Each week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Yannis Voyatzis, the Chief Oenologist at Boutari Wineries.
Founded in 1879, Boutari Company currently owns sixteen wineries across Greece. In recent years, the company has been at the forefront of the surge in quality Greek wine in America and around the world.
Yannis joined Boutari shortly after completing his PhD at the Wine Institute in Bordeaux. He has been with Boutari since then, and now, as Chief Oenologist, he oversees Boutari’s grapegrowing, winemaking, and research and development.
On a personal note, it was only about a year ago when a bottle of Greek red kindled my interest in Greek wines. The bottle was the 2007 Boutari Naoussa Grand Reserve. I’ve sought out Boutari’s wines specifically, and Greek wine more generally, much more frequently since that occasion. One ever stops getting surprised in this vast world of wine.
Check out our interview with Yannis below the fold!
What has been your career path to where you are?
I grew up in my father’s tavern helping him in cuisine and service. In September and October of every year, we used to go to our native village Velvento for grapes harvest and winemaking. There, I learned how to taste and blend wines and that’s how wine’s ‘mysteries and magic magnetism’ enraptured me. As a result, I studied chemistry in the University of Thessaloniki and then went to the famous Wine Institute of Bordeaux to study oenology. I stayed there for five years, gaining knowledge and experience. Finishing my PhD, I came back to Greece and started working for Boutari, a leading wine producer, leaving forever my previous vision for an academic career.
New vine growing areas and new varieties were explored. And based on a team of new talented oenologists and vine growing specialists, we led the renaissance of Greek wine in the 1990s. During this time, my father, brother, and I replanted our old vineyard in Velvento.
Today, I am the Chief Oenologist for Boutari Wineries S.A., responsible for vineyards, grapes supply, winemaking, and R&D. I am also engaged in our small family estate “Ktima Voyatzi” in Velvento. I also am a member of the International Wine Academy, and have recently been elected as the President of the Greek Wines Inter-Professional Committee.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
Getting the best from a grape, a terroir, or a vintage means finding the appropriate wine style to this end. The process of creating a wine — from choosing terroir and grape varieties to winemaking and aging, involves the intellect, the pure realistic approach, science and technology, and the imagination as well.
I am aiming to obtain balance and a certain style for every wine I make — to gain harmony, finesse, complexity, originality, character, and personality. I believe that a bottle of wine is the work of an artisan of great skills that can have a certain aesthetic value.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
To produce wines that consumers and connoisseurs enjoy on different occasions. To experiment and to explore new varieties and terroirs and make wines that have a recognizable style.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
Yves Glories and Denis Dubourdieu: their vision for quality and originality inspired me during both my studies and my collaboration with their research teams in Bordeaux. The analytical, scientific, and perfectionist approach of Mme Kourakou and her commitment to Greek varieties and terroirs also influenced me. I’m also impressed with Bill Bonneti and Paul Draper in California, Giacomo Tachis in Italy, and Hubert de Montille in Burgundy.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
I am always impressed by the precision in balance and the clear style of the wines made by Evangelos Gerovasiliou and Vasilis Tsaktsarlis in Domaine Gerovasiliou and Biblia Chora. I also admire the enthusiasm of young Greek winemakers like Apostolis Alexakis, Olympia Samara, Vasilis Georgiou, Alexandros Tzachristas, Yianna Vamvakouri, and others who get education and experience all over the world.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
Sancerre in France.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
A Chateau Haut Brion 1961 tasted in 1983 and a Vin Santo from Santorini 1853 tasted in 2004.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
A Naoussa Boutari 1964.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
A Moschofilero from Mantinia.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
A Xinomavro from Naoussa or Velvento for red and a blended Assyrtiko from Velvento as a white.
Is beer ever better than wine?
Yes, on a thirsty summer evening with a friend whom I haven’t seen for a while.
How do you spend your days off?
Usually I stay with my family, or go out with friends. I also like relaxing at home with time to read and think.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I play Greek music with my little ‘baglama’ and sing old rebetica songs.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I don’t know, winemaking was my dream from the beginning and I feel I was right for that. I could probably be a good teacher, a musician, or a research scientist.
How do you define success?
Taking my lifetime paradigm to define success, I feel good with myself because I feel that I have opened ways, influenced people, made some very interesting wines, and feel happy receiving the respect of colleagues and community. I have acquired knowledge and experience in winemaking and life, which I want to share with younger colleagues.