The city of Naoussa wakes up. The fireplaces are smoked and their tobaccos are spread like a cloud in the Strantza wine-growing zone. We take the road to Veria. No, we are not leaving yet. We revert back to “Niaousta” heading towards Dalamaras family winery at the entrance of the town. Τhe winemaker Kostis Dalamaras is waiting for us. As the cold is still possible, we invade in the warm wine tasting place.
Ever since I was a little boy, I remember myself here at the winery with my grandfather and my father, more with my grandfather of course, because my dad did the heavy work, while my grandfather, also called Kostas Dalamaras, and I worked at a more relaxed level. Prunings on the vine, carrying loads, pressing of the grapes, grape must, very intense experiences. That is why my parents never told me I should become a winemaker or go to a school. They left me alone and I was led here because of my experiences. The memories of my childhood are very strong, because the time I have spent with my grandfather left me with very intense memories.
Then everything found its way; with my high school education, some time at the American Agricultural School, then studies abroad, practice, travelling and making a final return here to Naoussa, at my family winery in 2011.
When I started in 2011, I took over everything, from pruning to the final production.
I am the 6th generation, based on the records we have, according to the contract for the purchase of vineyards by my great-great-great-grandfather in 1840. After 1949, my grandfather returned to a normal life pace, as Naoussa had experienced the Greek Civil War and the Resistance and the wars very heavily. So in 1949 he began with the production of wines and spirits with a partner who was in sales. My father had gone abroad where he studied something entirely different from the family tradition, but he returned to Naoussa at some point. Previously, the other grandparents were there, in general there is continuity in family tradition.
Xinomavro is a great variety and it has proven it in the past and even more strongly in recent years. Not only we have not exhausted it as a variety, but I think we are still in the beginning. Perhaps with different vineyards, with sub-zones, are thoughts that are being discussed now. It has a very long future ahead of her. Even the blends are being discussed, whether they will be of single origin. A Xinomavro Merlot, for example, has not been worked on whether its proportions match well, or not yet. And that’s because the blend is considered easy wine-wise and you’ll say that whatever is missing, I’ll get Merlot to soften it. By extension, we haven’t exhausted the full potential of single origin wines. Naturally, Xinomavro is a great variety, which can age in time and as it ages, it evolves. It’s not just that it endures; it also acquires complexity, great aromatic depth. It is a variety that can be used to dynamically combine foods, because it possesses the right acidity as well as the tannins.
In 2007, we assumed that Negoska blends with Goumenissa and softens the xinomavro. But what has been proven is that it finally bridles the acidity, because all the other elements are intense. It may even add some colour. Tannin-wise it is a very dynamic variety that we had let aside, but with great extraction it became “dynamite”. Even now, we happen to open a bottle and say, “leave it for another 10 years”. The 2008 vintage was more balanced, we worked it with more knowledge and until 2010 we saw some things experimentally, until I took over. In 2011, we felt we were close to settling into what we wanted from this variety, but in 2014 we did something completely different. After a rainy year, a wine without sulphite was born; on one side we played with its intense aromatic elements, the flowery ones, and on the other we relaxed the stocky tannic look that it had in 2011. It is something completely different, an ethereal wine, with a completely different style and with continuous aging. We are interested to see how long it will retain its aromas, because it produces very delicate fragrances; a strawberry flavour emerges as well. Only 400 bottles have been released.
What do you think is a good business moment for you?
Professionally that moment was when Wine and Spirits included me in the world’s top 30 talents in the wine world. But success for me as a winemaker is when a new wine comes out, like the ones from 2011 and 2013. I was delighted with them. Especially the wine of 2013, which was a very difficult year. Even though we were struck by hail at first, we managed to make good wine. Even in the following year, in 2014. Every time I make a wine, especially those that come out with great difficulty, I am particularly happy, like with Negoska. Negoska, under difficult circumstances, managed to accomplish something very good, something different.
You practice biodynamic farming. Is it difficult to make wine?
Of course we experiment, we have our vineyard, our livestock, we can easily make nice compost, we can play the biodynamic calendar with cosmic rhythms, we can follow the good days, it’s generally difficult when there are few people in so many acres. We want vinification to be as simple as possible so that the final product is more faithful to its place. To have our own imprint as a winery.
A personal choice of wine and food.
Although it is Christmas, I will take you to Easter. I go crazy with what we cook here in Naoussa; the kid’s shoulder in the pan with fresh onions and mint. We let all ingredients melt in the oven together for three hours. The xinomavro, if a bit aged as the one of 2009, is the perfect wine!
Tell us a story behind a label.
The label of Palaiokalias is the wild boar. Palaiokalias is a toponym of Naoussa, a region that has always had wild boars. They would enter our vineyards, dig and scratch their backs on a pillar standing in the middle of the vineyard. From the traces of their feet we noticed the amount of power they used to bump their backs. Gradually, their number started to grow. They became huge herds and began to cause damage. We had to stockade with electric cables because the difference was noticeable. However, we made the wild boar a symbol on the label of Paliokalias. This is how the story to have animals on the labels began.
From then on it is a proposal of wine and food. And the particular wild boar on the label shows that it is in motion, in action, it shows how robust Paliokalias is and that means we constantly evolve.