Voyatzi Estate

May 1, 2002 Pierre Rovani Reviews Gerovasiliou, Karyda and Voyatzi

greek wine vineyard of voyatzis,velvendos, kozani

The Voyatzi vineyards

Company Name:
  Voyatzi Estate
  Velvendos, Kozani, Macedonia
Oenologist and Vineyardist:
  Yiannis Voyatzis
  US: Sotiris Bafitis Selections
  Find distributors, restaurants or retail locations that sell these wines.

white wine Estate White
  rosé Rosé
red wine Estate Red
Quotes of note:
Oenology has many different sides. When you make wine from great grapes, it is relatively simple thing. When you have to make great wine from problematic grapes, It is a different story, a challenge, but possible more satisfying.

You can't be dogmatic about the use of technology, about filtering, fining, etc. If I need to do something to get the results I want, believe me, I do it.
Other notes:
As far as we're concerned, Yiannis and Nikos had charmed upbringings. Their mother, Margarita makes the best homemade fillo we've ever had. We were invited into the family home at tea-time, where we were fed cheese pies and amazing sweet pastries containing zuchini. We know Greek food well. It doesn't get better than what we experienced that day.
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greek wine maker Yiannis Yoyatzis of Velvendos, Kozani, Makedonia

Yiannis Voyatzis

The Voyatzis Family has had a long association with wine in the village of Velvendos near Kozani, trading since the turn of the century. From around 1932 until 1945, current patriarch Harisis Voyatzis was a grapegrower and winemaker who carried his products by horseback to market at distant Katerini. After the war(s), Harisis, in order to provide better for his family, opened a taverna, devoting the better part of his career to culinary pursuits. Now, he and his family find themselves suddenly near the pinnacle of the Greek wine industry.

As it happens, his son, Yiannis Voyatzis, is a model for young oenologists striving to build careers in the dynamic environment that has evolved in Greece during the past two decades. A fifteen-year stint at the Boutari Group found him Chief Oenologist and Head of Product Development. In the meantime, with the blessing of his father and the help of his brother, Nikos, an engineer by profession, Yiannis has led the family in the creation of a new estate on family property . In this venture they have achieved something many have striven for, but few have achieved, namely a revival of Greek tradition entirely consistent with international standards.

Yiannis' work has provided him with significant experience abroad and in a range of Greek regions. He has a Ph.D. from Bordeaux and has headed important oenological research with Greek and foreign organizations. He speaks with authority about external markets, such as Australia, and has taken their lessons to heart.

A rapid ascension in the domestic Greek market is indicative of the esteem in which this winemaker is held. Among peers, industry specialists and young oenologists, he is often described as the winemaker's winemaker.

The 3 hectare family plot, which was revived and planted with a number of local and cosmopolitan varieties, lies on a gentle slope above lake Polyfyto, an artificial lake formed by a dam in the Aliákmona river. The river flows from the highlands near Kastoria all the way to the Thermaic Gulf just west of Thessaloniki. The unique microclimate this lake has created is entirely to the benefit of grapegrowing, especially since a river-fed breeze flows incessantly along the lake's length during growing season, bathing the lakeside vineyard in cool air.

Plantings began in 1991 and now include Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay for Western varieties, the local Xynomavro (a unique and more extraordinary clone than the common version), Moschomavro, Vapsa and other local red varieties and Roditis, Batiki, Malvasia Aromatika and other local white varieties. What seems to be a complex range of cultivars, however, results in a very focused portfolio. The reason? Voyatzis specializes in three blends: a red, a white and a rosé. As both a master blender of wine and a solid believer in the local tradition of making wine that reflects a complex and varied—even chaotic—vineyard, Voyatzis has adopted a facility with blending that is legendary in the Greek wine industry.

church at Velvendos, Kozani, Makedonia

A fresco-adorned Byzantine church in the village above the winery

His first step is to evaluate the components of the wine. For logic's sake and because not all varieties ripen simultaneously, each variety is vinified alone. When barrel contact is involved, that usually means separate aging, too. So, for instance, his red, containing Xynomavro, Cabernet, Merlot, Moschomavro and Vapsa, may result from as many as four distinct vinifications. The Xynomavro cannot stand new oak. The Cabernet and Merlot can take 30% new oak, the other varieties need none at all. The Xynomavro is chosen both for its regional importance and for its powerful character. The Cabernet and Merlot, says Voyatzis, add complexity and are fermented and aged of a piece. The other varieties are blended after the previous three, and are responsible mainly for aroma. A similar process accounts for his white and rosé.

greek wine makers Harisis and Margarita Yoyatzis of Velvendos, Kozani, Makedonia

Parents, Harisis and Margarita

It would seem that this process results in some tough decisions for Voyatzis. Yet it is precisely this process that gives him a thrill;

It is my extreme pleasure to taste wines for blending. You analyze and synthesize. For me it is a passion. The tasting, actually, is the beginning of the process I love best. It excites the imagination. I taste ten wines and try to imagine them together, then an idea hits me and I try to achieve it. It is exciting to take components that are unbalanced and create harmony from them.

Thus far, Voyatzis has accomplished a lot with the bare minimum of winemaking facilities. Vinifying in what Americans would call a barn, and aging the wine in the cellar of his parent's home can hardly have been easy. Now a well-designed modular winery adjacent to his vineyard is nearing its first stage of completion. Production is, and will remain low (25,000 bottles annually). Voyatzis now has the best of both worlds: the sense of both comfort and achievement that come from successfully climbing the corporate ladder, and the pleasure of establishing a name for his own wines.

The wines:

view of lake of greek wine maker Yiannis Yoyatzis of Velvendos, Kozani, Makedonia

View of the lake from the new winery.

Estate White 1999
This wine contains many varietal components. The leading cultivar here is Roditis, followed a more or less equal admixture of about 15% each of Chardonnay, Batiki and Malvasia Aromatika. These are barrel fermented individually (5-6 months) in 40% new, 60% old oak. The remaining percentages are made up by a handful of steel fermented local white varieties (the aromatic component). The result is a strikingly elegant wine, straw yellow with a hint of green around the rim, with gentle aromas. The wine has medium body and a quiet acidity that allows middle fruit to stand out. A light, but creamy mouth feel is followed by more a more intense Rhone-like finish, simultaneously subtle and complex.

Rosé 1999
This I consider one of the most daring Greek wines of its class. Good rosé seems to flow from Greek vineyards, as well it should. Voyatzis, rather than following the path of least resistance, has set up hurdles for his rosé: it would have been easy to have used only his distinct Xynomavro clone–Xynomavro makes notoriously good rosé–applied basic principles and have been done with it. Instead, his Xynomavro is blended with the richer Moschomavro, then fermented in old oak. A small amount of red wine is added for the final blend. Here there is a distinct reference to the pre-steel rosé traditions of Greece's past. Like many producers of rosé from Xynomavro, Voyatzis appreciates the variety for its nervousness. Here its liveliness is coupled with dark, woody aromas and, not surprisingly, some tannin. Just off-dry, this wine shows great fruitiness and complexity. We're tempted to wonder what complexities would develop after a couple of years in bottle. This certainly the most unique product we encountered of its kind and in its class in Greece.

Irini Zande, assistant to greek wine maker Yiannis Yoyatzis of Velvendos, Kozani, Makedonia

Able assistant, Irini Zande

Estate Red 1998
The 1999 vintage, according to Voyatzis, was "questionable." Vinification was problematic, but the results speak to his skill as a winemaker. A red of medium body, but reasonable extraction, this wine manages firm structure. If, perhaps, there could have been more concentration, a smooth, smoky quality and dark fruit contributes to a notable sipping wine.

Estate Red 1999 (prerelease)
This wine finds Voyatzis back in his element. This is an intense wine with an unbeatable combination of ripe fruit, old vine character and solid body. Some time in bottle may soften the strong, but good tannins, but even at this stage, with tannins accompanied by some velvety texture and cocoa, this is decadent, Wine Spectator stuff, ample indication of Voyatzis' qualifications for the New World. Normally his red spends 18 months in barrel. In this vintage, tannins were so pronounced, the wine was aged longer to soften them. According to Voyatzis, "I couldn't get rid of them." Though slightly challenging at the stage at which we tasted it, it was one of the more satisfying Greek reds we have tried. Who could fault a bold young wine with great potential for aging and a distinct personality that defies easy categorization?
The originality and unquestionable quality of this wine will go a long way towards establishing a name for Voyatzis beyond Greece's borders.

The importance of family is written all over this venture. Says, Yiannis, "I never would have embarked on this project without the support of my father." Harisis may also be the link to the local cultivars and traditions that differentiate the wines from all others. Nikos has played an important role in the development of what propends to be a model, expandable winery and is in charge of marketing. The family is fortunate to have have in its employment a competent assistant in many matters, Irini Zande, a chemist who assists with oenological matters as well as performing an important function as office administrator.


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