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A Visit to Domaine Gerovassiliou: How to Enjoy Greek Wines, while Learning, Too

March 29, 2012

By Sofia Karasavvidou*

The Domaine Gerovassiliou Winery lies on the slopes of Epanomi, a village about 25 kilometers to the southeast of Thessaloniki. This family-run vineyard, the brainchild of oenologist Vangelis Gerovassiliou, enjoys a magnificent setting overlooking Thessaloniki and its harbor- on clear days, even far-off Mt Olympos can be seen in the distance. Along with great wine, the Domaine also contains one of the most intriguing wine-related museums anywhere, with a collection of rare bottles, corkscrews, and even ancient Roman amphorae once used for holding wines.

While the winery has always been open for visitors, new initiatives from the management now include participation in an organized monthly tasting – known as a ‘KrasTest’, punning on the Greek word for wine, krasi – that anyone can register for at the official Domain Gerovassiliou website. The event, which provides education about wine and numerous taste-testings, is held at 1PM on a Sunday each month, and costs 12 euros per person. Having taken part in a recent KrasTest, we can report back the following information about this most worthwhile event.

A view of the Domaine Gerovassiliou Winery, standing on a peak above its expansive vineyards (photo courtesy Domaine Gerovassiliou)

A Unique Tradition

Vangelis Gerovassiliou’s experience in winemaking goes back almost four decades. He studied Agriculture at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and later became specialized in Oenology, Viticulture, Wine Degustation and Technology of Oenological Equipment at the University of Bordeaux in France. From 1976 to the beginnings of 1999, he worked as an oenologist at Domaine Porto Carras, another famous Greek winery.

This is where he got the idea to start producing the famous Greek varietal of Malagousia. As wine expert Giantsidis Thrasivoulos narrated, Mr. Gerovassiliou was working in Porto Carras and took some of the rare varietal of Malagousia for experimental reasons to his vineyard, to see if the grapes would give a good quality of wine. It was thus he who saved this varietal from the extinction.

In 1981, inspired by his love, knowledge and experience in vine-growing and good wine, Vangelis Gerovassiliou started renovating the family vineyard and created the Domaine Gerovassiliou. The vineyard is spread out over 56 hectares. As Argyris Gerovassiliou, the son of Mr. Vangelis Gerovassiliou described it during the recent KrasTest, the Epanomi area’s mild winters and temperate summers constitute an ideal ecosystem for the cultivation of grapes.

Here, the production of grapes allows the family to produce all wines only from the vineyard’s yield, and thus there is no need to buy additional grapes from other farmers. The vineyard is cultivated according the standards of an Integrated Management System that aims at producing wine grapes following a certified cultivation procedure, meeting all relevant quality and safety requirements and respecting the environment, the vineyard’s employees and the consumer. Having as one of the main concerns the meticulous care of the vineyard, all agricultural tasks – vintage included – are done by hand.

The vineyard contains both Greek and international varieties of wine, such as Malagousia, Assyrtiko, Mauroudi Limnio Maurotragano and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Merlot and Grenage Rouge. The Domaine is open to all oenophiles and anyone wishing to get to know the world of wine. The people working there are, apart from the family, oenologists and experts in the chemistry of wine. Visitors in general are able to visit the Domaine, the wine- production area and the Wine Museum, while having the opportunity to taste the Domaine’s wine in the tasting room.

Visiting the Winery and Museum

At the KrasTest, we were welcomed by Argyris Gerovassiliou, son of winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou. We walked through the vineyard and he outlined for us the suitable conditions necessary for producing a good quality wine. Later, we entered the wine-production area, one specially designed for receiving the grapes straight from the harvest and for the smooth circulation of must and wine.

A view into the winery's hip, eclectic museum, which combines ancient wine-related finds with a great collection of historic glass bottles and colorful corkscrews (photo courtesy Domaine Gerovassiliou)

The area also houses all necessary equipment for the production of high-quality wines: the pneumatic press, special tanks for the pre-fermentation maceration (skin contact) of white wines, stainless steel fermentation tanks for white and red vinification with automated cooling system, oak fermentation vats for red vinification and stabilization tanks. In the room where you could smell the grapes, it was also so clean that all the guests were amazed.

Hundreds of bottles were “resting” in the ground-floor houses where they would be labeled and packed afterwards. Modern technology helps in creating a balanced preservation environment until they are released. The barrels used also play important role. The vintners imported them from France, and every year they are exchanged for new ones. This is something that most wineries do not do, our hosts explained, but at Domaine Gerovassiliou they strongly believe that new barrels give the best quality, and not used ones. On our tour we also viewed the room where the white wine barrels are kept.

After this, Argyris told us about the history of wine during our visit to the Wine Museum. Different kinds of bottles have been collected over time, and are displayed for visitors, in order for them to better understand the meaning and the need of a wine bottle. As Argyris said, “nowadays, the shape of a bottle is not important, and usually changes for marketing reasons. It is what is inside that counts.”

In another unique flourish, the museum also exhibits thousands of corkscrews which Mr. Vangelis Gerovassiliou has been collecting since 1980. The collection includes rare and unique pieces from across Europe, dating back to the 18th century, true symbols of the technological advances, high aesthetics and social structures of the era. “As a child I remember traveling to different places,” said Argyris. “My father was having these long walks and then after hours he would come home with two bags of treasures- corkscrews.”

At the KrasTest

He then opened some of the most famous wines of the Domaine, and treated us and the rest of the visitors to the official wine tasting. As a person with only a beginner’s knowledge of wines, I found myself amazed- and suddenly becoming well educated about the Domaine’s wine, its history and its secrets.  It is very important for a visitor to have the opportunity to actually see, touch and understand the exact procedure, the importance of the barrels, the differences between white and red and how much work and people are necessary to complete the whole production. Only then can one appreciate the complexity and professionalism of the vintner’s vocation.

This year, the family decided to organize a wine tasting period, giving the opportunity for people having no prior experience of wine tasting to know the procedure, the technique and all the secrets a bottle might keep inside.

Starting from the 12th of January, and continuing one Sunday per month until April, anyone can participate in a three-hour presentation by Giantsidis Thrasivoulos and Alexandra Papadaki about the basic steps one needs to know about wine tasting, the different varieties of wine and where one can find them, the flavors and aromas a wine might have and finally the colors and tastes of different wines.

“It is the first year that something like that is taking part in the Domaine,” Argyris Gerovassiliou explained. “In general, a lot of people visit our vineyard and museum, especially tourists, and we want to promote our work through that kind of involvement, by tastings and by creating events for those who like wine or want to learn more about it.”

“Anyone can participate,” he added. “It is not only for people who are experts. From students to professional buyers, we are more than welcome to have them here.”

The KrasTest begins with a warm greeting from Mr. Gerovassiliou and then a presentation from Mrs. Papadaki, an oenologist working in the Domaine and an expert on the chemistry of wine. After the introduction to the flavors of wine, all the participants take part in a different kind of game in which they check their ability to recognize different aromas by guessing what is inside the little bottles, using only their sense of smell. This game gives the opportunity to all 20 wine tasters to get to know each other and creates a warmer atmosphere for the second part of the KrasTest- the wine tasting.

It was hard to recognize all the aromas, but perhaps the more important development was that every table became a team, and people started to have fun and enjoy working together. People from 20 to 60 years old were participating in something different, but at the same time so important, while laughing and enjoying this entertaining type of education.

In the wine tasting six different varieties of wine were sampled: Malagousia, Syrah and the classic red wine of Domaine Gerovassileiou (three of them, known for their great taste and popularity among others). During the wine tasting Mrs. Papadaki and Mr. Giantsidis explained each wine color and flavor, and answered all the questions that visitors raised about the year of the wine or the history behind it.

Distinctions

The excellence of the Domaine’s wine has not been confirmed by merely us neophyte visitors, however. Over the years, Domaine Gerovassiliou has won lot of distinctions at national and international wine competitions. Most recent was the 12th Annual Thessaloniki Wine Competition earlier this month, in which the winery won five gold and one silver medals.  At the International Competition Decanter World Wine Awards 2011 in London, where the 2010 Malagousia won the Gold Medal, while the 2010 White, 2010 Chardonnay and 2007 Evangelo won the Silver Medal. Finally here, the Domaine took bronze for its 2010 Sauvignon Blanc-Fume, 2010 Viognier, 2007 Avaton and 2008 Evangelo.

Further, in 2009 Domaine Gerovassiliou’s 2007 Evangelo was distinguished as being among the 100 best wines in the world in the 23rd Annual Buying guide of Wine & Spirits Magazine. In 2010, the same prestigious magazine awarded Domaine Gerovassiliou the title “Winery of the Year.”

Upcoming Winery Events: April 1 and April 7, 2012

The first round of KrasTest wine tastings chronicled above continues on April 1, 2012.  To book a place and get more information, just write the winery at the following email address: guests[AT]gerovassiliou.gr.

Along with wine-tasting events, Domaine Gerovassiliou sees its wines as perfectly complemented by culture, and with this in mind they have already in 2012 hosted lectures from eminent Greek cultural figures such as  Costas Varotsos, a sculptor and Professor of Architecture at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and leading actor Antonis Kafetzopoulos. The next event, a fascinating lecture on music, will be held on Saturday, 7 April, in which Composer Dionysis Savvopoulos, will discuss “his love for the old polytonic system of the Greek language that invokes the sober inebriation of our language,” says the winery. “The Alexandrians transformed Greek into score with the use of the polytonic system.”

All lectures are held at the Gerovassiliou Wine Museum. As with all the other events and visits, please contact the winery first via the contacts on their official website. The winery is located just above the sea and the village of Epanomi, 25km southeast of Thessaloniki. Being just a 30-minute drive from the city, it is even possible to get to the village by city bus.
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*Sofia Karasavvidou, a graduate of the Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies department at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, has a passion for art, photography and travel, and has worked in the tourism industry in her city. In addition to taking part in many exhibitions and inter-cultural projects, she has worked with disabled children. In her work, Sofia seeks to highlight art and cultural diversity, pointing out the multicultural character of her native city.

Note: Readers interested in more details about Domaine Gerovassiliou, and other Greek wineries, should see the “Wineries of Northern Greece” section by Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso, in the brand-new Lonely Planet guide to Greece, released on April 1, 2012.