When Vassili Kourtakis (1865-1946) founded the company which now bears the name: Greek Wine Cellars D. Kourtakis S.A., in central Athens in 1895, he surely never imagined that his grandson would one day head one of the largest family-owned companies in the international wine industry.
It started out as a small business for the production and quality control of wine in Athens. In 1905, Vassili Kourtakis established his first small winery in the Mesogeia region, located approximately 30 kilometres east of Athens, then one of the most important wine-growing regions in Greece. The wine was brought to Athens and to the nearby islands in casks. The most popular was the long-lasting, aromatic retsina. The tradition of resinated wine dates back to ancient Greece. Wine was stored with resin in sealed tubes or amphorae, giving it its characteristic flavour. Nowadays, small pieces of resin are added to the wine during fermentation to achieve a similar flavour. The retsina produced by Vassili Kourtakis, the first qualified winemaker in modern Greece, gained an excellent reputation due to its consistently high quality.
Vassili’s son Dimitri (1908-2005) studied winemaking in France in the 1930s and brought back several ideas with him. Dimitri Kourtakis introduced marketing into the Greek wine industry and began bottling the wine instead of supplying it in casks. In 1963, the first filling line was installed in the winery in Markopoulo. By the early 1960s, Kourtakis retsina was sold throughout Greece. Even back then, the amount produced was so great that Charles De Gaulle, then President of France and a friend of the cosmopolitan Dimitri, said, “The amount of wine Kourtakis vinifies is so large, the entire French fleet could float in it.”
At the end of the 1960s, Dimitri’s son Vassili (*1937) took over the helm. As well as studying winemaking in Dijon and business administration in Oxford, he also brought back seven years of winemaking experience in Burgundy, along with the vision to open up new markets outside Greece. In 1972, the company became a public limited company. Revenues from Kourtaki Retsina were increasing constantly, with sales exceeding 10,000 bottles a day. After 1980, 60 million bottles were sold each year. The first exports were made – not only did members of the Greek diaspora worldwide not want to go without their cherished retsina, but many tourists to Greece also wanted an enjoyable way to revive their holiday memories.
In the mid-1980s, Vassili Kourtakis built an ultra-modern winery, Greek Wine Cellars, in Ritsona, Viotia (around 75 kilometres north of Athens). One reason for this was that the grapes from the Mesogeia region were no longer sufficient to support the huge increase in retsina production. In 1986, sales exceeded 60 million bottles. The production facility in Ritsona families of wine 37 could vinify 30 million grapes a year, which now also came from the Viotia region. The winery not only produced retsina, but also began bottling unresinated white, rosé and red wines. The year 1985 saw the launch of the Apelia brand. These clean everyday wines were sold in 1.5 litre bottles. Ten years later, the Apelia brand accounted for half of all large bottles in Greek households.
A further expansion of the portfolio took place in 1992 as a result of collaboration with the Calliga winery, owned by famous winemaker Jianni Calliga. Production and distribution were taken over by Greek Wine Cellars. Exports were then being made to 32 countries. In 1999, a series of regional wineries were built, in Mantineia, Heraklion, Crete, Nemea and Patras, which secured their supply from regional grape production. At the start of the new millennium, for the first time, exports accounted for half of sales. The company changed its name to Greek Wine Cellars D. Kourtakis S.A. In 2004, another product line was added: Greek Wine Cellars took over a 50% stake in Oenoforos S.A. owned by winemaker Angelos Rouvalis in Aegion, thus taking on the sales and marketing of exclusive wines like Asprolithi and new creations such as Mikros Vorias and Ianos.
At the end of 2009, another deal was signed. Greek Wine Cellars became the sole distributor in Greece of the wines of Les Grands Chais de France, France‘s largest wine company. Les Grands Chais de France owns, among others, the biggest French wine brand, J.P. Chenet. With more than 400 million bottles produced annually, the company is one of the largest wine producers in the world. This collaboration enabled new product lines to be added to the portfolio, such as sparkling wines.
In March 2010, the company became the sole distributor, both nationally and internationally, of the high-quality wines and spirits made by the northern Greek winery and distillery Babatzim. Anestis Babamitzopoulos is an ambitious organic winemaker and distiller in Ossa, near Thessaloniki. He produces exceptional ouzos, tsipouros and pomace brandies, which have earned him the nickname the ‘master of distillation’. A fantastic asset to the Kourtakis company.
From the one-man operation of an Athenian with a love of retsina to one of the largest family-operated internationally active players in the wine industry within three generations – still with a love of retsina and of all the other products in its broad portfolio: Greek Wine Cellars D. Kourtakis S.A.
Greek Wine Cellars D. Kourtakis S.A.
19003 Markopoulo, Attika
Tel. +30 22990 222314
Fax +30 22990 23301