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Sunday
Jun142015

Greece part 2- Vergina and Metsovo 

I woke to the incessant calling and chatter of swifts as they darted and dived all around my hotel suite, which gave out onto a veranda and when I turned around in the bright sunlight there it was as large as life, you could almost touch it, snow-covered Mount Olympus. I decided to skip breakfast and to instead go for a walk. I'm not sure anyone told me we were on a beach, but there it was a long beach with gentle waves lapping and miles of nothing but sand and a line of white beach loungers. In the distance a small fishing boat on the beach with some fisherman but apart from this I was alone and could have walked for ever along that beach but we had an 8.30 departure time, we were heading north, so I satisfied myself by taking a lot of photos for my wine and destination portfolio and dug my toes into the wet sand and watched the waves cover my feet. I was touching the Aegean sea for the first time, behind me all the many aquamarine pools of the spa and Mount Olympus and in front of me the sea stretching to the horizon.

 

 













 

 

 

I ate a hasty fruit breakfast while some of the group were mulling over the coffee machine. Our plan for the day once we got in the bus was to head north stopping along the way because Ted had a treat for us. It was as he said, after his coffee stop, the only non-wine part of the trip, we were going to the tombs of the Macedonian Kings and Queens at The Palace of Philip the second (359-336 BC) at Aigai, Vergina. After the Parthenon the most important building of Classical Greece.

Our group was led by an expert on the tombs and we got to see the actual preserved tombs and the sealed doors after the discovery, the excavation was carried out in the seventies by the discoverer archaeologist. With a throne room and a classical style room of 280 metres square, the palace was inhabited and undisturbed for two centuries. After visiting the tombs we went on to view the magnificent crowns of gold oak leaves the golden burial casks, silver and bronze utensils, swords and tools, amphora and silver wine vessels. Really worth a visit and I consider myself very lucky to have seen this. Note: no photos allowed inside.

From here we filed onto the bus and hit the high road towards the mountains at Metsova on the border with present day Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria. It was a good long drive and we arrived At the Katogi Averof winery and hotel high in the hills in the afternoon ready for a walk to the nearby monastery.

The Katogi Averof story begins with planting the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Greece which were brought from Chateaux Margaux in France by Alex’s grandfather Evangelos, on the steep slopes of Mount Pindos. The privately owned vineyards at Giniets are the most mountainous in Greece at an altitude of 1100 metres. The varieties cultivated in the 12 hectares presently are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Traminer, Vlachiko, Xinomavro and Debina. The winery operational since 1973 now has a production capacity of 1,000,000 bottles. The cellars which Ted and Alex the grandson of the founder, whose capable hands the estate will now pass to, led us in a tour of, were simply amazing. They house 1200 oak barrels and events are hosted regularly there in the tasting rooms. The company produces 14 labels and exports wine to eleven countries.

 

 

Alex led us on a fascinating tour of the nearby local chapel and monastery his family helped restore and maintain when it was deserted during the troubles, is truly worth the walk down a thousand stone steps to get into the valley with a vineyard of old vines. Passing through the village to the path we met a shepherd with his flock of sheep, he is one of the suppliers of sheep’s milk to the cheesemakers in the valley whose artisanal cheeses we had tasted at the hotel. We watched him and his black faced ewes skipping off after him down the valley. Pastoral Greece a slice of times gone by. The backdrop to this scene was the soaring mountains and the recent arched bridge spanning the entire valley built with EU money. Along the path with waterfalls we stopped on to take photographs and drink in the peace, I spotted a sign attached to a tree, a single large paw with claws, the brown bears live here.

 

Alex then led us to a precipitous edge over which the high altitude slopes below, were laid out the neat patchwork of vineyards. I stood with him on that ledge for a photograph while the acrophobic in the group gasped. What a view, and it seems the winery could not have passed more safely into the hands of the next generation of winemakers than the young Alex whose passion for his family's legacy, the amazing family museum of local history he guided us around and his natural flair for hospitality made us feel very welcomed and inspired. A tasting of the wines in the tasting room was really interesting, they recently introduced two screw-top wines from a sister winery a dry white, called White dot and a red called Mountain Fish that are ready to enter the UK market. We tasted the whole range from the Malagousia and the Tramier,through to the reds. Later that night we dined together with the winemaker Dimitri Ziannis on local specialities and roast lamb and potatoes, with some very drinkable wines all rounded off with a lovely local apple dessert. Next morning our last view of the pretty setting from the lovely rooms all with a fireplace and lounge for those winter nights. We breakfasted on the famed thick Greek yogurt and preserves and tasted a sparkling wine from Santorini by Tsantali with breakfast. Our third day had begun and it was to be action packed.

 

Rates at the 4 star boutique hotel and winery Katogi Averoff  start at 55 Euro the hotel has exclusive suites for couples and familes and all the rooms are original, with fireplaces and are spacious. The breakfast is amazing. Full board can be arranged. 

website Katogi Averoff.

Sunday
May312015

Greece part 1- The Wines of Northern Greece

 
On a late spring day in June my flight took off from Bergamo and we headed out towards the Dalmatian coast and Croatia, with me pressed with my nose and camera against the window marvelling at a thousand islands, destination Greece.

There were to be twelve of us wine-writer journalists, in the Circle of Wine writers group on a trip through the vineyards of Northern Greece with the irrepressible Ted Lelekas as our guide. Ted's enthusiasm for his country, its culture food and wines was hard to miss and we were all soon drawn in.

So it was that we started the first evening in the Palace hotel in the ancient city of Thessalonica with a tasting of the winemakers from some wineries and regions we would not visit. Places like Drama, Santorini, Pydn, Rodopi. With us on the organising-hosting team were Alexandra Anthidou from Wines of Northern Greece encompassing thirty nine different wineries and also Lily Dimitriou and Kiri Panagiotou of Tsantali.

Quite a few the grapes were rather new to me with-hard-to-pronounce names Assyrtiko, Agioritiko, Xinomavro and Mavrotragano.

 Of course some I had encountered before such as the icon white grape Malagousia, with Limnio bring the oldest of the Greek reds. Northern Greece has adopted quite a number of international grapes being used either to blend with local grapes or to make as a single variety wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewürztraminer Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

Interesting to see producers in the Drama area using Italian grapes to experiment with Verdicchio, Vermentino and most bravely, Sangiovese and the Portuguese Touriga Nacional  at Wine Art Estate  we tasted their wines and also those of Kitima Pavlidis who produce Tempranillo wines. I noticed too Malvasia being used to blend with local grapes.

Up to now I had at least encountered the Retsina wine that Greece is most famed for and at the airport had a Moscofilero white from Boutari which was not entirely unfamiliar. Nothing however could prepare me for the finesse with which Eleni Kechri with her family's fourth-generation winery Stelios Kechris Domaine produces the famed Tear of the Pine and other Retsinas, along with the T brand wine a blend of Xinomavro, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We also tasted a Muscat dry white, all designed to provide a perfect match with the fish, grilled cheeses, feta tomato and olive oil based Greek dishes.

The tasting was followed by a dinner with the winemakers in a local restaurant with a varied fish-based tasting menu followed by main courses all put together with great attention to detail with the wines, the food was delicious. We also enjoyed Maronia made from indigenous Mavroudi from the village of Maronia Thrace.

The stage was set and I retired to bed with Greece and its wines dancing around in my mind.

Our first morning in Greece we clambered onto a luxury bus designed to carry us and our equipment with Ted Lelekas to the far flung wineries we would visit mostly two or so hours apart. Our first stop was at Domaine Gerovassiliou in the Eponomeo region about half and hour from the city. The estate looks out over the bay and onto the snow-covered Mount Olympus and great way to get the geography and ancient history cogs going in the brain. The Oenologist Vangelis Gerovassiliou has laid out vineyards 56 hectares in extent producing Limnio, Mavroudi, Mavrotraano,Syrah, Merlot, Grenache Rouge, Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viogner. The compa with a production capacity of 350,000 bottles produces ten labels and exports to twenty countries. 

We were shown around the winery by Assistant winemaker /Oenologist Thass Giantsidis, who also shared the amazing corkscrew museum with a fascinating and amusing collection of corkscrews and wine making tools from every era and every part of the world. We then tasted the wines and there were excellent wines in each category, with my favourite being the Malagousia, with notes of fresh citrus and quince, which I determined from then on would become a project of mine. We shared a fabulous, light, fresh and expertly prepared lunch showcasing the wonderful fresh produce all around the bay and the local fish. The chefs are spoiled for choice and the wine pairing was simply great, all enjoyed in the beautiful modern restaurant-tasting room overlooking a wonderful view.

 

Back in the bus we drove around the bay and south to the foothills of Mount Olympus at Rapsani were we had a Safari four by four experience awaiting us organised by our hosts Tsantali. As we clambered out of the bus sporting our lovely white Rapsani branded Panama hats in the warm late afternoon sun, we were excitedly chatting about the journey up to the vineyards which cling to the mountains. Loaded into the shortwheel base land rovers we soon left the tar road and were bumping along a dirt road which became a track through virgin forests of oak and streams. At the vineyards we stopped and had a tasting of the famed Rapsani Xinomavro (meaning sour black) wines that I had met when having my birthday dinner at a Greek Restaurant in Italy, life is indeed serendipitous. We took photographs in the vineyards and then bumped along in the fresh air to visit a truly extraordinary small Orthodox church built during Ottoman and Turk occupation for the winegrowers above the village of Rapsani. We then visited the wine museum set up in the village of Rapsani and wandered from there through the houses built on the slopes to a taverna down in the village square where a traditional meat-based feast had been prepared for us. Three courses in and really enjoying the magnums of Rapsani Reserve wines from 1999 on to the 2009 (by then I wasn't taking notes) designed to pair with exactly these meat and tomato based dishes, some at the table who had arrived starving had to now throw in the towel. I soldiered on... Grilled lamb perfectly prepared will simply never be turned down by me. Plate after plate of food arrived, perfectly fried thick cut chips and Greek salads so fresh with huge hunks of the freshest feta cheese, I loved it all, Haloumi, vegetable relishes, I even tried the honeyed fruit preserves at the end. It was finger-licking food, and then came the lamb chops, and the sirloin.... We had magnums of wine to taste still and suddenly one understood the Xinomavro grape a little better, for without food and some age they are super tannic, but carefully made, blended skilfully, given age and paired with this food, yes! It was the perfect end to an action packed day. The sun had long sunk over the village square as we climbed aboard the bus and drove 45 minutes to a Spa hotel in the foothills.

 

Thursday
Mar192015

The beautiful South, MCC, a harvest and p.s. the mountains are on fire.

My visit to my hometown Capetown started and ended on a high. From the moment my daughter picked me up at the airport in her new car that she had signed the papers on moments before,and we drove past UCT, my old house, and up past Kirstenbosch under an impossibly blue sky, past Constantia and Chart farm towards Muizenburg and St.James, I knew it was going to be special.

Capetown has days that I call champagne days,when the magnificence of the sky against the purple mountain, the green of the trees and the blue of the sea is made even better by a slight crispness to the 30-degrees-Celsius air. This Saturday was one of those.

As we drove towards the sea at St.James beach and then unloaded the bags into the apartment after storing the car in the garage, I was saying again what a glorious day,as we walked towards Olympia Cafe to have a glass of wine and food. ” Ya, Ma” said my daughter to me, in the way you would to a slightly slow child, “its CapeTown”. “But it’s beautiful hey”, I said to the the little flags of Kalk Bay fluttering gently in the breeze. “You, lived here” … she looked at me puzzled.” But hell, it’s gorgeous hey!” I said laughing as she dragged me into the cafe.

Sunday was spent in bliss after a night listening to the sea crashing on what seemed like the verandah, we rose, drew up the blinds on day from the Gods. We sat on the bench there looking out past the lighthouse at Kalk bay with the fishermen and onto, Simonstown and distant False Bay ringed with mountains. We had a lovely breakfast and watched the surfers attack the waves,and then once on the beach, flick their hair in the way that surfers have to.Then we strolled around all the little antique shops for an hour and did, actually did some shopping, pretty much bliss to me.


I was dropped off at the Vineyard Hotel on that Sunday ready to have lunch with Anne who was waiting for me. It was the sold-out MCC event at the Vineyard hotel gardens A place so familiar to me in every way, my office was across the way on Campground Road until 2003. I lived in Newlands. We came for lunch,drinks,coffee,dinners,always and for weddings and our conferences often.

The Vineyard hotel whose beautiful gardens and grounds give on to the Liesbeck stream which flows through Newlands and has that wonderful backdrop that Newlands has of being right under the mountain with Devils peak dominating every view. It’s one of my favourite spots and sitting in the garden with the gentle splashing fountain is recommended if you have had enough of crowds of people. Pretty much explains my life most days.

 

 

We were here for the MCC or Method Classic Cape for the uninitiated. The most delicious sparkling wines on the planet. From the richest salmon pink to the Brutist Brut.  I worked my way through the close to 30 wineries who now make such delicious wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and had set up on the lawns.Old friends and names that I Iove were everywhere. From my favoured   DeVilliers family Boschendal *now DGB owned, the excellent Graham Beck, to one of my winemaker top tens, Klein Constantia from the other side of the peninsula.

The list of the wineries included. Saronsberg, Stellenrust, DomainedesDieux, DeWetshof, Villeria, Charles Fox, Waterford,Steenberg, Krone. Also spotted out and about were the famous and enormous Vineyard tortoises.

A live band in the garden provided the entertainment on a gorgeous afternoon.

I live and work in Europe now and am always so amused to hear people referring to those New World people who irrigate their vines. 1685 when Boschendal and some of the older estates were founded doesn’t seem that New World to me, It puzzles them. I prefer Southern Hemisphere. I work with and around the Franciacorta area of Italy which has its own denominated and controlled methode classico sparkling wines. Hand-turned for twenty four months in the bottle. So  Champagne,  Cape Classic and Franciacorta thats it as far as the top goes.

 

 

The GM of the Vineyard Roy Davies and his Food and Beverage team led by Matt Deitchman can be justifiably proud of this Sparkling event which looks set to be a fixture on my calendar. I have attended the Franschhoek bubbles festival quite a few times and this was just as lovely, not everyone can get out to Franschhoek from the deep South.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Roy told me about their own grapes replanted there on the banks of the Liesbeck in 2009 they were harvesting the next morning right down on the Liesbeck. Yes as it turned out they had started harvest in 2013 and this was to be their third harvest of the Semilion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Harvest time was at 7am the following morning I could hardly wait. I elected to sleep over in Wynberg. The traffic from St James in the morning would be quite something. We went off to Annes place in Wynberg for a sundower on the fifth floor looking over Constantia and Muizenberg to the back. As as we got there I noticed that the mountain had started burning over toward Silvermine And OuKapseweg. By the time we had returned from the Alphen Hotel, where we had a good dinner outside on the patio and some really good reds from Thelema Stellenbosch, the mountain was on fire all the way across. Just as well I hadn’t tried to go back to Kalk bay I thought.

At 7am bright and early about twenty of us gathered on the banks of the Liesbeck, secateurs in hand, with all the crates laid out. There was orange juice and MCC chilled and ready in a silver wine cooler laid out on a table. We weren’t all novices, we were joined by Brian from Warwick and Carlo from Klein Constantia. Five wine farms are involved in the Liesbeck project. Meerlust, Simonsig, Warwick, Waterford and Klein Constantia. More experience one couldn’t possibly wish for. We set upon the rows with dedication and soon all the crates were full and the vines bare. I got a great pair of secateurs.

 

Past vintages of The Liesbeck grapes

 

 

I had helped with harvests in Italy and I assure you there was no laid on drinks or food, you maybe got a sip of water under the beating sun, and then at lunch trooped inside for a pasta lunch. Of course this was much more fun, and after the grapes were safely stored we went up to the lovely, open and sunny swimming pool room for a full breakfast with more MCC with the team. We were joined by Roy and some of his Food & Beverage and marketing team over a lovely breakfast, were I chatted with George Petousis CEO whose family are careful and proud custodians of the Vineyard hotel, the Oudewerf hotel and the Townhouse. We spoke about the heritage buildings of Capetown and how sad I was that the Alphen had lost some of its centuries old patina now.

 

 

 

As we drove back to Kalk Bay that morning hoping that the road wasn’t closed, it was slowed to a crawl, I looked over at Rhodes cottage as two helicopters filled the sky with the whoop whoop whoop sound of the rotors and a spotter plane flew overhead. A sense of foreboding came over St James Beach. I stood on my veranda watching three helicopters with the most expert of pilots come down over the railway line like dragonflies dipping down into the shallow waters of Kalkies harbour. They scooped up the water in suspended buckets and then moved over to the left past my kitchen window to dump the water in the fire starting to cut over the ridge behind me. This went on for two hours  or so like clockwork. I sat drinking the la Vierge Chardonnay from Hermanus on the verandah with handfuls of biltong.

That night I had yellowtail cooked by a young Australian at the Annex resturant in the old Majestic hotel. Kalk bay was calm again. I walked down to Harbour House for lunch the next day, and as I crossed the traffic lights to go into the harbour noticed a puff of smoke from the other side above Boyes drive which they were now closing.. I watched a small plume of smoke from the other side of the mountain turn into a raging inferno in the space of twenty minutes fanned by the winds which had got up from the north. Black billows of smoke streamed over the mountain. No helicopters could fight it from this side, the wind was wrong, the smoke too thick. They were fighting it from the Hout bay side. I watched with a bunch of assorted people, the staff, the chef, over lunch, (beautiful fish and wine from my great table as always), until 4 pm as they fought it with water and it raged on. All I could do was photograph it. I felt helpless for the wildlife that was caught in that awful fire raging across kilometers of mountain every minute.

 

That night as I prepared some tea while looking out of the kitchen window I saw the fire had cut down the mountain just behind us no more than two hundred metres away and with the wind change, had now jumped Boyes drive and was right behind the houses and ash and shoot were so thick in the air I had to close up all the windows. I watched as darkness fell and the mountain burned towards Muizenberg never sure if the houses including me would be evacuated. Behind me people started packing up their pets to get out if it came into the trees behind them. I listened to the radio for updates . Boyes drive was closed. Main road became still, we were cut off. They were fighting fires over the entire mountain now it had gone as far as Constantia,Tokai, Steenberg.

 

That night the moon was full, I photographed it on the sea orange and red with all the smoke. The heat was incredible it had been 42C most of the day in Capetown. No one slept. The next morning the fire was still smoldering there. I walked down towards Muizenberg to see if it had burnt down towards Rhodes cottage. It had, it was right in the trees and brush behind the houses. I walked past the beautiful thatched roof Anglican church still intact. The sprinklers on the thatch roof of Rhodes cottage weren’t working? I stopped to talk to the fireman fighting the fire with their hoses from the house next door. It was right down in the garden. I thought back to 2000 when I was living in Constantia and it came right into my garden we fought it with wet sacks hosepipes and sand. The sprinklers on the thatch roof of Rhodes cottage weren’t working! I stood in the garden with the caretaker as the garden hose was employed to wet the building at the back. How close this fire was, you could feel it, smell it. The helicopters right were over us bombing it with water as we stood helplessly in the garden hoping against hope that the flames or sparks did not reach that dry as-a-bone-roof.

 

It felt like an apocalypse, It was, for those fighting it. All night vigils had been held for rain. We need rain now ….and at that very moment, drops started failing from the sky, at first we thought water from the helibuckets, but no , bigger drops. As we stood there, they beat harder and harder on my head, a better feeling I have never had. I smiled with them, bid everyone farewell and started walking back towards Kalk Bay, The whole Peninsula breathed a sigh, cars halted all along the main road were hooting in celebration. People were mouthing “Its Raining!” by the time I got to my breakfast cafe I was drenched, what a morning. I had some amazing shots. Later a burst of ten minutes of rain gave the answer we had all been waiting for, the rain had helped. The battle wasn’t over but we were winning. Part 2 to follow.

 

 

Copyright Donna Jackson 2015 on all words and photos.

A fullstream of the all photos will be published on Flickr. Please request a code.

Sunday
Mar152015

Verona Vinitaly 2015 edition bigger and better than ever.

 Update...  Vinitaly 49th edition, 2015.  to be held in Verona,  holds much promise to discover new wines, winemakers and some great interviews. I will be bringing you all the news, photos and statistics in and around Verona again.

 

 2013. 2014 edition. scroll down for previous posts.This month saw the  47th edition of Vinitaly certainly the largest winefair in Europe, if not the world. Italy makes an enormous quantity of wine in every price point and they were all there from the bottom of Sicily to the border of Switzerland where I live on lake Como, along with winemakers, marketing teams,  wine agents, brokers, wine ambassadors, writers, bloggers olive oil producers, glass bottle manufacturers, and tens of  thousands of  visitors daily from all over the world.

Thursday
Mar282013

Wine #Vinitaly 2015 upcoming 49th edition, 

 Update...  Vinitaly 49th edition, 2015.  to be held in Verona,  holds much promise to discover new wines, winemakers and some great interviews. I will be bringing you all the news, photos and statistics in and around Verona again.

happy Easter, 

 2013 edition.This month saw the  48th edition of Vinitaly certainly the largest winefair in Europe, if not the world. Italy makes an enormous quantity of wine in every price point and they were all there from the bottom of Sicily to the border of Switzerland where I live on lake Como, along with winemakers, marketing teams,  wine agents, brokers, wine ambassadors, olive oil producers, glass bottle manufacturers, and tens of  thousands of  visitors daily from all over the world.

 

Around the actual main fair are tastings, meetings and dinners of every type, some top-draw some simple, but all facinating. The  Franciacorta pavilion where I spent quite a bit of time between tastings and interviews was packed to the gills all day. It was the pavillion that seemed the most popular, out of the ones I had meetings and tastings in namely Piemonte, Tuscany, Maremma, Sicily, Campagnia, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Umbria, Lazio, Trento, among others,  I wondered why, and spoke with various producers and presidents until I came to the local truth. Its where people start with an aperitivo right at the gate, in its swanky Franciacorta surroundings and then finish off at the end  with a closing drink before leaving from the gate,  makes perfect sense.

Although I must say Franciacorta is growing in popularity as I hear from the leaders in the region, I also visited my old friends who make wine from Bolgheri on the Tuscan Coast to Serralunga d Alba in Piemonte and whose wineries have been featured in this blog.  See my most recent  blogpost  winery visit.

 

I participated and filmed a fabulous vertical  tasting with the ever lovely Bianchi family of Villa Franciacorta fame, and other friends and then enjoyed a wonderful dinner at their newly revamped villa and  winery. The sumptuous meal attented by press and Franciacorta clients from throughout Italy was a real treat and I shall be writing up my tasting notes when I post the videos with the menu.

The charming couple, our hosts Roberta and her husband Paolo, treated us to a winetour, and  later an evening to remember in true Franciacorta style.

I shall be covering the area extensively, but since I am also  followed by those who are not wine nerds, I will keep this post photographic and stats based.

Here is the link to my full photostream of Vinitaly in verona 2012. If you wish to use the images please leave me a note and I will approve use under certain  creative commons conditions

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wisequeen/7035819111/in/photostream/

 

 

So Vinitaly Facts  2012

exhibitors... 94,966 sq.m. of area

 
4,164 exhibitors, 94 international

 
156,033 visitors, 50,066 international

 
2,625 journalists, 328 international

visitors,

wines on show... thousands 

bottles poured during the show, 10's of thousands 

Accomodations occupied in and around Verona in a 100km radius  during the week of vinitaly- every single room, no room at the inn...  and many people travel in for the day from across Veneto, and also Milan, Modena, Parma, Cremona, Bergamo, Como, Brescia and the entire Po plains. to enjoy the show.