Haritos & Ioanna Haritatos:  Our thoughts always turn to the vineyard

The meeting point with Haritos and Ioanna Haritatos was out of their element, one could say, as their “element” is certainly Lixouri and more specifically Haritatos Vineyard. But even if the interview took place in the center of Athens, we were feeling that the two of them –always passionate with their vineyard– had never really distanced themselves from their grapevines.

They talked passionately about their vineyards and the wine, and they described their efforts till the accomplishment of their first bottlings some years earlier. They also referred to their parents –who were alive and present during the first new vinifications– mentioning the ways in which they passed on them their love for the land and their passion for the vineyard.

In an interview that flowed like the good wine in the glasses of a wine lovers’ company, Haritos and Ioanna Haritatos opened their hearts at Greekcellar.gr and expressed all their deep feelings about the vineyards and the wine making.

How does the story of Haritatos Vineyard begin? And how did you succeed to enter commercial winemaking?

Haritos: Haritatos Vineyard has a very long history in viniculture, which goes back more than 200 years. The Vineyard flourished around 1930, at a time when Patras and Achaea –and subsequently Kefalonia and Zakynthos– were knowing great commercial activity thanks to the raisin’s and other vine products’ commerce. At that time, our family was cultivating over 75 acres, but gradually, during the 1940s and the 1950s, the commerce of raisin had started to weaken. For that reason and also for reasons concerning the wider social situation of that period, our family kept the vineyards but not primarily for cultivating purposes. That phase lasted up until 1960, when the field of viniculture started to change again. Our father kept a small vineyard and we –his children– began to familiarize ourselves with the philosophy of the land and the viniculture, based on practices that we have learned from our father.

Ioanna: I would also like to add that our estate’s vineyard has always produced wine. It has always had a commercial purpose. This stopped only from 1950 until the time that we restarted it. This commercial activity of the vineyard has always offered supplementary income to the family. So, even if our family members practice many professions – pharmacists like Haritos, doctors, politicians, mayors– our estate has always been productive, it has offered income and has developed commercial activity. Whatever our profession may has been, in the bottom line we have always been wine makers.

Haritos: This is how we began gradually to familiarize with the philosophy of the vineyard and to understand what land means. We have learned from the antecedents’ methods to cultivate the vineyard, to trim it, to protect it, to harvest the grapes and to make wine. Over the past years, we made wine only for the family. We used the traditional methods: wine treadle, use of linen, etc. But it is 20 years now that we have decided to restructure and expand the vineyard. So, we have really created a modern vineyard, meaning that its cultivation is linear and all of its subjects are vaccinated. We follow the most advanced standards regarding planting and selecting subjects in viticulture, following detailed scientific advice from agronomists. Mr. Bakasetas, who owns a plant nursery in Nemea, had the greatest contribution in the planting process: with his guidance, we planted our own varieties, the ones that can be found only in Kefalonia. These varieties belong to the PDO category (Protected Designation of Origin) and include the Rombola variety –which doesn’t grow in our region– Moscato and Mavrodaphne. So, we cultivate small-grape Moscato and Mavrodaphne. These two varieties are PDO: we focus on them, we believe in them and we are trying to promote them in the best possible way. This is basically our field of activity. In the past years, we provided the best raw materials from our modern vineyard –which covers a land of 11.5 acres– to other wineries in order to make wine. From 2012, we decided to make wine ourselves, to produce “our own wine”.

Ioanna: We also collaborate with the great oenologist Christos Peppas. Christos was for many years the chief oenologist of the Cooperation of Nemea.

The members of your family exercise many professions though: pharmacists, doctors, politicians, lawyers. So, how is your relationship with the land so firmly rooted? I ask this question because many people grew up in the province, but they have distanced themselves from the land, after changing their job and their way of living.

Ioanna: We didn’t simply grow up in the province. Lixouri was always our home and the Estate has served as a summer house for the family since forever. When the schools were closing for the summer, in June, we were moving to the estate and we were returning to the city in September. So, our relationship with the land is direct and experiential. It is an existential relationship. Our participation to the harvest of grapes and to the beekeeping was always mandatory, although a mild one.

Haritos: I have loved the land and the primary production since I was a little boy, either due to my nature or due to my father’s guidance. I am very much involved not only in the vineyard, but also in the olives, the horticultural garden produce, the vegetable garden· but the vineyard is my passion. So, it is a kind of an inexplicable fact that although we exercise other professions, our mind always returns to the wine and the vineyard – maybe we would have to ask a psychologist about the origins of that passion of ours… [laughs].

Ioanna: And psychologists cost… [laughs]. Maybe it has also to do with the mentality of the people of Lixouri: we –the people of Kefalonia– are cosmopolitans, but at the same time we are Lixouriotians. Respectively, in our family we may exercise many professions, but we are also wine makers. This multifaceted identity expresses vividly the temperament of the wine makers of Kefalonia.

Your Estate has also other crops besides grapevines. Would you like to talk to us a little bit about that?

Ioanna: Our Estate is an autonomous production unit. We have olives, fruit-bearing trees –we have fruits all the four seasons of the year– a cypress grove, herbs, medicinal plants and also many water tanks. Τhanks to an ancient drainage channel system, which was designed during the previous century, a significant amount of rainfalls is channeled towards open water tanks.

Haritos: We are self-sufficient. We have our own water wells, open water wells and also a reservoir that we constructed 25-30 ago, having in mind that we intend to work on viniculture. Without making a drilling, we dug in a low area of the estate an open tank, which is pretty deep and contains 7000 m3 of water –we call it reservoir– where we have installed freshwater fish and carps. During the summer the reservoir is visited by ducks and migratory birds, so a real ecosystem has been created there. There are also hens, geese, sheep, many cats and dogs. The estate represents a passion, where the vineyard is the dominant occupation – the most passionate activity. Our family could never interrupt this relationship in order to live in a cosmopolitan city like New York, London or even Athens. It would be very difficult for us not to have this kind of contact with our estate. What we want is exactly this contact with the estate: it is a way of life, a philosophy.

Ioanna: Τhere is a picture of our father in our house yard, when he was five years old. We have pictures of ourselves in the same yard, when we were kids. We have pictures of our children and of children’s children. So, there is a sense of psychological continuity.

Haritos: Μy sister Ioanna, our third brother Konstantinos and I, are the second generation of the new winery. Our father died last year, but he was present during the first processes of winemaking despite his health problems. He was observing the process, he was giving his advice and, in a way, he was instructing us. The third generation is my niece Veroniki and my daughter Lenia, who are also involved in the estate and the winemaking. This is more or less our occupation with the field of winemaking. And we should not omit the great contribution of our family’s two doctors –my wife Nopi Haritatos and Ioanna’s husband Aiantas Antoniadis– who are both specialized gourmets.

How difficult was for you to enter the field of commercial promotion?

Haritos: It was not difficult psychologically. We believed so much in this enterprise that we were willing to attempt it at any cost. We faced, of course, difficulties at the level of financing. But our determination and our joy were so great that we did not take into account the financial difficulties we may have faced. We were saying to ourselves: “if we have patience we will succeed”. And we still believe that. Nowadays, many difficulties deriving from the economic crisis, and also obstacles concerning the production of wine exist, but we believe in this undertaking. We believe that it is right and we strongly believe that it will have a success.

So, you have invested patience, labor and money in this enterprise. How did you feel when you held your first bottle in your hands?

Ioanna: I would like to describe to you how I felt when I went for the first time at a restaurant in Athens, where I knew that they were serving our wines. I was sitting at my table and at the next table they were drinking our wine. I was trying to hear very attentively what they were saying about the wine – like a radar. It was one of those moments when you feel so proud. I did not succumb to the temptation to ask them, but I saw how much they enjoyed it… [laughs]. And it was that other time, when I was present at a wine tasting. There were certain buyers who were tasting Greek wines. They were offered two wines one of which was ours. And they picked the other one. “Oh, my God”, I said to myself. But they picked a very good wine anyway. I am very proud of our wine. I have a sentiment of complete euphoria.

Haritos: I have exactly the same feelings. When I held the first bottle in my hands, I felt proud. It is somehow like a reward for our dreams, our labor, our efforts, our sweat. It is a reward beyond the economic level. Your final product is like a child of yours. You give birth to it with your efforts, you produce it. This feeling can only be pictured with the word “pride”.

Ioanna: It is like a note or a presence – your small part to immortality. What I mean is that this product that we now make, and that we hope, wish and believe that it will continue to exist, –the wine– demands patience, as you know very well. It is not something that can be completed in an instant. In 15 years from now, maybe someone will drink this wine or will have improved it. So, it is like you put your signature in something that will continue to exist regardless of your presence. I think this is why people of my age –Haritos is younger than me–continue to create. It makes you feel like you participate in the process of immortality: like a struggle against death. In a philosophical sense, it makes you feel that things continue to exist regardless of your presence. Many people may wonder: “Why are you working on these things? You have your professions. Why are you spending your personal energy and your money? And why do you want to burden yourself with this anxiety?”. It is true that making wine is stressful: it is not an automatic process. But I think that the answer to the above questions is the following: people of my age make new starts as an attempt to leave their trace, in a philosophical sense. I would need three lifetimes in order to make all the blends that I imagine.

What did your father say to you, if I am not being indiscreet, when he saw the first bottles?

Ioanna: We often think: “if he were here… Would he applaud what we do?”.

Haritos: Our father was able to see the first two or three years of the wine bottling. He was present at every step of the harvest of grapes and of the vinification…

Ioanna: And our mother too, since we are a matriarchal family… [laughs].

Haritos: …and our father was not only proud, but had also strong opinions on how to do things: “do it this way, not the other way, low acidity”. He certainly applauded what we do and he was happy for it.

Ioanna: Our parents died during the same year. They passed away in 2014. Our mother, even nearing the end, was telling me: “we must add potassium in the low vineyard”. She always knew what must be done.

What will the future bring for the Estate? What are your plans?

Ioanna: Ι believe that the estate’s future is in wine tourism. I believe that we should emphasize on this field and act with professionalism as we always do. I also believe that we will perform very well at the level of exports, especially concerning Mavrodaphne. We have invested a lot in Mavrodaphne, and it was a right decision, because this year it has already started to have an impact – as we wished. And I believe that it will go even better. As small wine producers and owners of a boutique winery, we aim to specific markets abroad: specific countries and specific markets within these countries. Therefore, we are preparing a strategic marketing plan for these countries and we believe that it will lead to a success.

Haritos: We currently export to England. When production grows, and especially when you are dealing with circumstances of economic crisis, it is necessary to become extrovert. We began with exports to England, and we will proceed to other countries. We will expand our activity there selectively, following a strategy of promotion of the autochthonous varieties that we produce: Mavrodaphne and Moscato.

The interview with Haritos and Ioanna Haritatos was so pleasant for us that it could last for hours. They seem having an inexhaustible amount of true feelings and love for the wine. Maybe this is why they achieved to revive their family’s wine tradition and also to create new paths.

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