KECHRIS: RETSINA, UPDATED

A few days ago, Tears of the Pine became the first Retsina to win the Best in Show award at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2024, standing out among the top 50 wines in the competition.

Imagine that it’s the early 1980s, and you’re a Greek winemaker who has just returned to your homeland fresh from your training in France.

 What was the atmosphere like back then? Many foreign-trained Greek winemakers, who are now well known in the field, wanted to employ their new, hard-gained expertise to improve Greek wine and take it from being an industrial product to a respected element of modern gastronomy.

The new era called for selecting new varieties, choosing new vineyards, and establishing whole new protocols in winemaking. Given all this, what was the possibility that one of these innovative people would envision making a great… retsina? That resinscented, traditional Greek wine that was associated with tavernas, that everyday wine “of the people” that was – at the time – just a cheap, easy-drinking wine? The answer is “Zero”, unless, of course, your name happened to be Stelios Kechris!Like his peers, Kechris had a well-rounded technical, academic and international background in oenology. However, he also had a lot of memories. He had been exposed to retsina before it had become industrialized. He had seen firsthand the enthusiasm of diners when the new batch of retsina reached their favorite tavernas. Moreover, while in France, he had observed how proud the French were of their traditional products, whether either food or wine. 

They were safeguarding their past and trying to support traditional products by making them relevant to contemporary needs. This inspired him to make it a life goal to put retsina back on the wine map and, most importantly, to restore its good name, as retsina had been a respected wine before certain social and historical factors post-WWII and the Greek Civil War made it less appealing.

The Kechris family winery

A number of factors went into Kechris’ success in achieving that goal. His family had been operating a winery and distillery since 1954. The company started exporting its products in 1974. Their brand, Kechribari, had been launched even earlier than that, back in 1939, in the old family taverna in Thessaloniki.

 So, the family business supported Stelios Kechris’ new endeavors, encouraged by his experiences in France. Fast forward 40 years, and Kechris is now a leading Greek winery with an annual production of approximately 1.4 million 750ml bottles. They source their grapes from around 110 hectares, located mainly in Goumenissa Kilkis, northern Greece, but also with holdings in Amyntaio, Kavala, Thessaloniki and other regions of Macedonia. The winery also owns a 10-hectare vineyard in Goumenissa, which they cultivate themselves; at all their sites, however, their agronomists guide the growers, who are themselves all professionals.

The vast majority of their production is dedicated to retsina, with four different expressions on offer: their flagship “Kechribari”, a lovely Roditis varietal from Amyntaio called “Afros”, the acclaimed “Tear of the Pine”, an oak-aged Assyrtiko from Goumenissa, and the retsina “Roza”, a rosé Xinomavro from Goumenissa. “Kechribari”, in the classic drop-shaped 500ml bottle, is a multiregional Roditis sourcαed from Amyndeo, Goumenissa and selected vineyards in Macedonia. Wines such as “Afros” and “Kechribari”, with their lovely minty and herbal aromas, citrus fruit character, refreshing acidity and a very balanced palate, are perfect with any kind of fried seafood, including calamari and sardines and a lot more, working as a sort of liquid passepartout on the table.

 They can convey the concept of Greece in a glass.

Kechris also produces 350,000 bottles of non-resonated wines, not a small number! There are two wine series, Genesis and Fourth Dimension, as well as a varietal Xinomavro from Goumenissa. Genesis White is a white blend made with Sauvignon Blanc from Kavala and Roditis from Goumenissa, while Genesis Rosé (Xinomavro and Gewürztraminer) and Genesis Red (Xinomavro and Merlot) are both from Goumenissa. Fourth Dimension White follows the well-established tradition of blending Assyrtiko and Sauvignon Blanc, and Fourth Dimension Red is a blend of Xinomavro, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Goumenissa. All these wines are focused, balanced and extremely food-friendly.

I recently had a chat with Stelios Kechris; it’s always fun, as well as educational, to listen to his stories. “I remember retsina used to be a great wine, ” he told me, “before it became an industrial product. Although modern technology was not available, constant trial and error had given older generations invaluable know-how. 

At the time, there were no white grapes available in northern Greece, and certainly not Roditis. Add to this the fact that my ancestors were from Evia and so, out of a sense of nostalgia, the family wouldn’t think of buying grape must from anywhere but Karystos and Halkida in Evia, or from Santorini. 

Low-yielding grapes were always available, as this was the pre-industrial period, oenologically speaking. The must was shipped to Thessaloniki in wooden barrels carried on small boats. The sea kept the must cool and, upon arrival, the must had fermented already. The wine, especially in the first two weeks, was fresh, aromatic, and irresistible! We started out selling the wine in our taverna and then other tavernas began asking for a barrel or two.

Roditis can also produce excellent Retsinas.

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TOURISM PARADOXE

 

 

 

 

 

The Kechris Winery, just 8 km from the center of Thessaloniki, is open to visitors. It’s located in an indus- trial area, with no vineyards in the vicinity. When the winery was built, proximity to town and easy access was very impor- tant; this is why Kechris is now part of the metropolitan area. Should you find yourself in Thessaloniki, a visit to the winery is a great opportunity to taste different retsinas and more, in a charming winery with an inviting wine-tasting room. It’s also a chance to enjoy an authentic example of an ancient product in a modern incarnation… from the undisputed experts of that wine category!

 

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