When you think South Australian wine, your mind travels to the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale, even the Clare Valley for a crisp glass of riesling. Hardly ever do we think of the Riverland. But one Greek Australian family is working hard to get the Riverland on the map as another prominent wine region. To take the grapes of their vineyard to the international masses.
As a wine region, South Australia has a lot to be thankful for. It is phylloxera free, fruit fly free and the climate is very Mediterranean. But the Riverland has some added benefits for the wine grapes.
“All the water is pumped from the River Murray so it’s fresh water all the time,” explains Gianni Koutouzis from Oliver Road Vineyard in the Riverland.
“And with the soil we have here it’s very red and with a good amount of limestone and clay which allows good quality wine and high volume wine grapes to be grown on the vines as well.”
On the 100 acre vineyard, the family produce high quality wine grapes, as well as table grapes. Through tender love and care, they can produce quality controlled grapes for wine producers which have another added benefit for the wine industry. Koutouzis would rather work as one with nature during harvest time; even if that means working to nature’s clock, and not his.
“The grapes have to picked at night during cool temperatures, which is usually at 10:00 pm in the evenings,” Koutouzis explains to Neos Kosmos. “This allows the flavours to remain and prevents the grapes from cracking, splitting and juices flowing out – that’s how you lose weight and flavours.”
By implementing this level of quality control, he is able to produce grapes that haven’t been infused with other vines’ grapes or other types of wine grapes as they would on a commercial level. When grapes are mass produced you tend to lose that quality control. At times grapes come from all sorts of vineyards from a certain region and the sugar levels and colour can become mixed, ruining the true flavour of the wine.
“When you get grapes from a boutique vineyard, you know your vines, you take care of them, you know that grapes coming from that one patch of shiraz are going into the bottle,” says Gianni.
On the vineyard, they produce chardonnay grapes, due to the warmer climate in the Riverland, but their biggest harvest is shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. But to promote the wine region itself, and make it as well known a name as the Barossa, the Riverland is searching for new varieties of grapes from overseas to harvest in Australian soil. Gianni says they are trying to get out the Greek grape variety of xinomavro, which is not only similar in climate and region to the Riverland, but also his favourite Greek drop.
“Shiraz is my favourite,” he starts, “I know it’s boring but I love the deep flavours, it’s the kind of wine that is quite mature, easy drinking and smooth and goes with a lot of foods, especially in particular Greek foods.”
But the wine connoisseur was on a very different life path before the call of the land got him. Gianni was living in the rat race of the corporate world in the finance industry, before the pull to work and help on the family run farm called. Yet his double degree in law and commerce certainly hasn’t gone to waste as he uses all his knowledge for the running of the business.
His parents George and Dora both migrated from Greece for a better life and settled on the Riverland to raise their four children. Even before migrating to Australia, both his parents had worked on the land and now this connection to the land has been inherited by Gianni. While working in Melbourne in the finance industry, Gianni remembered his family struggling on the farm, so he hung up his business suit and moved back to rural South Australia over two years ago.
“My parents’ work ethic has definitely come from the hardships of living in Greece. For them they thought they have to work towards their family, bring up their children, and they taught us to do the same thing, to work hard,” says Gianni.
“With the family, we stick together and work hard.”
With his parents’ work ethic in tow, his love for the wine industry also stems from Greek Australian heritage.
“You think about Ancient Greeks and the significance of wine, you think about our religion and how we use wine in Holy Communion. It’s surreal,” he says.
“When you are out in the vineyards, you are in awe. You look at the vines and think that this has been around for thousands and thousands of years.”