Chloi Chatzivariti: A young Greek winemaker forging her own path
Most parents try to influence their children when it comes time to choose their profession; traditional choices such as doctor, engineer, or lawyer are seemingly the most popular but for Chloi Chatzivariti, that was not the case. When Chloi was 16 years old, her father asked the question over a glass of wine, “Would you like to become a winemaker?”
Chloi Chatzivariti now works in their family winery, Chatzivaritis Estate, located in Goumenissa in Northern Greece. At first, she didn’t like the idea that her profession was chosen for her, and she wanted to discover the wine world by herself. Therefore, after studying agronomy in Greece, Chloi made her way to France and then to Portugal to obtain a Master of Science degree in viticulture and oenology. Having this diploma under her belt, she travelled the world to work for wineries in France, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile. It was only after these experiences that she became determined to find her own style of making wine in Greece.
Chatzivaritis Estate started in 1994 as a vision of the Chatzivaritis family, and today it has over 120 acres of vineyard, all farmed organically. Chloi’s parents are wine lovers and started the winery project as a hobby, and with time, they were able to transmit this love, not only to her and her brother, but to the extended family. “The whole family feels for the winery, if we need help, there are so many people who come for help without asking anything. This makes me very passionate. It’s not just a job, it’s much more than that.” says Chloi.
When Chloi began her work at Chatzivaritis Estate in 2017, she had to prove to herself and to her family that she can make wine and sell it. Hence, she created a new line of wines. Each year, she works on different wines and adds the best results to her portfolio. She employs minimal intervention and allows for spontaneous fermentation. There are no additives, no fining or filtration, and as little sulphur as possible. It doesn’t stop there; she experiments with different production techniques such as carbonic maceration, the ancestral method to make pét-nat and even stomps the grapes. Different vessels such as stainless steel tanks, clay amphorae, and oak barrels give her plenty of room to be creative and to show the best characteristics of indigenous grape varieties such as Negoska, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Malagouzia, and more.
I had chance to sit down “virtually” with Chloi and ask her questions about her winemaking style and her current and future projects at Chatzivaritis Estate.
Before starting as a winemaker in Greece, you made wine in France, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile. How did those experiences affect your current winemaking philosophy?
If you look at the wineries that I’ve worked for, they were completely different. I worked for Château Margaux, which is very high end, and then I also worked for Pernod Ricard, which is a large wine producer in New Zealand. So, for me it was very interesting to see how wine is being treated in different wineries.
The experience that affected my winemaking style was my internship at Domaine Léon Barral in France. There, you actually don’t add anything, you only guide the fermentation rather than interfere. I learned a lot of things from the winemaker. His style was completely natural and that’s how I learned to do things, and how to think in that way.
How did you start to practice minimal intervention winemaking at Chatzivaritis Estate?
In 2016, I experimented with two barrels of Assyrtiko. In one of the barrels, I let indigenous yeasts do the work, and in the other barrel, I inoculated. I just wanted to see if the indigenous yeasts would be able to finish the fermentation, and it worked perfectly well. Moreover, the aromatic profiles of these two barrels were different, which was very interesting. After the fermentation, I decided to continue experimenting with the wild-fermented barrel of Assyrtiko. A friend of mine, a professor of microbiology in wine at the university was helping me in this experiment. In one part of the wine, I made a bentonite addition and filtered, as done in a lot of wineries. But the other part, I basically did nothing. I bottled them and after 6 months, I tasted them again. The best wine was the unfiltered one, the one that I didn’t use anything.
You have been making a project to produce Pet-nat. Could you tell us the story of it?
I am doing this project with Tobias Tullberg, a Swedish winemaker, who is working in England and making sparkling wine. Tobias and I always had an idea to do a project together. In 2018, he proposed to make a pét-nat. I always wanted to make sparkling wine, but never made the necessary investment for it. So when Tobias came to me, I was very excited about it.
In 2018, we found some organic grapes in the region, some Malagouzia and Muscat grapes, which are both aromatic varieties, so they were very interesting for our Pet-nat. However, the first year, we didn’t know the parcel very well and we couldn’t catch the optimal harvest date. We harvested the Muscat with approximately 12.5 percent potential alcohol, which is quite high for the Pet-nat. To balance it out, with the least amount of intervention possible, instead of adding water or adjusting acidity, we harvested underripe Xinomavro grapes and blended it together.
The following year, 2019, was a much better year, as we gained experience from the previous vintage. The production went smoothly, and we even made a rosé pét-nat, since we always want to have something new to try. For the rosé, we mainly used Negoska, which is an indigenous variety cultivated only in Goumenissa and blended it with Xinomavro.
What were the best and the most challenging parts of pét-nat project?
I think the most challenging parts in production were to find the exact density to bottle the wine and then of course the disgorging. To be honest, however, I think these were the most fun parts at the same time because they are the ones that you need to be very much involved. You need to be there all the time, so if you love what you do, and if you like the project, these are the ones that make you feel very much alive. Last year, for example, for disgorging of the wine, we were working for 23 hours straight, which was challenging, but at the same time it was very fun.
What are your plans for the future of Chatzivaritis Estate?
We are slowly moving towards agroforestry and permaculture, starting to experiment with even more sustainable ways of viticulture. I am slowly taking some wine from the main production of our winery and bringing them closer to my philosophy. Before Covid-19, I was planning to develop wine tourism that would be nicely incorporated in our village in order to keep development opportunities for local people. Although it may take more time than I thought because of Covid-19, this is one of my plans.
What about the local grape varieties?
Working with local varieties has been always our priority. I actually want to switch our international varieties that we have, graft them, and replace with local varieties.
I find it very interesting to experiment with Negoska. It’s the indigenous variety of the region and it’s not very common to make mono-varietal Negoska wines. At the moment, I make three different wines with Negoska. It’s a challenging grape variety because it’s not very balanced, but I think there are minimal intervention solutions. My latest addition is a wine called Spin, an effort of mine to show the unique characteristics of Negoska grape variety.
Migma Pét-Nat Rosé 2019
This is the rosé addition to the pét-nat project. With only a couple of hours of maceration, it’s a 70/30 blend of Negoska and Xinomavro that give the wine an intense pink color. Chloi and Tobias bottle the wine before the fermentation finishes, so the bubbles are naturally trapped in the bottles. After six months of aging on the wine’s lees in the same bottles, they disgorge them manually one-by-one. The wine is very fruity, full of aromas and flavors of cherries and strawberries. It stands out with crisp acidity and well-formed bubbles.
Chatzivaritis Negoska Carbonic 2019 (Protected Geographical Indication Slopes of Paiko)
This unique wine is made from 100 percent Negoska grapes which were cultivated organically in the Pentalofos region of Goumenissa. Chloi makes this wine with carbonic maceration, which means that after the harvest, the grapes were left as a whole cluster to initiate fermentation inside each intact berry. After ten full days, the grapes are pressed and allow for spontaneous fermentation. It sits six months on its lees. It’s unfined and unfiltered with a low-sulfur content. All this special attention gives the wine a vibrant ruby color with intense aromas of red fruit, clove, cinnamon, and even balsamic. On the palate, it has balanced acidity and elegant tannins.