I was recently part of a group that visited Domaine Gioulis Winery & vineyards in Klimenti (or Kliméndi) Greece.
Here are the wine related things that I can remember of the experience. There would be more, but there was so much wine, beer, liquor & food that some details have inevitably or fortuitously been lost.
After studying at the University of Bordeaux, agronomist and oenologist George Gioulis founded Domaine Gioulis in 1993. He was joined by his brother Konstantinos. The vineyard he planted was one of the first to be certified organic in the country and is the only one to hold National Organic Program (NOP) certification in the U.S. Their vineyards are some of the highest in Greece as well.
While George is still the owner, much of the day to day operation is in the capable hands of his children. Dimitris Gioulis is the wine maker & his sister Ermioni Gioulis is the marketing manager.
The village of Klimenti is in the province of Corinth (generally known in America as the recipient of 2 fairly cranky epistles from the Apostle Paul). It is on the slopes of Mount Ziria in northern Peloponnese. The town dates to 1,400 AD. In Klimenti, winters are harsh & summers are relatively cool (generally staying below 90 F).
Because the climate is sunny with adequate, but not high rainfall, it is a good area to pursue organic practices. The winds coming from the Mediterranean and the mountain breeze from the Ziria Mountains also help to reduce the need for chemicals to battle the various molds, mildews, and nematodes that can be the bane of a grape grower’s existence.
We visited two of the Domaine Gioulis vineyards and drove past a third that is laying fallow due to frost issues. They have around 60 acres under vine.
The first vineyard we visited sits at close to 1,000 meters elevation (3,280 feet). It is one of the highest, coolest vineyards in Greece.
The vineyard is surrounded by hills and trees. The soil is calcareous with clay and limestone. Calcareous soils are found in some of the most famous growing regions in the world (Chablis, Champagne, Saint-Émilion). The soils drain well and do not retain heat. The drainage (and relatively porous soil) forces the vines to dig deep for water and establish healthy root systems. The fact that they don’t retain heat means that the grapes ripen more slowly. This allows them to retain acidity while hitting, or in this case just barely hitting, phenolic ripeness. It also allows the red grapes to build solid tannins. That’s a recipe for flavorful grapes, which leads to flavorful wines.
There is distinct variation of the mesoclimate in the vineyard. At one point, there is a gap in the surrounding hills & you can feel cool wind coming in from the Mediterranean. The vines closest to this area may be harvested weeks after others in the vineyard. There is a huge tree on a hill near the gap. It has a beautiful view that on some days allows you to see through to the Mediterranean. Thanks to the ample shade and the breeze, it is a perfect spot for a break or a picnic. At this vineyard, there are some fairly steep plantings of vines. This is a vineyard that requires a maximum amount of manual labor. To make matters more interesting, Dimitris claims that they occasionally run across vipers in the vineyard.
The second vineyard that we visited was at around 800 meters elevation (2,624 feet).
It is still a cooler/higher altitude vineyard, but it is a bit flatter. It is still harvested by hand as well.
The vineyards are planted with both native and international grape varietals. Greek grapes planted include Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero. International varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Chardonnay.
During an amazing lunch at the winery, we tried through the wines.
The wine kept coming and the courses never seemed to stop. Here are some of the wines we tried with a few notes.
Sofos is the brand of wine that Domaine Gioulis sells in the United States. The name means “Wise One” in Greek. You would be wise to check out these wines.
Sofos White Blend 2016 (50%Chardonnay/50% Moschofilero)
This is a lovely wine. Moschofilero is a grape from the Muscat family and as with so many of those grapes, it has a beautiful perfumed, flowery smell. It is pronounced something like Mos ko fee’ le ro. It can be tough to grow because it ripens late and doesn’t handle heat well. That certainly isn’t a problem at their vineyard! This wine shows the fragrant rose and perfume notes that you expect from the grape. The Chardonnay is here probably more for weight and texture than scent, but it does contribute some citrus and melon notes. On the palate, the wine is medium weight (unoaked), with medium plus acidity. It is bursting with pear, apricot, white peach, and melon flavors. There is also a hint of lemon and spice. It has a medium plus finish. This is a wine that is delicious on its own. It also will pair well with seafood, chicken, pasta, and many other meals.
Domaine Gioulis Rose’ 2016 (100% Cabernet)
This is a solid Cabernet rose’. It has red fruit and intense strawberry notes. It has nice acidity, which makes it a good food wine. I must admit that I didn’t take detailed notes on this wine.
Domaine Gioulis Agiorgitiko 2016 (100% Agiorgitiko)
I really feel like this is a grape variety that could be a big hit in the U.S. if it weren’t such a tongue twister for most of us. It is actually the most planted grape in Greece. It is sensitive to fungal infections, but since the Domaine Gioulis vineyards dry quickly, this is not a real problem for them. The wine made from this grape is sometimes referred to as the blood of Hercules because Hercules supposedly drank this wine around the time he killed the Nemean lion. The grape is pronounced Ah yor yee’ ti ko according to http://www.allaboutgreekwine.com/varieties.htm, although my phonetic version is ah yur E tico. Either way, it doesn’t roll off the tongue for most people & it isn’t pronounced the way it is written. That’s a shame, because the spicy, aromatic, fruity wine it produces is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to a broad swath of wine drinkers.
We tried some of the 2016 Agiorgitiko from a tank sample. It was fantastic! My notes say “the wine is damn near purple.” That’s not a technical term, but it works here. On the nose, it has floral notes of roses. On the palate, it has nice acid, spice and spicy cherry. The tannins are medium to medium minus. The finish is medium. We had it with goat & beef & it was great. This may be hard to pronounce, but is almost too easy to drink.
Sofos Red Blend 2016 (50% Agiorgitiko/50% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Cabernet Sauvignon is often added to Agiorgitiko. The Cabernet provides acidity and power, while the Agiorgitiko provides spice and aroma. This ruby colored wine is an excellent food wine. It has sweet spice and chocolate on the nose along with blackberry, raspberry, and a hint of tobacco. That’s also a pretty good description of the palate. I also noticed some plum on the palate that I didn’t notice on the nose. The acidity is medium plus (higher than the 100% Agiorgitiko), the tannins are medium and are soft. The wine spends 6 months on oak and you definitely pick up some oak notes and structure, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The finish is medium. This is a wine that will pair well with a wide variety of foods including stews and grilled meats.
I was impressed with the winery. Their commitment to growing native grapes, their commitment to organic growing practices, their high-quality standards, and their amazing hospitality all stood out.
I also was able to spend time talking to Dimitris and Ermioni and found them to be funny and intelligent, and thankfully, great English speakers. Dimitris studied oenology at the University of Athens. He has a deep knowledge of Greek history and is fiercely proud of his country. Ermioni studied the business side of wine at the École Supérieure de Commerce in Dijon. She is finishing up her WSET Diploma, which I just finished last year, so we talked about the WSET and their way of testing and grading.
The only words I know in Greek are Ya mas, which translates to “to our health.” That’s a common toast & an appropriate one for this winery.
I have many wonderful memories of our trip to Greece. Listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine
by Guns N’ Roses with top of their lungs accompaniment by Melissa Dotson and Ruta Bliukyte while Dimitris drove us through the mountains was a standout. Hanging out and drinking with three locals in Klimenti at 2 AM was pretty cool. We wandered over & joined two men sitting outside a local store that was having the interior painted. When they found out we were from America, they called a friend who had lived in America for a few years to come down and join us. He was a Philadelphia Eagles fan, so we talked football. I never expected to be in a tiny town in Greece discussing Donovan McNabb, but sometimes that’s how things go. We also visited the Acropolis, which was incredible
and had a tour of the museum of ancient Corinth.
If you have an opportunity to visit Greece, I highly recommend it. Until then, I recommend that you look for Sofos wine at your local wine shop. If you can’t find it, check with their importer, Natural Merchants. I’m sure that they will point you in the right direction.