pursuits. It can flourish on poor soil, leaving fertile ground to crops and other cultivations. Winemaking necessitates specialized know-how and practices, while its commercial aspect necessitates the existence of transport and expertise on commercial transactions, economy, and shipping, to name but a few. One such culture, the most illustrious one and the one with the longest course in history, has been the Greek culture of wine.

Οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες ήταν ένας ιδιαίτερα ευφυής, διορατικός και δημιουργικός λαός. Χρησιμοποίησαν τον οίνο σαν πλουτοπαραγωγική πηγή, όχι μόνο σκέψης, αλλά και εσόδων. Κυρίως με το κρασί, αλλά και με το ελαιόλαδο, αντάλλασαν ό,τι αγαθό τους έλειπε, από τρόφιμα μέχρι μέταλλα. Με τα χρήματα που αποκόμιζαν από το εμπόριο οίνου γίνονταν οι μεγάλες «επενδύσεις» της εποχής, σε δημόσια έργα και θαυμαστές κατασκευές. Έτσι, αρχαίος ελληνικός πολιτισμός και κρασί αλληλοβοηθήθηκαν αποτελεσματικά.

Ancient Greek culture and wine

Greek culture is Europe's oldest. Especially the culture of classical times proved decisive in shaping Western thought. Ancient Greek culture and wine complemented each other to such an extent that the diffusion of Greek culture throughout the world, as well as the place Greek culture has earned in eternity, can be largely attributed to Greek wine. Greek culture was driven by the "spirit" of Dionysus and was  funded by wine commerce.

Ancient Greeks were an exceptionally resourceful, insightful, and inventive people. To them, wine was not only a source of lofty thought: it was also an important source of revenue. Mainly wine but also olive oil were traded for anything the ancient Greeks lacked, from foodstuffs to metals. The profits deriving from wine commerce would go towards the funding of the significant investments of their times, be it public works or structures of breathtaking beauty. It was thus that ancient Greek culture and wine effectively helped one another.

Greek wine and culture

The ancient Greeks discovered wine as nature's gift and turned it into a work of art. Greek wine and culture grew side by side, becoming timeless treasures which left their indelible stamp on history. And although Christianity, espoused by the Greeks of Byzantium, initially pitted itself against the ancient Greek culture, it eventually came to acknowledge and do more than any other means to promulgate two ancient Greek values: the ancient language and the rich winegrowing heritage of Greece. Over time, the Byzantine culture and Christian Orthodox art became the embodiment of Greece, abounding in symbolism and references alluding to vine and wine. Mosaics, religious icons, monastic scrolls, folklore art and demotic songs, all are keepsakes of that symbolism. The renowned Byzantine wines of the Aegean Sea and of the other areas of Greece became worthy ambassadors of a culture which, for centuries, shone like a beacon upon the West, piercing the darkness enveloping medieval Europe.

Yet, Greek wine and culture were not influential on Greece alone. Those who would come to the country as conquerors, together with the Greek culture, they also adopted or exploited -forcefully or peacefully, Greece's famous wines, amassing fame and profit for their purposes and furthering their own cultures. The Roman culture, apart from adopting the deity of Dionysus in his new persona as Bacchus, also adopted numerous of the country's winegrowing and winemaking techniques, together with the much touted wines coming out of the Greek vineyards. As early as medieval times, the Venetians and other European seafaring powers used Greek wines as their main source of revenue on their voyages, while the Ottoman Empire gathered wealth by taxing the renowned Greek wine production, or simply by co-existing with the Christian Greeks who had never lost their "wine" instinct or genes.

THEMISTOKLES WINES (Nemea 12 months, Nemea Lion, Nemea Lion Oraganic, Nemea medium sweet, Novel, Roditis, Savatiano, Nemea 6 month, Nemea The Hero) vineyards of Nemea

themistokles wine area

With 7,400 acres planted with Agiorgitiko—the choicest of red varieties of southern Greece—the vineyards of Nemea form the largest zone producing PDO wines in Greece. Vinegrowing is divided into three altitude zones: the flatlands around the cities of Nemea and Ancient Nemea (altitude: 260-350 m); the semi-mountainous zone (altitude: 350-600 m) on the western-southwestern foothills circling the plain of Nemea; and the mountain zone (altitude: 600-800 m) which comprises the valleys and plateaus at the foot of Mount Kyllini. In the vineyards of Nemea, the vines are cordon-trained bilaterally. Planting densities are average, with 1,600-2,000 vine stocks per acre; at the lower altitudes, the soil is composed mainly of the alluvial deposits of the Asopos River -of thin texture in the center of the plain, which makes it deeper and more fertile, and coarser at the foot of the mountainous formations, where it has a higher gravel content, is less fertile and of a lower moisture retaining capacity. In the shallow, calcareous soil of the semi-mountainous terroirs Agiorgitiko ripens early due to the milder climatic conditions. On the mountainous terroirs, where it is colder, the grapes ripen late, in October, and depending on the weather. All the above reasons is what makes THEMISTOKLES WINES from NEMEA most famous and unique.

THEMISTOKLES WINES (Androgeus, Defkalion, Fedra, Katreas, Labyrith, Xenodike) vineyards of Heraklio-Crete

themistokles wine area

Most of  the vineyards of Crete are located in the eastern section of the island, particularly its northern side which benefits from the northerly and northeasterly sea winds. The viticultural industry is experiencing brisk growth, making the island one of the most significant and dynamic terroirs of Greece. Most of  the vineyards of Crete are situated on the lowland plains and on plateaus, at altitudes of up to 3,300 feet. Most of them are linear although the traditional practice of goblet training has remained in some. The mountain ranges of Lefka Ori, Idi and Dikty traverse Crete, featuring several dozens of summits, forming large plateaus and gorges, and creating an endless diversity of terroirs where the local varieties of Vilana, Kotsifali, and Liatiko thrive alongside a plethora of other native and international cultivars. The Cretan climate is particularly hot and dry, with sunshine for 70% of the year and little rainfall during the summertime (less than 2 inches). However, these conditions are mitigated by sea winds and high altitudes. These factors have facilitated the adaptation of vines in Greece's and Europe's southernmost region (latitude: 35º north).

THEMISTOKLES WINES from The vineyards of the Messinia

themistokles wine area

The common feature of  the vineyards of  Messinia is the broad presence of foreign cultivars. The vineyards are clustered on the flatlands southeast of the mountains, in fertile soil and with ample water supplies from the Alfios and Pinios rivers. In Messinia, the vineyards are found on plateaus, exposed to the beneficial effect of the Ionian Sea and planted in calcareous soil of a lower water-retaining capacity. The area of TRIFILIA is the most noteworthy for its viticultural performance. Throughout the western side of the Peloponnese a cluster of international cultivars have been successfully cultivated for decades -Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Rouge and Refosco being the most important ones. The native varieties, Mavrodaphne, Fokiano and Avgoustiatis are also present.

themistokles wine

Wine categories of GREEK WINES.

The European Union, by means of its Council Regulation 479/2008 and its Commission Regulation 607/2009 implementing the Council Regulation, has decided, among others, to include wines in the framework applicable to all other agricultural products, thus establishing the following wine categories:

• PDO Wines: "PDO products" bear a "Protected Designation of Origin" indication. This wine category comprises Greek wines bearing a Designation of Origin (VQPRD), in other words, all  AOQS and AOC wines.

• PGI Wines: PGI products are those bearing a "Protected Geographical Indication". This wine category comprises all Regional Wines and any of the wines of "Traditional Designation" which, simultaneously, have an established geographical indication i.e., Verdea and 15 retsinas (PGI wines of Greece).

• Varietal wines: Varietals wines are a new wine category which includes those table wines complying with all the necessary prerequisites and controls as those are stipulated in Article 63, Council Regulation 607/2009. In contrast to ordinary table wines, wines of this wine category are entitled to bear an indication of their vintage year and varietal composition but not of their geographical indication.

• Table wines: "Ordinary" table wines belong to a wine category which includes all wines which are neither PDO or PGI but, in addition, are not in the wine varietals category either. The regulation stipulates that table wines in this wine category are still not entitled to display their vintage year or the varieties participating in their composition.

themistokles wine

THEMISTOKLES WINES and Greek vineyards

THEMISTOKLES WINES and Greek vineyards are among the world's oldest and have produced wines for thousands of years. They can be described as viticultural "isles" which dot the entire country, continental and island areas alike. The Greek wine THEMISTOKLES thanks to its geographical location in the temperate Mediterranean region (latitude: 35ο to 41ο north), Greece is endowed throughout with favorable climatic conditions for vine growing.

Proximity to the sea has a decisively beneficial climatic impact, particularly on the terroirs of coastal areas.

THEMISTOKLES WINES and Greek vineyards are found on diverse soil and terrain, at altitudes varying between sea level and often in excess of 1,000m. They are largely found on mountain and semi-mountainous terroirs and, to a much lesser degree, on terroirs of continental features.

In geographical terms, THEMISTOKLES WINES and Greek vineyards are distinguished into those of northern Greece, central Greece (Attica included), Peloponnese and the Ionian islands, the Aegean Sea islands and  those of Crete. These regions are further subdivided into smaller ones, each with its own particular soil, climate, and topographical features -all of which, when combined with mainly native cultivars, give to THEMISTOKLES Greek wines their unique and diverse character.

Modern winegrowing THEMISTOKLES on a human scale

Today's Greek THEMISTOKLES winegrowing continues its century-old tradition in the art of vinification. At the same time, it employs modern winegrowing, winemaking and technological methods. It thus taps in the best possible way both the uniqueness of Greek native cultivars and of the experience and the know-how of those who toil over the creation of the new wines of Greece: winegrowers, vintners, agriculturalists, oenologists and those involved in the winegrowing process. Both the people as well as their techniques which, to a great extent, reflect the particularities of the country, compose an industry of modern winegrowing THEMISTOKLES on a human scale whose key, process-shaping features are as follows:

• The age-old winegrowing and winemaking tradition of THEMISTOKLES, accompanied by the experience and the historical heritage of centuries. It is a tradition deeply rooted in modern winegrowers who now cultivate the same vineyards sung by Homer and Aristotle. Taking all facets (social, economic, cultural, artistic, philosophical and religious) into consideration, the history of vine and wine are the very history of the anthropocentric nature of Greek civilization.

• The particular geomorphology of the country, which generally does not favor intensive winegrowing techniques. For instance, mechanical cultivation, which is virtually non-existent in Greece's vineyards, cannot be applied in inaccessible or mountain terroirs. Thus, despite the availability of new technologies, most winegrowing tasks are done manually, with handpicking the grapes being the most characteristic example. It is thus easy to understand and realize why there is such a small volume of grape production and why the yields per hectare are low.

• The great number of grape varieties native to Greece which keep the country's winegrowing production from falling into the monotony of a mere three to four varieties and offer seasoned wine lovers a glorious terrain for exploring the diversity and singularity of THEMISTOKLES Greek wines.

The New meets the Old within THEMISTOKLES WINES.

While Greek vineyards are perhaps by far the most historic of the old wine world and are given to winegrowing on a human scale, it nevertheless produces modern wines, based on exploiting the native variety potential, on the "new wave" of Greek vintners and oenologists, and on the new technologies with which many of the modern wineries are equipped today. Thus, Greek vineyards provide a point where the New meets the Old in all things wine.

Some of the major factors which contributed to shaping the contemporary profile of Greek winemaking THEMISTOKLES are as follows:

• The modernization and outfitting of wineries which were created a few decades ago by people who, as seasoned veterans, combine enormous vinicultural and viticultural experience, thus ensuring to the THEMISTOKLES wines even international recognition.

• The creation of new, small-to-medium size wineries which are outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. Some of them are well known as "boutique wineries" which combine aesthetics and accessibility with an overall quality upgrading of winemaking.

• The new generation of vintners who, in their majority, are relatively young, enthusiastic and passionate over winegrowing and the creation of exciting, new wines.

• Vinification THEMISTOKLES WINES using innovative and often environmentally friendly technologies, such as sustainable and organic viticulture, and an active interest in new alternative winegrowing practices such as biodynamic or organic wines. Also, the production of wines which showcase the particular character of grape varieties and terroirs of origin via the responsible use of methods and additives, as for instance in cooling, filtering, clarification and keeping sulfite content to a minimum so that both the wine and the environment may benefit.

Unique viticultural practices of THEMISTOKLES WINES.

Winegrowing was first organized in Greece thousands of years ago and has been continuously practiced around the country eversince. As time went by unique viticultural practices were developed according to the peculiarities of Greek vineyards. The following factors played a significant part in their establishment:

• Cultivation of countless native varieties, a practice not commonly encountered in other countries

• The existence of isolated but numerous small winegrowing zones on the islands and on the mainland

• Inaccessible and forbidding terrain which hampers the application of winegrowing practices possible on large expanses of flat terroirs

A number of these unique viticultural practices of THEMISTOKLES WINES entail cultivation tasks carried out by hand which vintners still engage in concerning grapes  for vinification. The most common of these tasks are:

• The picking of the grapes

• Pruning, especially into a basket (kouloura)  and goblet shapes

• Planting on tiered stone terraces

Apart from such ordinary tasks it is not uncommon in 21st-century Greece to encounter other unique winegrowing practices of THEMISTOKLES WINES which seem to have traveled down the tunnel of time: a vine dresser pruning back his vines into basketshapes; another one digging into his vineyard's arid soil with a grub hoe; a mountain vineyard being tilled by means of a horse-drawn plough; or a donkey carrying large, woven baskets overflowing with freshly-picked grapes... And all the while, superb yields of grapes come out of unique and "ancient" terroirs which for better or worse mechanical winegrowing will never access.

Hand picking the grapes of THEMISTOKLES WINES.

Harvesting in the Greek vineyards is done the way it has been done for thousands of years: by hand picking the grapes. The main reasons why it still is the preferred method are:

• The affinity Greek wine growers and wine makers have with harvesting which dates back to primeval times and is interwoven with lore, worship rituals, celebrations and daily life. It is an inextricable part of Greece's culture and of the collective memory of the Greek people

• The particularities of the Greek vineyard with its numerous, small winegrowing "isles" where, over time, unique winegrowing techniques such as hand picking the grapes have been developed

• The morphology and mountainous nature of the Greek terrain do not favor intensive, mechanical cultivation or harvesting techniques

• The unique diversity of varietals of Greek vineyards. Here, there are no sprawling vineyards planted with a single variety that is easier to harvest uniformly.

• The small size of land plots and the presence of numerous small vine growing units

Hand picking the grapes plays a decisive role in the quality of the fruit and the wines they yield. When the right date for harvesting is determined, harvesters venture out into the vineyards armed with their harvest knives or clippers, small, clean crates and their skill. The main advantages of hand picking the grapes are:

• Grapes are handled carefully and gently, in sharp contrast to mechanical harvesting which may damage the fruit

• The hand-picked grapes are carefully laid out on small open crates so that they may reach the winery intact

• The on-site selection of the grapes by experienced harvesters who hand pick the grapes depending on the variety, the maturity of grapes and their quality

Unique winegrowing practices of THEMISTOKLES WINES.

The Greek THEMISTOKLES WINES have an age-old tradition in winegrowing which has led to a wealth of unique winegrowing practices. As historical records and archeological facts indicate many became common practice after having been in existence for entire millennia.

The renowned Greek wines of antiquity acquired their fame through their quality which, to a great extent owed its existence of such practices, which were remarkably advanced for their times.  Among them are wine presses, debourbage, filtration, sulfation, oaking, etc.

Through the passage of time, these unique winegrowing practices of THEMISTOKLES WINES developed in Greece were handed down from generation to generation.. The result is the production of wines popular both in their place of production as well as elsewhere, among wine lovers seeking out the winegrowing traditions of different countries.

Some characteristic examples of unique winegrowing practices of THEMISTOKLES WINES still applied by Greek winegrowers today are:

• Sun-drying the grapes to produce straw wines (vin liastos)

• Various discrete ways of vinification leading to the production of traditional wines.  Many of these wines are still crafted in historic Greek vineyards today.

Most of these unique winegrowing practices of THEMISTOKLES WINES are applied under the supervision of experienced scientists, agriculturalists, and oenologists using state-of-the-art equipment in modern wineries. Still, the production process is based on techniques that emerged and were first tried out centuries ago.