A man arrives in a campervan with his young family at an arid plot of land in northern Greece. He has left his hometown in the Netherlands and his fruitful career in publishing, and now he and his wife plan to make wine on what was once a wheat farm.
After considering all the world’s wine regions, all the way from Germany to Australia, the Dutch couple has settled on the beautiful, albeit unexpected, location of Greece – a country that produces wine, yes; but not one that is renowned for it as such.
When one thinks of Greece, ouzo, tzatziki and retsina are likely the immediate culinary images that come to mind; high quality wine, in the same echelon as a Champagne or a Montepulciano for instance, is probably not.
However, this couple is adamant that a particular grape variety called xinomavro, found only in northern Greece, is their ticket to excellent winemaking. Xinomavro, which translates to “acid black”, is the principal red wine grape of the northern Greek region, responsible for producing millions of bottles of red wine every year.
But this Dutch pair have a different idea. They’re going to make a world-class sparkling white wine out of the red wine grape xinomavro, using the traditional French method – méthode traditionnelle – of the Champagne region. Sound crazy? It is. Crazy good.
“We initially started making red wine with the xinomavro, of course, but over time discovered this grape can also create an exceptional sparkling white wine,” explains Laurens Hartman-Karanika, the winemaker and founder, with wife Annette van Kampen, behind Domaine Karanika.
“The result was so good, we have now shifted our focus from red wine to high-quality, French-style sparkling,” he adds.
Karanika Brut Cuvée – the flagship wine – is aged for at least 12 months, making it razor sharp and beautifully aromatic. On the eyes, it’s a sight to behold watching the endless stream of tiny everlasting bubbles rise to the surface. On the nose, it’s a refreshing combination of citrus, stone fruits and herbs. And on the palate, it’s a crisp, smooth drink that will make you immediately long for a plate of freshly shucked oysters to enjoy it with. It truly is a delight for all the senses.
So impressive is this wine that it baffles aficionados across the globe. Upon smelling and tasting it, sommeliers are often convinced they are sampling a traditional French sparkling hailing from the Champagne region.
However, when they discover the wine is not from France, but Greece, and is made from red wine grapes rather than white grapes, the level of astonishment is nothing short of amusing for Hartman-Karanika.
“There were certainly people who thought we were crazy for trying to produce a sparkling white from xinomavro grapes,” he says. “There are people who still think we’re crazy. Here in northern Greece, we are surrounded by many excellent wineries and talented winemakers who all produce beautiful red wine using xinomavro grapes. And they all think I am the crazy Dutch guy making sparkling white from red grapes.”
What’s not so crazy, however, is that Hartman-Karanika and van Kampen now have to reduce or even turn down customer order requests due to the sheer demand for their Karanika Brut Cuvée.
With no marketing nor advertising efforts on Domaine Karanika’s behalf, one can only conclude this level of demand is due to Hartman-Karanika’s training in oenology and classic French winemaking methods.
“We make all our sparkling wines with the traditional method used in Champagne,” he says.
“That means that the forming of the mousse, the prise de mousse, is done by a second fermentation in the bottle. After a long period of ageing, which can be anywhere between six months to four years, we turn – or riddle – every bottle about 90 to 120 times in order to get rid of the sediment in the bottom of the bottle. We do that for every bottle, three times a day, every day of the week – all by hand.”
That’s right – by hand. Hartman-Karanika, van Kampen and the Domaine Karanika team not only produce this exceptional sparkling white from red grapes, but they only employ natural winemaking methods.
“We think real quality is achieved only when there is complete balance in all aspects of the grape growing and winemaking process,” Hartman-Karanika says. “This includes minimal handling of grapes and wines with few to zero chemical additions. We follow nature, instead of trying to control it.”
This means no pumping to transport must and wines – only gravity and pigéage. Hartman-Karanika also only uses homeopathic sprays in the vineyard rather than fertilisers and pesticides, and prefers hand-harvesting to minimise bruising, bringing only the finest of fruit to the winery. This natural attitude is not only evident in Hartman-Karanika's winemaking methodology, but in the experience at Domaine Karanika overall.
One trip to this winery, nestled in the winding roads of Amyntaio, just outside the village of Vegora in the Florina regional unit of Macedonia, and visitors will immediately feel like they’ve come home to long lost family.
With Hartman-Karanika and van Kampen warmly welcoming you at the door with wide smiles, their young son Joris offering you something to drink, and their 10 dogs all lovingly greeting you as you climb out of your car, the feeling at Domaine Karanika is undoubtedly organic.
And yes, the sparkling is delicious, too.
Domaine Karanika is imported by douglaslambwines.com.au