Winemakers always look forward to the end of the annual harvest. The smell of fermenting grapes fills the air of the cellar, as floors are scrubbed clean of pressed fruit and discarded skins. It’s a chance to catch their breath; to watch and wait as the fruits of their labour rest happily in tank and barrel. It’s a familiar scene that plays out clear across the Cape winelands. And also, I discovered, in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Craighall Park.
It’s here in her small cellar alongside a popular garden centre and cafe, overlooking the green slopes of Delta Park, that Kath Gerakaris has, for the past decade, brought a small slice of the Western Cape wine lands to Johannesburg.
Born and raised in New Zealand, Gerakaris tired of her marketing career and decided to retrain as a winemaker. Seeking cellar experience in a new corner of the world’s wine lands, she signed on at Thelema estate for a six-week internship. That was in 2003.
Her six-week placement turned into nine months, before a move to Bruce Jack Wines, working with vineyards from across the Cape, and then to Idiom Wines. Marriage and children brought her to Johannesburg, but she wasn’t quite ready to leave her cellar days behind. After first crafting “garagiste wines, in 2014 she moved into her Craighall Park cellar and Gerakaris Family Wines was born.
“I never imagined that so many people would come here to taste our wines and see the cellar,” says Gerakaris with a smile, as she tells me of her journey to founding Joburg’s only city winery.
We’re sitting at a shady table in the garden, a popular spot for families and wine-lovers alike, and a fine place to discover her five wines crafted from Cape grapes.
“I started making wine with grapes from Elgin, but I wasn’t getting the complexity I was after,” explains Gerakaris. Through connections in the industry she found a farmer in the Swartland who had both chenin blanc and syrah to offer. It’s a corner of the country well known for both cultivars, with the likes of Adi Badenhorst and Eben Sadie sourcing grapes from surrounding vineyards.
“It’s not just about fruit. It’s about spiciness and earthiness too, and there’s a huge freshness in Swartland grapes that I just love,” adds Gerakaris, who sources fruit from the same four blocks — each with unique soils, site and aspect — for every harvest. Each harvest Gerakaris sends her fermenting tanks down to the Cape empty. They return overnight in a refrigerated truck, filled with carefully picked and sorted fruit. Then she gets to work.
Part of the charm of Gerakaris Family Wines is the hands-on nature of the operation, from the handful of tanks to the small basket press that Gerakaris loves for its “softer pressing, and gentle extraction”.
Outside at the garden tables visitors can taste the five wines in her portfolio: a pair of chenin blancs and three expressions of syrah. The ‘Elli’ chenin blanc is the flagship white wine, barrel-fermented with natural yeasts to offer a textured wine perfect for pairing with a meal. The tank-fermented Ellaki is lighter and fresher, with bright acidity.
The syrah is equally intriguing. TOM carries all the signatures of Swartland syrah, while the flagship Thomas adds additional layers of elegance. There’s also an interesting diversion in the 1242, an unwooded fruit-forward syrah made from Elgin grapes that is wonderful on warm late-summer days.
All of these can be enjoyed as a tasting — or by the glass — at the cellar door, where cheeseboards of local craft cheeses and preserves stretch a simple sip into a languid afternoon. Or consult your local wine list.
Although 90% of her wines are sold from the cellar door, “local restaurants have been amazingly supportive,” says Gerakaris. “That’s really come to the fore as they reopen after lockdown. They love to share the story of their Joburg winery.”