Semeli Wines was founded in 1979 by George Kokotos and his wife Anne. George Kokotos, a civil engineer by profession and pioneer by nature, was one of the first waves of wine producers to concentrate on producing limited quantities of fine wine. The company owns an estate in northern Attica in the foothills of Mount Penteli. It was in this area that, according to Greek mythology, Dionysos the God of wine first taught man the cultivation of the vine and introduced the culture of wine to the Greeks. It is certainly accepted that the area was well known to the ancient Greeks for producing high quality wines and the remains of the theatre of Dionysos can still be visited today. In honour of this association the first wines were given the name of "Semeli", Dionysos’ mother.
The vineyards in northern Attica, of 7.5 hectares, have been progressively re-planted since 1980 with international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot -including 4 Hectares Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.5 Hectares Merlot and 3 Hectares Chardonnay- as well as the local Savatiano from carefully selected vineyards. The vines are trellised and pruned in the Guyot style. The vineyards are at 450m. altitude where cold winters and cool nights during the sunny summers provide ideal conditions for the ripening of the grapes.
Semeli Wines vineyards
A small winery was built in 1981 and is constantly being improved and modernized. The winery is run as a family concern, the Kokotos couple live on the estate where Anne manages the winery and deals with exports. George Kokotos manages the vineyards and is the financial director. The couple are ably advised by Bordeaux-trained consultant oenologue Antonis Popolanos and viticulturist Paraskevas Evangeliou, both of whom have a wide experience of local conditions and of working with both international and indigenous grape varieties.
The first wines were produced in 1981. With the help and advice of agronomist-oenologue Antonis Popolanos good quality Savatiano grapes were sourced from the surrounding vineyards, at an altitude of 450 metres with low yields and combined with meticulous vinification the winery produced a ground breaking Savatiano white Semeli. This was followed by the red Chateau Semeli, which has achieved cult status in Greece and international recognition amassing numerous awards since 1993.
The winery continued its philosophy of careful sourcing of good quality grapes combined with skilled winemaking to produce a range of wines using indigenous varieties Roditis, Moschofilero and Agiorgitiko from the Peloponnese. The winery is now equipped with two pneumatic presses, a Willmes and a Bucher, stainless steel tanks, chilling equipment for cold fermentation and stabilization, a Gai bottling plant and air-conditioned underground cellars for barrel ageing in French oak casks which are regularly renewed.
Semeli Wines winery
The wines have been well received both on the home market and abroad and have won many international awards, and favourable press coverage. Semeli wines are currently exported to the U.K., the U.S.A., Canada and Germany.
In 1996 a new tasting room was inaugurated at the Semeli estate and visitors are now welcome for tours and tastings. The estate, being an hour from the centre of Athens, is ideally situated for foreign tourists and locals have been enthusiastically joining in activities such as book presentations, poetry evenings, cookery courses and exhibitions by local artists.
In 1999 the decision to invest in new vineyards in the appellation area of Nemea was taken under careful thought. With the enthusiastic co-operation of a new partner and using the experience of 20 years George Kokotos embarked on the construction of a stunning new winery Domaine Helios in Koutsi, on the slopes overlooking the plain of Nemea. The new winery, a state of art, is equipped with two Willmes pneumatic presses, stainless steel tanks, chilling equipment for cold fermentation and stabilization, a Gai bottling plant and air-conditioned underground cellars for barrel ageing in French oak casks.
The building is very-well fitted to its surrounding, with a curved roof giving the sense of being the peak of the hill. Guests’ rooms and suites as well as a restaurant are now being built and will be ready to welcome visitors within 2005.
With the excellent help and experience of local oenologist Leonidas Nasiakos, the first vintage in 2003 produced excellent results. Both of the Domaines are now in a position to produce larger quantities while retaining the attention to detail and quality, which has characterised the Semeli wines. The wineries now produce a total of approximately 350,000 bottles per year of 10 different wines, which are available for export. 75% of production is from bought in grapes from carefully selected vineyards in both northern Attica and the Peloponnese.
Several factors influence the quality of the wine. These are soil, climate, microclimate, aspect, terroir, grape variety, viticulture, vinification and the luck of the year.
Vineyards usually thrive where other crops struggle. Poor soils rich in minerals are best for the vine as they provide nutrients such as phosphate, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium - all of which contribute to the final taste of wine. Favoured soils are chalk, limestone, slate, sand, schist, gravel, pebbles, clay, alluvial and volcanic. These soils have good drainage and moisture retention to keep the vine roots healthy. Drainage is especially important, as the vine does not like to have wet feet. Soil is analysed annually and any chemical deficiency is compensated for.
The vine needs a good balance of moisture and heat. Temperature is ideally continental averaging 14-16°C. The lowest annual average temperature necessary for the vine to flourish is 10°C. It is estimated that the vine needs about 69cm of rain per year - mainly in winter and spring - and at least 1,400 hours of sunshine per year. A prolonged growing season allows the grape to develop and ripen slowly, resulting in more definite aromas and more pronounced fruit flavours.
This particular and usually beneficial climate prevails in a single vineyard or a group of vineyards or within a small region. It could be caused by hills or mountains protecting the vines from heavy winds or even a break in the mountains range allowing the air to freshen and fan the vines in very hot weather. Sometimes the angle of the sun, especially the clear brilliant morning sun, will strike one vineyard more favourable than another. The rise and fall of the terrain will also have an effect as will location beside water for moisture and reflected heat. These subtle differences in atmospheric conditions, allied to the quality of the soil and the grape variety used, are the reasons why some vineyards have such outstanding reputations.
Vineyards are ideally planted on south-facing slopes where they point towards the sun and benefit from maximum sunshine and good drainage. Siting is of prime importance to capture the sunlight for photosynthesis and good ripening. Some vineyards are sited as high as 240m or more on mountainsides, while many of the great vineyards are located in river valleys and by the side of lakes benefiting from humidity and reflected heat.
This incorporates the combined effects of soil and subsoil, climate, location (including aspect and altitude) and microclimate; in other words the complete growing environment of the vine.
The grape must be in harmony with the soil, the location of the vineyard and the local climatic conditions. It must also be reasonably disease resistant, give a good yield and produce the best quality wine possible. Wine is produced from either varietal grapes -usually a classic single grape like Riesling or from hybrids which are a cross, for example: Riesling x Silvaner = Muller-Thurgau. Grapes behave differently in different soils: for example , Pinot Noir is a classic in Burgundy and a disaster in Bordeaux. Older vines yield superior quality grapes, although the yield is less abundant.
This is the cultivation of the vine. An overworked vineyard without compensatory treatment, or a neglected vineyard, will produce only second-rate wine. So the farming of the vineyard is of prime importance. It deals with:
- Vine selection
- Keeping the vineyard healthy
- Ploughing to aerate the soil
- Pruning to regulate quality (pruning restricts the yield and improves grape quality)
- Training the vines
- Spraying to compact diseases
Vinification is the making of the wine, which encompasses:
- Pressing the grapes
- The treatment and fermentation of the must
- Maturing the wine and occasionally topping it up to keep the air out
- Racking, fining and filtration to make the wine star-bright
- Blending-compensatory or otherwise
- Bottling for further maturing or for sale
In some years, everything in the vineyard and cellars combines well to produce a wine of excellence - a vintage wine. In other years, there can be great disappointments brought on by an excess of climatic conditions: sun, rain, snow, frost and the dreaded hail, which will produce either poor wine or worse. So the wine grower can never be confident, but must always be vigilant.
Having all the above in mind, we have carefully selected the grape varieties for our vineyards -located on slopes- where the microclimate contributes to a slow and very good ripening. The vineyards are under the EC Control System for Organic Farming, so we ensure that the received grapes are of supreme quality. The grape variety is in harmony with the soil, the location of the vineyard and the local climatic conditions. The vines are also disease resistant, give a good yield and produce the best quality wine possible. So with a few words, ‘great’ wines occur in the vineyard.