Xinomavro can capture the dreams and hopes of people far away. Laurens Hartman and his wife Annette van Kampen left their comfortable life in Holland behind and founded the Domaine Karanika in Amyndeo. Within a few years, they have managed to produce a number of fine wines that are marked by their individual character. The couple is ambitious and modest at the same time. I have asked Laurens to share his goals and views on a number of issues, as I find it quite fascinating to hear an “outsider who became an insider” view on this ancient variety.
Annette and I decided to follow our common dream to produce top quality wines from Xinomavro. Five years ago, we settled in the far north of Greece just outside Amyndeo and built a modern, eco-friendly winery. Our son Joris was born just before the foundations of the building were laid. I am the winemaker, Annette works the vineyards.
We chose Amyndeo exclusively for its semi-continental climate, the stunning terroir, and of course because of the local Xinomavro clone that has been called “Popolka” for many centuries, and still is today. North West Macedonia has a winemaking tradition that reaches back more than 3000 years. This claim is supported by recent excavations and archaeological research. We are from Northern Europe, and Xinomavro from Amyndeo is the perfect match to our personalities.
Amyndeo is located next to the lake Vegoritis, at an altitude of 650 metres (2100 feet). It is surrounded by 3 giant mountains. The climate exhibits cool nights and hot days during summer, with plenty of rainfalls and snow during the cold winter. Amyndeo has the coolest climate of all wine producing regions of Greece.
Until recently, the wine business in this region was dominated by the local Coop and the huge winemaking factories like Tsantali and Boutari. All of them bought grapes from the local farmers, who were paid by the weight of the grapes. It is my view that this policy led to a decline in the quality: Many farmers started the excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and also applied watering to the vineyards in order to further increase the yields. This resulted in unripe, highly acidic grapes that were unable to yield balanced wines. The other Xinomavro producing regions of Goumenissa and Naoussa have also faced similar problems. The winemaking methods employed (huge tanks, filtration, and pumps) also limit the potential quality of the wine.
We rely on biological and biodynamic farming practises to achieve balance in our vineyards. Our 4.5 ha are planted with Xinomavro vines that are more than 30 years old. In addition, we own a plot of just 0.25 ha with ungrafted, pre-phylloxera Xinomavro vines that are more than 100 years old. From these vines we manage to produce just 250 bottles per year, with yields of only 7.5 hl/ha.
For us, the progress made by some talented winemakers from Naoussa like Thimiopoulos or Haroula Spinthiropoulou from the Argatia winery is very important. At the same time, we want to learn from the way the local people produced wines in the old days. Back then, the wine was fermented in oak, wild yeasts were used, pumps did not exist, no filtration was applied, and extended skin contact took place. We replicate this in our winery, which is a three storey, gravity-flow building. Our respect for the environment is an integral part of the winery design.
One of the most interesting aspects of Xinomavro from Amyndeo is the capability to produce highly aromatic rosé wines, subtle blanc de noirs, remarkable red wines with serious ageing potential, and exceptional sparkling, blanc de noir based wines. The latter can only be achieved by using the method traditionelle. Xinomavro grapes have the correct chemical composition to yield sparkling wines with a tremendous mousse, and everlasting creamy, soft and mouth-filling bubbles. The combination of the natural acidity and the aromatic characteristics of the grapes resemble the famous Epernay blanc de noir wines. This is remarkable but not surprising, as many wine experts compare the still red Xinomavro wines to the classic Pinot Noir wines from Burgundy.
Our dream is to produce world class wines exclusively from Xinomavro in Amyndeo. I believe we are on the right track, but I know that it will take more time and hard work. Until we succeed in our quest, many winemakers will continue to blend Xinomavro with other varieties. I see nothing wrong with this approach. We, the winemakers, should all cooperate and share our knowledge amongst each other. I hope that our son Joris and his friends, who were born at the same time as our Domaine, will make truly iconic Xinomavro wines. This will then close our circle!