Nicholas Chrisostomou visits idyllic Ktima Gerovassiliou vineyard, nestled amongst the slopes of Epanomi just outside Greece’s second city, where he enjoys an altogether relaxed yet sophisticated wine tasting experience
Although Greece may still have some work to do before it can fully shake off its reputation for aggressively pine resin-flavoured retsina, it’s safe to say that Greek wine is officially having a moment, and quite rightly so. Greece has, of course, a rich and celebrated history of winemaking, which is as ancient as the marble columns that line the Parthenon, so it’s hardly surprising that the country’s wine culture has finally come into line with its flourishing tourist industry.
Archaeologists have uncovered in Greece winemaking artefacts that date as far back as 1600 BC, confirming that the country played an enormous role in the early wine trade. The Greeks can even be credited with establishing an appellation system to ensure quality and place of origin. Yet, whilst winemaking is an ancient art form that has been around for centuries in Greece, due to technological advances it is now moving forward at quite a pace, whilst still retaining longstanding traditions.
Greece’s rugged landscape provides the perfect terroir for red, white, rosé and even sparkling wines, and in its modern incarnation the Greek winemaking industry happily seems determined to avoid the Chardonnay-and-Cabernet-only trap. Updated winemaking technology blended with the nation’s 300 indigenous grape varieties has done much to elevate the modern-day perception of Greek viticulture. Ample sun, minimal rainfall and an abundance of rough soil set the stage for some serious grape growing, and collectively make for a winning combination. Greek winemakers of today – with a respectable nod to antiquity – are working tirelessly to bring Greek wine back into vogue, perhaps none more so than Vangelis Gerovassiliou and his family, who have been involved in vine cultivation and winemaking since 1981, and now produce a variety of internationally renowned and award-winning wines.
Approximately 25km southwest of Thessaloniki on the Greek mainland, in a verdant area characterised as Mediterranean by mild winters and warm summers that are gently tempered by sea breezes, lies the idyllic Ktima Gerovassiliou winery, nestled amongst the slopes of Epanomi. Surrounded by sea on three sides, with views of the mythological Mount Olympus in the distance, renders this relatively small but perfectly formed 63-hectare vineyard utterly peaceful and verging on magical. The grounds are festooned with lush foliage and fragrant herbs, as well as an array of eye-catching modern sculptures, including some fashioned by famed Greek artist Kostas Varotsos, who designed the 30-foot-tall glass sculpture of running man “Dromeas”, which can be seen in front of the Athens Hilton.
Hailing from a local agricultural family based in Epanomi, after finishing his studies at the School of Agronomy at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University, Vangelis Gerovassiliou furthered his education by specialising in oenology and viticulture at the University of Bordeaux in South-West France. Here Gerovassiliou developed such an intense passion for winemaking, that in 1981 he revived the family vineyard by planting the almost extinct Greek grape variety, Malagousia. Gerovassiliou effectively saved this old and forgotten variety from extinction, with the help of Aristotle University Professor of Viticulture Vassilis Logothetis, and became the first to produce wine from this native grape. More than 35 years later, Ktima Gerovassiliou still researches and experiments with Greek and foreign varieties, and strives to produce exclusive and high-quality wines from grapes cultivated in privately owned vineyards. This is all part of the charm and beauty of Ktima Gerovassiliou – visitors can visibly see the passion that runs through the family and the team which manages the vineyard. Today, all of Vangelis Gerovassiliou’s three children are involved in different aspects of the family business, their collective enthusiasm is very much evident in the taste of the domaine’s wines, and Epanomi’s unique microclimate means that the wines embody distinct characteristics from the region that cannot be found anywhere else.
Gerovassiliou now grows a large number of grape varieties, both Greek and international, and there are few better ways to enjoy some real down time, than relaxing on the veranda of the vineyard’s contemporary visitor centre, completed in 2014. Here, a short visit can easily turn into a delightfully long and lazy afternoon, taking in the gorgeous setting and looking out across the vines, while dining al fresco on a host of freshly-prepared and intensely appetising Greek dishes – reasonably priced, served informally and paired with the estate’s superb wines.
Of the whites, one of my favourites was Gerovassiliou Malagousia – a floral and peachy wine with bright acid and a whiff of honey, a little like walking in a rose garden. This is the grape that Gerovassiliou revived from near extinction, and it delivers a luscious range of citrus and tropical notes. Now a perennial favourite, and a wine I often order when dining in Greek establishments around the world, is Gerovassiliou Sauvignon Blanc-Fumé. Cultivated in several blocks of the estate’s vineyards, after skin contact this wine is fermented in French oak barrels and then aged on lees for a few months, resulting in a bouquet of tropical notes, a rich yellow-gold colour and a toasty vanilla taste on the palate.
Of the estate’s reds, I loved Gerovassiliou Avaton, made up of three different Greek grapes: 40% Limnio, 40% Mavrotragano and 20% Mavroudi. This divine blend includes Limnio, a grape first mentioned by a number of Ancient Greek writers including Homer, Hesiod and Polydefkis, making it a unique artefact of ancient viticulture. Avaton is a plush and elegant wine that drinks like an expensive sports car – racy but refined, with dark berry fruits and vanilla undertones.
The beauty of visiting Ktima Gerovassiliou winery is in the marriage of the informal and the sophisticated in one breathtaking location. Gerovassiliou’s wines and fare are accomplished, sophisticated and complete, whilst the environment in which they are served is wonderfully informal and relaxed, making a visit to the vineyard a calm and highly enjoyable experience and an opportunity never to missed, particularly when in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki.