‘When you think of wine producers in Greece making high volumes, the name of Tsantalis comes on top. Exported to 55 countries, about a third of Greek wines are from this winery. This is followed by Kourtakis, based near Athens, making old style wines. We trail them slightly in terms of total volume but are bigger in exports; in fact we are No. 1 Greek wine exporters’ said George Kanakis, Senior Exports and Marketing Manager for Cavino Winery and Distillery, as he picked me up and my journalist colleague from our hotel in Athens to take us for a visit to the Cavino winery and Mega Spileo Vineyards and the Monastery in the mountains.
Peloponnese is one of the two big peninsulas of Greece separated from the mainland, making it virtually an island. Being the number one in agricultural products in Greece including olives from Kalamata, it is important from the point of view of wines as well. It has an area of 15-16% of total Greece but produces about 38% of total grapes. Cavino is the only winery in Aigio City, about 30 kms from the well-known city of Patra in Peloponnese. It’s about 150 kms from Athens and it takes around 2 hours by car to reach here.
On the way to Aigio we cross a bridge over the Corinth Canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. But for this bridge Peloponnese would be an island (although there is a similar bridge near Patra that connects the mainland with this important region). This canal was built in 1893 to allow ships to pass thru-but not used anymore. It makes a great touristic spot.
Established in 1958, Cavino produces wine as well as Ouzo and spirits in the distillery adjoining the winery (this may not be feasible in India according to our excise laws-editor). A total of 18 million bottles are produced annually- 9 million being wine. The focus of the winery is to make a wide array of quaffable wines at affordable prices; and the variety is quite diverse. The grapes are indigenous-like Roditis, Malagouzia, Xinomavro, Savvatiano, Siderites, Muscat, Moschofilero and Mavrodafne as well as international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.
We tasted 10 wines before moving on to visit the Mega Spileo vineyards. The wines were generally good value-for-money quaffable wines- we did not taste much of Deus, the basic wines that are supplied to the supermarket. I liked the Malagousia-quite complex, structured and with more green characteristics and with different personality than Porto Carras or Ktima Gerovassiliou tasted in Macedonia earlier. Mega Spileo Cuvee and Grand Cuvee were particularly exceptional- and once we knew the price we knew that Cavino is quite competitive.
Domaine Mega Spileo
According to official records Mega Spileo Vineyards owned by the Mega Spileo Monastery, used to exist even in 1550. The domain and the winery were used by monks for viticulture and winemaking. It’s located at a beautiful plateau called Lovas, above the picturesque Vouraikos canyon at a height of 800m. The renovation of the vineyard and the planting of new vines took place in 1999 with both indigenous and international varieties including Mavrodafne, Mavro- Kalavritino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Lagorthi, Assyrtiko and others at an altitude varying from 780- to 880m. The area has cool summer, with sea breeze coming from the canyon and mild winter, with some snow or rains, providing uniquely favourable conditions for the vineyard, says George while showing us the vineyards from the main road; the road that one takes you down about 50-100 meters is wet and unsafe for driving down today.
The 11 ha vineyard would be a matter of pride and joy for anyone working on these beautiful vineyards and I felt a pang of envy for those special guests who are invited on special occasions to have lunch served at the vineyard by the road-side all-Greek Restaurant owned by the husband and wife team, that would easily rate as one of the best authentic Greek meals served anywhere in this area.
The production of only 40.000 bottles of high quality wines each year makes it certainly a loss- making proposal and almost negligible quantity out of the total sales of 9 million wine bottles. ‘We have invested a lot of money in these vineyards,’ confides George who says these vineyards were lying abandoned when they rented them from the Church in 1998-988 on a 40-year lease renewable for another 40. For anyone visiting Cavino, tasting wines from Mega Spileo would be a privilege as I had at the winery. The winery is the oldest winery in Greece running like a winery, claims George. They produce 9 labels and some of their wines have been consistently getting 90+ points from Robert Parker.
Export of Cavino Wines
The sales have been growing at 10-15% every year despite a minor setback with one of their major domestic customers, a major international department store chain sold to a Greek company. The wines are exported to 40 countries; 75% of the production is exported. Germany is the biggest market with Cavino being the number one company in Germany for Greek wines. LIDL which gets private labeling also is their major customer. ‘We supply LIDL for their entire requirement for Greek wines in Europe,’ affirms George. Mavrodafne, a sweet wine made in the style of port, a fortified wine aged in barrels sometimes for 15 years is their #1 export.
Europe is the biggest market with the no tax advantage on wines (taxes are levied on spirits) but US and Canada are good market for them too. In fact, as he says, the Quebec Monopoly buys three Greek wines-and one of them is theirs.
Cavino is available in India through Mumbai based Chenab Impex in two varietals Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, both reds from Greece. Jannis Anastassiou whom I met briefly during my visit is the partner and CEO of the company having two families as partners. While welcoming me, he said he was very happy for Cavino to be present in India and was confident that with the efforts of the Indian partner, there would be more varieties added to their Greek portfolio.
Anil Chandhok, the IIT-Mumbai engineer turned food importer who added wines to his portfolio is particularly proud of his Greek portfolio. ‘Our Greek wines are no doubt exceptional and the Cavino winery regularly wins many awards for their different labels. We are importing a red wine from Naousa from Macedonia in the north, made from Xinomavro-the most predominant Greek grape. Cavino Nemea is a red wine made from Agiorgitiko grape variety in the Nemea region. We will add to this range as we go along. In fact this is exactly what we want to do – bring in good, but relatively unknown wines and grape varietals at affordable price points and delight the consumer.’
It is a pity he is not yet importing white wines. Assyrtiko or Moschofilero can be good choices from Greece but Cavino also produces Malagousia, the now-acknowledged Queen of Greek white grapes’. Sooner or later, this unique and delicious varietal will make an entry into India and it is highly recommended to Chenab to add a white-Malagousia and be the pioneer in importing the variety that has the potential to become as popular as Pinot Grigio.
The time for Greek wine for the Indian market is now. The market for Greek wine should be ready, what with the explosive tourism to Greece. The feedback from non-wine drinkers is very positive as they enjoy the Greek wines without any baggage of knowing the varietal, blends or any of the technical jargon. Cavino wines retailing at Rs. 1500 are a great way on initiating a wine drinker- though the absence of white wine could be a temporary drawback. With at least the name of the producer being relatively easy to pronounce and remember, one will see Cavino getting popular in Mumbai and hopefully will reach the Delhi and Bangalore markets as well.
For more information, kindly visit www.cavino.gr
For earlier articles on the other Greek Wineries visited, please visit:
Greece: Indian Columbus in Domaine Porto Carras
Greece: Land of Malagousia and Ktima Gerovassiliou Winery
MAP OF GREEK WINES