Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Gerakaris Family Wines is one of Johannesburg’s hidden gems. Making their own wine and offering tastings to the public, owner and winemaker Kath Gerakaris talks about how she started, the process of winemaking, and surviving lockdown alcohol bans.
When Kath decided that marketing wasn’t working for her, the New Zealand-born winemaker made moves that landed her in South Africa. “I always describe this as an early mid-life crisis… I was working in marketing, sitting in an office and it just wasn’t me. I took a year out to study winemaking oenology and viticulture at Lincoln University, New Zealand.
“Thereafter, I decided I would come to South Africa and then Europe in order to experience different areas – sort of combining travel with work – common practice with winemakers starting out their careers,” she says. “I landed my first harvest job at Thelema Mountain Vineyards in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, then moved on to Flagstone Wines, Whalehaven Winery, and met my husband while working at Idiom Wines. Since he was located in Johannesburg, I moved there and continued making wine at home.”
Kath established the winery as a business five years ago, importing grapes from Swartland, which she did after her children started school. “We [Kath and her husband] always brought up the equivalent of one barrel worth of grapes to make wine at home, so when the kids started school I figured why not bring up more grapes and turn this into a business?
“We work closely with a farmer in the Swartland. The grapes are picked in the morning and taken directly to a cold storage truck so it can reach us overnight. As soon as it arrives, the chenin grapes are pressed to make the white wine – it’s quite a long day. After pressing, the grapes go into stainless steel tanks, with fermenting taking anything from one to three weeks. You’re likely to get the unwooded white Chenin Blanc ready early in the year while reds are in barrels for a year before it can be ready.
Pressing the red syrah grapes is loads of fun. When they arrive, they take up a lot of space. The tasting area gets full with thousands of litres of white plastic tanks used for processing and fermenting for a month and into barrels for the rest of the year. Around December/January, we take it out for bottling and we get ready for the new harvest season,” she explains.
The tasting box includes one of each of their five wines, with a complimentary bottle of their 1209 Syrah.
Though the tasting area gets turned into a winemaking area, the winery is still open to the public so they may see Kath in action.
Surviving alcohol bans
Like any other business selling alcohol, Gerakaris Family Wines was affected by the Covid-19 lockdown bans on alcohol and as a means to continue selling, they came up with the idea of selling tasting boxes.
Kath says, “During one of the bans, onsite consumption wasn’t allowed and this meant no tasting room, so we came up with the idea of packaging the wine tasting experience by selling a tasting box. It includes one of the five wines we make. Either customers pick it up on their way home from work or I would make deliveries to those working from home. It became so popular that we’re continuing with it even though the ban has been lifted. Apart from that, there isn’t much we can do when bans are introduced; we just wait it out. The advantage of producing wine is that our stock doesn’t off as quickly as beer, so we manage.”
Wines produced at Gerakaris Family Wines are Ellaki Chenin Blanc, Elli Wooded Chenin, 1209 Syrah, Tom Syrah and Thomas Syrah. You can also find these at the Dry Dock in Parkhurst, Craighall Wine and Liquor, and Norman Goodfellows retailing from R125 to R280.