Chief Winemaker & Managing Director, Melina Tassou

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Named after the Ancient Kikones, Domaine Kikones’ organically cultivated vineyards are located in Maronia, Thrace (Northern Greece). The Kikones, as referred by Homer, was the tribe that lived in Thrace between the Vistonida lake and Evros river. Excellent horsemen, the Kikones were the most civilized tribe in Thrace, and their wine was famous in the ancient world.

 

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A breeze coming off the sea combined with Northern winds blowing from the Rodopi mountains makes the area unique for cultivating vineyards and producing high quality grapes.  Combining vineyard management adopted from Australia, hygiene and technology of Bordeaux, vinification from Burgundy and combining this with the unique and outstanding Thracian terroir, Domaine Kikones has created exceptional wines.  All Domaine Kikones Wines follow the rule of one bottling per year per label so that the wine remains consistent.

 

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Melina along with her brother Vassilis are the owners of Domaine Kikones. While Vassilis concentrates on cultivation of the vineyard, Melina as chief winemaker, spends her time making the wines. An agricultural engineer and Bordeaux trained winemaker, Melina, after her studies, worked in famous wineries, including Château Malescot St Exupéry, Margaux, Bordeaux, France. 3° Grand Cru Classé. 
Château Smith Haut Laffite, Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux, France, Grand Cru Classé, 
Domaine Christophe Perrot – Minot, Morey St Denis, Burgundy, France. 
Brown Brothers, Milawa, Victoria, Australia to gain experience.

Those involved with Domaine Kikones are professional, interesting and have great respect for wine. They are proud of what they have achieved and look forward to more success professionally and emotionally in the future. Melina will lead the team into a bright future. We all at Hellenic Lifestyle has  great respect for her, and are honored to feature her  in this three part interview: 1.  You, your wines and the winery.  2.  Greek wine and it’s industry.  3. Women in wine.

1.  You, Your Wines and the Winery

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HL (Hellenic Lifestyle):  How about a little Domaine Kikones history?  

MT (Melina Tassou): Domaine Kikones first vintage was in 2004, and until then there were no other wineries in the region making bottled wine. Domaine Kikones is the first winery of the region and unfortunately the only one till today that produces wine only from privately owned vineyards from the grape till the bottle.

HL:  Which varietals do you work with, and are you growing them all yourselves? 

MT: All Domaine Kikones vineyards are organically cultivated and privately owned.  The varieties cultivated are Malagousia (a Greek white floral – fruity aromatic variety),  Limnio  (considered the most ancient Greek variety), Sangiovese ( The Italian variety that came up from an Australian inspiration)  and  the international varieties, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (each showing a unique character when cultivated in Maronia – Thrace).

HL:  Are there other extensions or areas of your business other than wine making such as tourism/catering/education?

MT: Not yet…  But it’s a priority for the future..

HL:  Your thoughts about Organic, Biodynamic, Eco-friendly or sustainable farming practices?  

MT: We do organic in the vineyards and biodynamics for some stages of winemaking. Being in alignment with nature is the only way to make the best wine possible.

HL:  What was the best year for your winery and why? 

MT:  2014 was the best year so far because we doubled the sales from the year before, but I am sure 2015 is going to be even better.

HL:  Which of your wines (2 or 3) would you recommend to someone contemplating purchasing them for the first time? And what foods would you pair with them? 

MT:  I would at first suggest the two Greek varieties we grow because they are unique.

-Maron Kikones White, Malagousia 100% floral and fruity. Pairs great with all kinds of seafood.

-Limnio Kikones, Limnio 100% considered to be the most ancient red Greek variety. Many Sommeliers compare this to an elegant Pinot Noir. Pairs great with moussaka.

– Syrah Kikones, Syrah 100% mind blowing even for people that never tasted wine before.  Pairs great with filet mignon, cooked lamb or fois gras.

I would definitely recommend the rest of Domaine Kikones Wines also, as we do not make second best wines, they are all unique. They are all made with traditional winemaking techniques combined with modern scientific winemaking methods. All grapes are hand picked, hand sorted, with less chemicals and human intervention as possible.

 HL:   Any plans for new products or new ideas? 

MT:  We do produce seven different labels right now and we do not intend to make more but  we focus on making the highest quality on the ones we produce right now.

HL:  What’s the most impressive wine you’ve ever created? Is that also the one you are most proud of?  

MT:  All Domaine Kikones wines impress me each time I taste them and I am so proud for being able to see this through other people’s opinions on them.

HL:  Which of your wines means the most to you?

MT:  I love them all the same, these are our babies.

HL:  Why and when did you decide to choose wine as a career, and what have been the high and low points for you during that time? 

MT:  I chose wine because I loved chemistry and would have loved to have created perfumes.  However,  I decided to combine this with my love for cooking and this is the way the winemaking came out.  There have been many ups and downs. A Gold Decanter medal for the first Syrah Kikones we ever made was the first high point and the fact that people from around the globe love the wine is an everyday pleasure.  The low points were struggling with an unfair system of selling wines before the crisis in Greece. The Greek crisis freed the market more and helped Domaine Kikones sales.

HL:  How did you first break into the business—your first job?

MT:  During my studies in Bordeaux, I worked in two famous wineries of the Bordeaux region. Château Malescot St. Exupery and Smith Haut Lafitte  were where I met and worked with important people as Mr. Michel Roland.

HL:  What is your average day like?  

MT:  Wonderful! We have a great team of people at Domaine Kikones and I am honored to lead this team. A day is… lots of tastings, thinking about improving the wines and ourselves, welcoming people at Domaine Kikones from different regions or countries, showing them our beautiful region, Thrace, and in the afternoons playing with my son, lots of travels, meeting with friends and having fun.

HL:  Your proudest moment?

MT:  So many… I am very proud about the fact that such a new winery as Domaine Kikones, only 8 years on the market, is so well known already in Greece and abroad.

HL:  What is your next biggest challenge?

MT:   Be the most famous wine from Greece known abroad and be constantly sold out.

HL:  What are your plans for the future?

MT:  Creating more wonderful wines and making Thrace, our region, famous about the wines produced as it was in Antiquity.

HL:  Where and when was your best wine related travel adventure.

MT:  The Mid Atlantic Wine and Food Festival last year in Delaware, United States.

HL:  What would you like to be known for? 

MT:  For being awesome!:)

HL:  It is a weekday evening and you are at home and comfortable.  Tell us—what are you drinking? 

MT:  A glass of Chardonnay Kikones with crackers and salmon caviar.

HL:  For a novice just beginning to collect wines, with little knowledge of Greek varietals, which of your wines should he or she buy and why? 

MT:  I would propose any white or red Kikones Wine because in a few years his/her investment is going to be very profitable!

HL:  What is your policy with visitors? What do you do to attract tourism?  Where are most of your visitors from? 

MT:  We love welcoming people at Domaine Kikones. We offer free tours and wine tastings, along with mini seminars on how to taste wine in 15min. People love this and they never see a glass of wine the same as before. Most of our visitors come from Belgium and the United States, in addition to those from Greece.

HL:  Tell me three wines from your portfolio that I should have at a party? 

MT:  Wine is fun, that’s why our labels are colored.  I would suggest for your party the Maron Kikones White (Greek variety Malagousia), the fruity Maron Kikones Red (Sangiovese 100%), the Ippeas Kikones (Cab. Sauvignon-Merlot blend with a name which means horse rider),  and lastly, our Cab. Sauvignon- Merlot that could easily stand all by itself.

HL:  Awards and recognitions for your wines?  

MT:  We are very proud because until today Domaine Kikones has been awarded with 24 different international wine awards from the U.S. till China. Most of these awards come from Decanter World Wine Awards in London, U.K., the most important wine competition in Europe.

2.  Greece’s Wine & Wine Industry

 

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HL:  What special qualities do you feel greek wines offer the wine connoisseur?

MT:  Over the last years more and more people in Greece have made wines out of unknown (until now) indigenous varieties. I think that this is something very interesting for someone who loves wine tasting. Being able to discover flavors that you never thought existed in a wine, this is what makes Greek wines unique.

In addition to the indigenous varieties, Greece is a blessed land in terms of climate and variety. It is not flat as most winemaking regions. This diversity gives wines completely different characters even if they come from international varieties. The different terroirs that you may find in such a small country is amazing, from volcanic to sandy or very fertile.

As a bonus, Greece is a non polluted country if we compare it to others, no car industries, no chemicals, no GMOs and no nuclear power. It’s a huge paradise field for growing grapes or any other fruit or vegetables… That’s why here the food tastes so great!

HL:  Does the Greek wine industry have a policy of support and sharing, or is a cutthroat business? 

MT:  Big and well-known wine industries in Greece are in a very difficult financial position. They do try to keep themselves up in the market by making aggressive moves but their problem is not the market. The problem comes from inside and is combined with the crisis, so I do believe we are going to see big changes in the Greek wine world very soon.

HL:  How can we better expose the Greek wine market and educate the foreign buyer to our wines? What would you do to better market Greek wines overall? 

MT:  I would create a private independent organization that would be fair for all the wineries even if they were big or small. I would spread the word about the uniqueness of Greek wines and oblige all the restaurants that want to be named as Greek restaurants in the world to carry Greek products only. I would fight to bring Greek wines on the wine lists of non-Greek restaurants around the globe.

HL:  What are the biggest changes you have seen in the Greek wine industry? What do you think will be the next biggest step for Greek wine?  

MT:   The Greek wine industry is relatively new. The crisis brought a lot of changes. People who do hard work and depend on their abilities will shine.  While those who survived and had good times because of loans that should have never be given to them, will be one day obliged to pay them back. Everyone will get what they deserve. The next big step is going to be justice for those who love to make wine and didn’t make a winery just for the fame or the money they would touch from the European Subsidies.

HL:  What are the biggest obstacles in exporting wine from Greece?  Which countries are the most difficult markets to break into and why?

MT:  The biggest obstacle is the bad opinion people might have of Greek wine. For example when Greek restaurants are not supportive of the Greek wine industry and serve bulk wine of bad quality to the tourists in the summer… this is a crime. In this way these tourists go back to their country thinking that Greek wine is horrible and now won’t want to buy it or try it again. Many of our problems have been created by ourselves from within our country.

I don’t think there is a difficult or easy country to sell to, as long as you may find the right people to work with. People that will appreciate the grape rather than the name or the country.

HL:  Do you think that Greek wine will one day share the same fame that yogurt and olives have?  

MT:  I definitely do. Many people are working on this right now.

HL:  What is the best part of making wine in Greece?  And, on the other hand, what is the most trying or frustrating? 

MT:  The best part is just being in Greece. Greece is fun. It’s good weather, friendly people and beautiful beaches.  (Night swimming is great after a long vintage day!)   The most tiring is that in many cases there is no justice and no entrepreneur friendly environment.

HL:  What is happening in terms of varietals in Greece?

MT:  They say the Greek varietals are as many as the grains of sand with too many things to explore and taste yet…

HL:  Which is Greece’s best indigenous varietal? 

MT:  I would say the Limnio. It is unique, so difficult to produce, but such a rewarding feeling when you finally manage to put it out of the darkness.

HL:  What are the major business challenges for the Greek Wine Industry going forward?

MT:  Going forward during a crisis is very challenging. We all believe that the Greek economy will quickly be more stable and that the country will be more business friendly.

HL:  Wine tourism in Greece—what future and growth do you see?

MT:  We already see the wine tourism in Greece growing. More and more wineries are welcoming people and perform wine tastings. More and more young people are interested in wine too during the last years. I believe there are a lot of opportunities for growth in the future.

HL:  Which areas in the Greek market need improving. 

MT:  There are many areas in the Greek market that could be improved. The increase in wine bars are now opening in Greece and people are interested in tasting different wines and appreciating them.

People have to be more informed about the whole world of wine through different events and presentations. It is not by chance that this was the first year with an organized Wine Week in Athens where many wineries and restaurants participated. Many then continued with participation in the recent Wine Fair in the center of Athens.

Greece is gradually becoming a paradise for wine lovers. The diversity and variety of the wines produced is remarkable. So many different vineyards from different places, mainland, islands, up on the mountains, nearby the sea… give different and better wines each year. Competition is making everyone better in terms of quality and small wineries with young fresh winemakers are now getting a better chance to be known.

3.  Women and Wine 

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HL:  Although there is an increasing number of women winemakers in the world, the business is still very much a male dominated environment. What challenges does this present to you? 

MT:  This is great news for us. Being a female winemaker is different and rare. Women work more with their intuition and are known to be better multi-taskers. Many women also have to be more hard working since it seems they have to prove that they are better than men or their equal in this competitive industry. We are actually more women in the Kikones Team than men… this is the hidden power of Domaine Kikones.

HL:  What unique dimensions do you feel that women bring to winemaking? 

MT:  Intuition, elegance, and caring for others. Wine and food is something we nurture ourselves with. A woman’s job was traditionally to feed and nurture all the family and they always do it with love, it’s their nature. At Domaine Kikones we just do it for all people with the same love as we do it for our families.

HL:  What are the largest obstacles, and what is the biggest advantage in your field in regards to gender?

 MT:  The obstacles were many and were related to a kind of sexism towards women that exists everywhere. Working hard makes people believe in you and your abilities. I think the biggest advantage is that it is not given that you are smart or good at what you do. This is what drives you to work harder and surprise everyone.

HL:  How is this all specific to Greece?  Is the Greek wine world more/less accepting of women? 

 MT:  I never felt that the Greek Wine World is less accepting to women. I guess the opposite happens. Except from the good quality, what counts is your personality and an outgoing fun character.

HL:  Where do you see women in the industry ten years from now?

MT:  I hope that women will have the place that they deserve in winemaking.

HL:  A challenge for many women–what are your biggest challenges balancing home and work? 

MT:  It is a challenge, but I am lucky enough to be Greek and have a strong family behind me that are helpful and understanding. They support me with all their strength and I am thankful for that.

HL:  Name a women you admire, and why. 

MT:  I admire Maria Callas because she was divine at what she did.

HL:  Do you think as a whole that women tend to be more demanding buyers?

MT:  I do think that all hard working people are demanding buyers. Women who work hard for being themselves have every right to deserve the best.

HL:  Are any of your wines marketed to attract women buyers specifically?

MT:  Even if we thought in the beginning that “Maron Kikones White” Malagousia variety for example which is a floral wine would be more accepted from women, men surprise us each day with the choices they make.

HL:  Are women supportive of each other in the wine industry as they are the minority? 

 MT:  Yes they are. We have very good relationships with other women winemakers and we even made a triple presentation (3 wineries) of French trained female winemakers only two years ago at a wine bar in Athens.

HL:  How can we promote younger girls to enter this field of study? 

MT:  By making them understand the beauty of being a winemaker. It’s a wonderful way to live, meet new people and have fun.

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Hellenic Lifestyle thanks you for your time and thoughts. The wine industry will continue to improve with dedicated winemakers as yourself. You are most kind, talented and knowledgeable.  You are truly an inspiration and a role model to women and wine lovers. Thank you!

 

 

Learn more about Domaine Kikones at

http://www.kikones.gr/index.php/en/

Follow them on Twitter: @DomaineKikones

Like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DomaineKikones

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1 Comment

  1. Evanne Saltonos

    March 22, 2015 at 4:35 am

    A very talented wine maker. I have had their Malagousia and it was delicious.

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