The trip was organised through the Circle of Wine Writers, and I am very grateful to Ted Lelekas for initiating and leading the visit, to Wines of North Greece for their support including trip expenses within Greece, and to all producers who gave us hospitality. We started in Thessaloniki, and then visited the points of interest in a clockwise direction on this map. For more geographic detail, click on the image and pan and zoom around my Google map.
The producers we visited were Gerovassiliou (G), Tsantali vineyards in Rapsani (H), Katogi Averoff (A), Alpha Estate (B) and Kir-Yanni (K), but we also met many others and tasted their wines. I mention the ones we visited here, because inevitably they had the greatest effect on my overall impression. It is also worth mentioning that about half-way through the 5 days, we took a break from wine-related activities and visited the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai in Vergina, which is probably the most impressive archaeological museum I have ever visited, and a stunning reminder of Macedonia’s historical wealth and power.
From what we were shown, and indeed from what I have read elsewhere, the overriding impression is that producers in North Greece are ambitious, quality conscious and, perhaps most importantly, prepared to drive forward their vision by investing and taking risks. This is not a place largely populated by small family businesses who continue to produce wine according to the tradition of centuries, nor a place that attracts foreign celebrities who come to play out their winemaking fantasies. Here are people serious about rebuilding a modern quality-conscious wine industry.
There is a lot of pride in native grape varieties, and significant efforts have been made to save and protect them. But equally I found a surprising willingness to use international varieties, blended with local or other international grapes, and in varietal wines. Presumably the wines made solely from international varieties are mainly for the Greek market. They must be difficult to sell abroad, where they compete either with classic regions or with whoever can sell cheaply at the commodity end of the market.
The approach to viticulture and wine making is largely based on science and technology. Many of the producers use sustainable viticulture, and I understand there is a certification scheme for this in Greece, but few seem to worry much about being organic. Biodynamics was only mentioned once, and in reply to a direct question from me. The reply was “we have no interest in biodynamics”. I fear most drinkers of quality wine would like a bit of mysticism in the back-story, but personally I applaud the approach of ignoring woo-woo and seeking quality through science and sustainable viticulture.
Indeed, taken as a whole, I found the down-to-earth and business-like approach very refreshing compared with the flannel often heard in wine marketing. It accords more with the “common-sense attitude” in the strapline of my blog.
So those are my general impressions. More about specific parts of the trip later…
Update: Alexandra Anthidou, of Wines of North Greece, indicated that my comments on the use of technology and biodynamics were not generally applicable to Greek wineries. For example, around half of them are in fact biodynamic. The ones we visited, and which formed my impressions, were a selection of some of the more serious, successful and famous wineries. I still suspect that equivalent producers in other countries and regions would project a different image, but I will let you the reader decide on that.