Updated: Jan 2, 2021
I have been teaching wine for 10 years. I feel it and describe it. I love it and respect it. However, I had never touched it before it became liquid, before it became a philosophy.
I had the rare opportunity to be invited as a volunteer during the campaign of a non-standard winemaker who adopted and nurtured local vineyards on the island of Thassos in 2011, turning them into a story few still know.
The winery is more like a hillside house in the historic village of Megalos Prinos (Kazaviti) near the vineyards that German Alexander Heer leased in 2011 for ten years. His idea is to revive the vineyards and preserve old practices, terroirs and stylistics. Ktima Kazaviti is not a typical winery. It is the home of a passion for wine. A home where Alexander moves in to create the conditions for the biodynamic process, where he firmly believes in making the most precise wine in the world. Precision for every detail, for the processes and for the vineyards, with minimal human intervention, but with a lot of attention and love.
Ktima Kazaviti is a wine amalgam, a living organism, and Alexander and the vineyards are a natural symbiosis. Such harmony is rare.
Alexander Heer dedicated himself to this philosophy of life back in 2004 with the desire to discover and revive the terroir treasures in old Europe. After completing his classical training as a winemaker and oenologist, he dedicated himself entirely to his mission of making old wine. From 2020, he began to study environmental sciences in parallel to apply an even more holistic approach, using botany to understand everything from its roots.
To achieve this, he combines ancient techniques with old but also new knowledge. He works skillfully with amphorae, which he dives into the Aegean Sea at a depth of 11 meters to disinfect them. This model was widely used among the ancient Greeks. It goes further and is the second in the world to submerge fermenting wine back into the sea in search of stronger flavors and more authenticity. In this way, Alexander reinterprets modernity and combines it with antiquity to create a new wine profile.
Before discovering the forgotten wine charms of Thassos, Alexander worked for 16 years as an oenologist in various wineries in Germany (Rheingau and Wiesbaden), making complex wines of seemingly simple varieties: Müller-Thurgau and Portuguese azul. In parallel, he is an oenological consultant to several wineries in the United States, to whom he offers his holistic approach and adapts it to their needs. Since 2010, he has been thoroughly researching the depths of sparkling wines with the goal of surpassing those of Champagne.
This is Alexander: a bold, confident perfectionist, sometimes even absurd in his ideas. But it is his perseverance and precision that allows him to carry out frequent and successful experiments, one of which is undoubtedly that of Thassos.
Since 2011 he has been actively involved in his project on the island: Revival of old, almost extinct grape varieties from different regions of Greece. He plants them in Megalos Prinos, where he claims to have some of the cleanest and most suitable soils for wine production. It also revives abandoned vineyards, while paying close attention to soil composition, where one of its strengths and at the same time one of the secrets of its unique wines is hidden: they are natural, real and sometimes too precise, too be understood. But Alexander believes in the idea of antiquity and, when met with modernity, makes similar to the Georgian, but at the same time even more natural masterpieces.
Unfortunately, he is still ahead of his time and must have a lot of patience until he is understood by the world. Isolated, but also open to all, Alexander is fixed only in his idea: Wine as a craft and preservation of cultural heritage. All this through his own prism: all the wines he produces are in small quantities in stainless steel, old barrels and kioupia (northern term for a Greek amphora) that are still too complex or too distant for mass tastes, but definitely have their own identity and soul.
Many of the areas planted with vineyards are golf courses, nothing grows there. Technology is destroying the soil.
"Many of the areas planted with vineyards are golf courses, nothing grows there. Technology destroys the soil. My passion is to produce unique natural wines on living soil, investing 100% of my knowledge and time. For me, everything is based on the concept of ancient viticulture."
Alexander is convinced of minimal disruption and openly explains his misunderstanding and disapproval of conventional wine production. For him it is an industry and it has no place in the world of wine. I make guilt with emotion, presence and authentic expression of the terroir, he says.
Thousands of years ago, the Italians dried their grapes on volcanic stones and the French in the Jura on straw. Their idea was to concentrate the extract and create long-lived wines. There was also a unique technique in Thassos that Alexander revived: immersing the grapes in amphorae for a few days after drying them on red ochre. The idea is that the minerals in the clay and salt water give the wine complexity and specific flavors - in this case with the wine I tasted: seaweed, cashews and lilies. I had the pleasure of trying the semi-finished result of the new harvest, and I was impressed with the sensory punch I received.
Wine is more than umami, it is a simultaneous emotional explosion of several elements: people, soil, climate, water....
Alexander's love for wine flared up in his youth. That's why he focuses on the only education possible: Winemaking and Enology, which he completed in Germany. His passion is terroir: the peculiarities of the soils and their purity. After working on many wine projects in Europe and America, he decided it was time to dedicate himself to his own passion: working with native and unknown varieties.
At first he went to Portugal, but fate happened to bring him to the island of Thassos. An island that, unlike Santorini, Crete or Kefalonia, has almost no popular wine history. There are no other winemakers of economic importance here. Even Alexander himself sells his wine only to selected restaurants on the island and through his own import company in Germany, where he is still active in other wine projects.
For years I have been searching for old varieties in ancient Greek cities: from Crete to Castor. Synonymo, for example, is an old Albanian variety I imported; Agriostavila comes from the Manola Monastery in Megalos Kazaviti, Alexander says. Other varieties he is proud of are Limnio, Rozaiki, Alexandrian Muscat, Xinomavro, Kokkineri, Jeri, Mavruthi and four unknown Cretan white varieties: Synonymo and Matrakia, and two as yet unnamed from Kalirachi on Thassos. Alexander raises them all with love and respect.
I experienced it with my whole being - when we picked the grapes in the vineyard, it fell into another dimension. He didn't drink or eat for days, feeling each berry and watching closely as I followed his instructions. I had to remove all the unhealthy grapes to separate the quality from the inferior grapes. He even had me collect accidentally fallen grains and said, "Each one becomes a precious drop."
The secret of complex wines, in addition to the old vineyards, the unique varieties and the specific soil, is the long contact with the yeast, the old amphorae and the pouring process that protects against oxidation. Alexander has deep and complex orange wines Vin Naturel in the Burgundian style, the result of many years of experience, knowledge and experimentation.
I had the unique pleasure of tasting them all together with his emotion and history from his glass. If you are traveling to Thassos next year, be sure to do so.
These wines that will appear on the island market early this year:
Kazaviti Alpha Thasos Field Blend 2017 - fermented in old amphorae (Kioupi), lay there again for 4 months with malolactic fermentation and aged another year in stainless steel. Sulfite free and unfiltered. The grapes for this wine come from a mixed harvest of well-known varieties - Limnio, Rozaiki, Alexandrian Muscat, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko and Roditis and strangers - Agriostaphila, Kokkineri, Jeri and Synonymo. The wine comes from the vineyard planted certainly in 1830 at about 350 meters above sea level. However, terraces and found Roman artifacts suggest that there have been vineyards here since ancient times. Synthetic fertilizers and herbicides have never been used here.
The wine itself, of which there are 210 bottles, is surprisingly dense, with hints of plums, cherries and licorice, but dominated by tar, pepper and tobacco.
Kazaviti Beta Synonyma Amphora Orange 2018 - vin naturel is the second notable wine I tasted. The variety comes from the same vineyard a year later. The Georgian approach is felt with much more minerality and density.
Kazaviti Estate Gamma Assyrtiko & Roditis & Limnio 2018 is superfly - a distant hint of Burgundy with exotics from Balkan islands. Gamma is the culmination. The end of a new beginning. There are only 250 bottles of it, and the wine itself tells the true story of a German who revived the ancient traditions of Thassos, dedicated his life to something real and believed deeply in the power of nature. After four months in an amphora, the wine ages for a year in used old French barrels. The taste is fruity, complex, with high acidity and delicate tannins. Wine elegant and authentic that can return each of us to its roots.
Creative, innovative and a bit crazy for some, Alexander´s Ktima Kazaviti wants to put on the wine list of original winemakers and secretly hopes to challenge others to follow his unconventional but at the same time biodynamic and natural wine path. Alexander neither changes the spirit of wine nor plays with it. It simply gives him freedom, attention and creates with great feeling a new body of taste.