Tuesday, January 19, 2016

North Greece wine region: Wine Production

Two of the characteristics that shone through during my tour of the North Greece wine region were (i) the outstanding pedigree of a number of the iconic winemakers and (ii) the high level of training evidenced at the lead-wine-production-personnel level. For example, Domaine Gerovassiliou is the result of the efforts of Vangelis Gerovassiliou who expanded the family's 2.5-ha estate to the over 56-ha that exists today. Vangelis studied agriculture at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki but then went on to study Oenology at the University of Bordeaux where he worked with the world-famous oenologist Emile Peynaud. When Peynaud was contracted by Domaine Porto Carras to develop their estate, he very quickly brought in Vangelis who worked there from 1976 to 1999. In addition to pulling Porto Carras up by its bootstraps, Vangelis is responsible for rescuing Malagouzia from near extinction and is also a founding partner of Ktima Biblio Chora (along with fellow oenologist Vassilis Tsaktsarlis). And this is only one example.

In terms of the lead enologists, every one that I spoke to had studied enology in either Bordeaux or Burgundy and had interned at a French vineyard and continued to spend harvests, when possible, in the Southern Hemisphere.

In this post I describe the methods employed by these practitioners to develop the wines of North Greece (I have discussed the physical environment, variety and rootstock choices, and vine training  and vineyard management practices in previous posts.).

One of the most important decisions confronting a winemaker is deciding when to pick the grapes. The "optimal"harvest time is dependent on the winemaker's style and intent. In North Greece, most winemakers use a mix of objective and subjective factors to arrive at that determination. Alpha Estate, for example, bases optimal picking time on sugar levels (210 g/L for whites, 235 g/L for reds), titratable acidity (6.5 g/L for whites, 5.8 g/L for reds), and subjective factors such as color, texture, aroma, and flavor. According to Angelos Iatridis, Alpha Estate's winemaker, all of the objective and subjective parameters are taken into consideration in combination with lab analysis and taste based on the winemaker's experience.

All of the wineries surveyed harvested manually and transported the grapes back to the winery in small (15 - 20 kg) crates. In cases where there is some remove between vineyard and winery, the grapes are transported between the two in refrigerated trucks.

A first level of selection is implemented in the vineyards in order to ensure that only the best grapes get to the winery. Kir-Yianni is exemplary, harvesting up to three times per block depending on grape maturity. Such a practice allows the winery to counter uneven ripening in the vineyard and advances the goal of fully ripe fruit to the cellar door.

Grapes are consistently destemmed prior to crushing with, in many cases, hand-sorting prior to de-stemming. In the case of Kir-Yianni, the grapes are subjected to a second sorting table prior to crush. Alpha Estate does no additional sorting beyond that done in the vineyard. Ktima Pavlidis moves the fruit to the tank via elevator or by pumping it up to the tank. This practice is a little at odds with today's perceived wisdom of gravity-flow wine production.

All of the wineries "cold soak" the fruit prior to fermentation with temperatures ranging between 8℃ and 10℃ for whites and 8℃ - 13℃ for reds. Duration ranges between 6 and 18 hours for whites and 2 to 7 days for reds.

Alpha Estate is the only domaine acknowledging must adjustment. According to Angelos, he will adjust the acidity in Xinomavro must in cool years. Amyndeon is a naturally cool region and so has high acid retention. Xinomavro is a variety with high natural acidity. In cooler years that combination will produce wines with very high acid levels; levels that would sorely tax the softening capacity of malolactic bacteria.

Selected yeasts are used for most alcoholic fermentation with some limited use of indigenous yeasts at Ktimas Gerovassiliou and Pavlidis. The fermentation vehicle of choice is stainless steel tanks with half of the respondents doing some additional fermentation in oak. Fermentation temperatures range between 16℃ and 18℃ for whites (14℃ at Alpha Estate) and 20 - 27℃ for reds.

Courtesy Alpha Estate
A mix of punch downs and pumpovers is used for cap management with Alpha Estate the outlier in that they perform delestage up to mid-fermentation combined with twice per hour pumpovers. Pumpover frequency is reduced towards the end of fermentation.

Press at Ktima Pavlidis

Malolactic fermentation is widely employed for reds with natural ML bacteria as the initiator. The process is either conducted fully in tank or is initiated in the tank and completed in oak barrels. Alpha Estate utilizes selected bacteria for its malolactic fermentation.

Most aging is done in 225L Frenck oak barriques of between one and three years of age. Tsantali utilizes 300L French oak barrels for its aging while Kir-Yianni employs 228L and 500L barrels in addition to the barriques.

Barrel Room at Domaine Biblio Chora
The next post in this series will cover the actual wines produced in the region.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Having been on a similar trip to yours, I very much agree with your first sentence. There was also a lot of enterprise shown: the saving of the Malgousia variety, investment in Rapsani and Metsovo, the introduction of Cab Sauv into high altitude vineyards in Metsovo, and the current pursuit of quality at Alpha. But we must also remember that these are some of the best producers of the region, rather than typical examples.

    1. Steve, thank you for that observation. Obviously I can only report on what I have been exposed to but your comments have spurred me on to explore what that "other side" looks like and to compare and contrast the two.