After recent visits to Santorini and Crete, I was keen to continue exploring and increasing my knowledge of Greek wines. I could not miss the famous Robola of Cephalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands. Other important grape varieties found on the Island are Muscat of Kefalonia, Vostilidi, Zakynthino, Tsaoussi and Moschatella, and the red grape Mavrodaphne.
I chose to visit Sclavos wines on the Paniki peninsula, following recommendations from the excellent ‘Wines of Greece’ recently published by Yannis Karaksis MW.
I am grateful to Yiannis Papadimitrakopoulos from the winemaking team who gave us a fantastic introduction to Cephalonia and Sclavos wines.Yiannis has a degree in Oenology from the University of Athens and a Masters degree in vine, wine and terroir from the university of Burgundy in France. He has gained great experience in wineries across the world.
The history of Sclavos commences generations ago. Sclavos’s great grandfather made wines in Odessa.
Evriviadis Sclavos runs the business and is a professional viticulturist and adopted the system of biodynamic agriculture. In 2014 they had to seek investment following extensive damage to the winery following an earthquake.
The concept of Biodynamics started in the 1920’s with an Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner.
Biodynamic winemaking involves a set of farming practices that views the vineyard as one organism. Everything in the universe is considered connected including the moon and planets and stars.
It is important to follow the calendar and lunar cycles. There are particular fruit days for harvesting grapes, root days for pruning , flower days to leave the vineyard to rest and leaf days for watering. It is a holistic and homeopathic approach to viticulture.
Natural materials, soils, and composts are used in the vineyard. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are forbidden. Animals such as horses, chickens and sheep roam around helping create a more natural fertile environment. Biodynamic farming seeks sustainability aiming to leave the land in as good or better shape as it was found it for future generations.
Whilst touring the winery we witnessed one of the many natural products used. A crate of dried horsetail. This is made into a form of tea which is diluted many times to create a homeopathic spray to use in the vineyard against disease.
Other more bizarre practices involve burying cow horns filled with manure over the winter preferably from a lactating cow. It is then diluted and sprayed on the soil.
Many of these practices may appear wacky and bizarre. They certainly require a deep passion to follow them.
I have to admit to buying into biodynamism.
Some of the best wines I’ve ever had are biodynamic such as Felton Road, Zind Humbrecht ,Chateau Pontet Canet and Chapoutier.
Sclavos also practice minimum intervention wine making and produce natural wines with no sulphur added and Orange wines often with long aging on lees which protects wine from oxidation
They have 14 hectares of their own vineyards all over the Island including Robola on Mount Ainos
Some grapes are purchased which may not be biodynamic.
Total production is 160000 bottles
They are fortunate enough to have some 100 year old ungrafted phylloxera resistant vines.
Sales are widespread including France and Europe and USA
We were lucky to catch the Last day of the harvest. A team of workers were bringing in the Roditis grapes when we arrived. Interestingly there were red and green grapes. Ioannis explained that they were from the same vines but Roditis can have both colours on the same vine.
I couldn’t resist pinching a few from the sorting table. The pink were decidedly sweeter.
We were led through the process of wine production. First the crates were emptied onto a vibrating conveyer belt with perforations in it so debris falls through.
Then a multitude of workers meticulously picked out debris and any damaged or diseases grapes. At the latter end of the conveyer belt a couple of people snipped the larger bunches into more manageable sizes. They were then fed onto a steeply sloped shelved ramp and fed into the destemming machine.
It was mesmerising watching the destemmer in action. Whole perfectly formed bunches became individual slightly macerated berries and the stripped stems were neatly piled aside ready for composting or feeding to the local goats.
The berries were then pumped via a large bore tube into the hydraulic pressing machine. This is a cleverly designed bit of apparatus.
Once in the metal cylinder a bag inflates inside gently pressing the berries and free flowing juice is pumped off into tanks.
No yeast is added at Sclavos. fermentation begins with naturally occurring yeast.
This method is more risky but leads to more complex wines and is a more natural process.
We followed Ioannis into the winery
I spotted a 1500 litre vat of red grapes. They were releasing a heady aroma of alcohol. They were nearing the end of their 30 day natural fermentation and maceration and needed a daily Pigeage (pumping down)
I was fortunate enough to be allowed to do the manual punch down. I did this with great enjoyment but perhaps not great effectiveness as I didn’t correctly wet the cap on the final motion of punch down.
More expertise in the winery is needed until I can ever produce my chosen cuvee.
Wines tasted outside surrounded by the wineries cats and dogs.
Natural yeast, low sulphite,Good sales in Canada.From the Peloponnese high altitude
Mixture of 4 varieties tsaousi, vostilidi, moscatella, rhoditis(50%)
Citric orange, Bitterness on finish,fresh.
Robolla in a Cephalonia
Robola is indigenous to Kefalonia and is restricted to a specific zone, the Robola zone. Robola of Kefalonia VQPRD. The zone extends from the Omala Valley up to the Paliki peninsula and the surrounding of Mount Ainos Natural Park. Robola nose is often described as citrus blossom , peach and green apple.
Recommended to keep for at least 1 year to develop complexity and mineral notes. Ideal 5-7 years. Mostly grown in a bush traditional system. Bush protects grape from wind and sun via shade.
Robolla vino do Sasso Wine of stone
800 meter altitude high vineyard
Nice floral minerally nose, medium body, fresh acidity citrus and riper stone fruit. Stoney finish. Lovely long.
Efranor 2021 Meaning – fills the heart with joy
Muscat of alexandra 70% 30% Vostilidi, 100 year old. Before phyloxera so ungrafted.
Muscat nose, elder flower, grape, nice mouth feel, fresh herbal green twist to the finish.
Mavrodaphne 80%moscatella 20
Medium pink colour, slight orange hue from oxidation but doesn’t affect taste
Characterful rose, some complexity and texture with fruit.
Biodynamic natural wine, from kostolidi 15 hl per hectare low yield ungraded old vines
Nutty honey complex can age 8 years Urea, clementine very full bodied
Floral develops spice with time good length
Very interesting wine
Made in same way as a red wine whole grapes destemmed in tank. Natural Orange wine
Concrete eggs nil added unfiltered no sulphites no additives, 30 day maceration
Press and take wine, then concrete egg 1 year
Marmalade, musty, dried apricot geranium leaves, dried herbs old sports socks.
Tannins palate back teeth
Gamey fatty lanolin good persistent acidity
Non oaked stainless steel
Light fruit all Mavrodaphne
Crushed raspberries, chalk with a smokey slightly gamey nose. Medium all through soft powdery tannins
Organic grapes Mavrodaphne 100%
70 year old vines 250 meters, soil is calcareous (marly limestone – Maltese slate) fermentation with native yeasts, aging in five hundred litre French oak Allier barrels and also in a three ton oak vinifier for at least twelve months.
Black fruits soft long tannins some spice
Quite long concentrated some savouriness
From Thinia 2 grapes from grandfather of the new investor. Naturally made with log maceration natural yeast biodynamic
Good black fruits round tannins spice savoury
Needs some time to develop
Vin doux du soliel 2019
Made with passito method dried in vineyard Mavrodaphne grapes
Intense concentrated fruit, good acidity, very long delicious