Golden olive branch goes to Domaine Gerovassiliou

Those who kept up with the news via the Internet knew about it on May 12. The rest found out three days later, when the results were announced officially. At the large international wine competition, Challenge 2001, held every year for the last 25 years in Bordeaux, a few days before the great international exhibition VINEXPO, a white wine from Domaine Gerovassiliou won the golden olive branch. With so many international competitions and Greek wines regularly winning silver and bronze medals, and often gold medals as well, you may ask what all the fuss is about and why this is such a great achievement. It is not just that few competitions have the prestige of the one in Bordeaux, in which there were 5,000 wines sampled of which only 180 – including a Greek wine – won gold medals. In this competition the judging committees comprise not only recognized winetasters, but also enlightened oenophiles- wine-lovers who have taken courses in winetasting. The latter represent consumers and it is their judgment which counts when it comes to the reputation of a wine and its sales. A perfectly packaged wine which the market no longer wants, either because it is old-fashioned or because buyers want more contemporary flavors, will not sell. It is not news if wines made from internationally known varieties such as white Chardonnay, red Merlot-Cabernet, white Sauvignon-Semillon or a red Syrah-Grenache win a competition like this, because winetasters – both expert professionals and enlightened oenophiles – are used to tasting wine made from combinations of these varieties, which are now grown throughout the length and breadth of the earth. Winetasters can recognize their varietal composition blind and compare the various wines. Greek wines of these or other similar compositions took part in the competition, and it is worth mentioning that they won silver and bronze medals, which confirms the high degree of expertise Greek wineries have attained. For a Greek wine to win the gold medal when it is not made from internationally known varieties but from two local ones, Assyrtiko and Malagousia, is news indeed. Not only does it confirm the high-quality potential of certain Greek white wine varieties – which some of us have been asserting for many years – but it is also proof that the pioneers who grew these varieties outside their narrow area of origin from which they skillfully produced wine, have succeeded in earning them a reputation as varieties from which fine wines can be made. The outcome of the competition is like a snapshot of wine quality for that year’s vintage. A wine that wins one year may not necessarily win the next. So it is worth pointing out that Domaine Gerovassiliou, which won a gold medal at Challenge 2001, also won the Prix d’Excellence in 1998. The white Domaine Gerovassiliou was also selected by Decanter magazine, a leading wine magazine, as one of 50 rising stars from around the world which were included at an event organized by the magazine at the Landmark Hotel in London on May 17, this year (Decanter Rising Stars, Fine Wine Encounter). This event was only for wineries and producers that meet certain standards in quality and that make wines described as icon wines of the future. Hundreds of British experts, wine restaurateurs, wine waiters, wine merchants, journalists and enlightened oenophiles came to taste the rising stars, the wines of the future. I am touched to see among the star personalities involved with the wines of the future a young Greek – an agriculturalist/viticulturalist who has studied in France, a vinegrower and winemaker – who is valued for his knowledge, skill and ethics. And I am no less touched to see that, thanks to his skill in vinegrowing and winemaking, two indigenous Greek varieties – Assyrtiko and Malagousia – are judged by reputable tasters to be varieties that will produce the wines of the future. The viticulturalist About 25 kilometers south east of Thessaloniki lies Epanomi, an area that was thickly planted with vines until the phylloxera pest ravaged Macedonian vineyards in the early 20th century. The area is dominated by five hills, which were formed by soil washed down toward the sea over the centuries. When the Gerovassiliou family plowed the land deeply to set up their family vineyard, they found bones and shells. In 1983 they planted the first tracts of Assyrtiko and Malagousia on the slope of a hill. Now Domaine Gerovassiliou is a single privately owned vineyard of 28 hectares, of which 10 hectares are planted with with Assyrtiko and another 10 with Malagousia. The vine roots go very deep – some as much as five meters – in this light, well-drained soil, which is basically sandy with a small amount of lime (20 percent) and clay (22 percent). As the vineyard stretches down the slope from north to south, the plants get the benefit of cool meltemi (etesian) winds and offshore north winds, and they do not suffer from the heat in summer. Though both varieties are drought-resistant, the estate has a weather station to measure air and soil humidity so that the plants can be drip-watered only when the measurements indicate they really need it. Depending on annual rainfall and summer temperatures, they need watering 2-3 times a year. Each plant gets about 50 kilos of water per watering. At the peak of the vine-clad slope is the winery. The method that Vangelis Gerovassiliou employs to make his gold-medal-winning wine will be the subject of the next column.

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