‘Greek Wine Cellars – D. Kourtakis S.A.’ was established in 1895 by Vassilis Kourtakis (1865-1946), the first Greek oenologist in contemporary Greece to hold a degree in oenology.
Vassilis Kourtakis began his wine-making activities in Markopoulo, 30 km east of Athens, in the plain of the Mesogia, Attica. At the time the region was a major wine-growing and wine-producing area. Soon, the company Vassilis Kourtakis had founded grew into one of the major wine producers of Greece. In those days, wine was sold in bulk, targeting mostly the Athenian market and the nearby islands of the Argosaronic Gulf. In the early 20th century, the favorite wine of Athenians was none other than the traditional Retsina wine. Soon, Vassilis Kourtakis began to be touted as the wine producer who crafted the choicest of Retsina wines, a Retsina that had consistent quality, fine taste, and aroma.
Dimitris Kourtakis (1908-2005), son of Vassilis, studied oenology in France in the 1930’s and emerged a fully-fledged oenologist. Being a cosmopolitan man who was widely traveled, Dimitris realized it was high time marketing practices entered the world of Greek wine. Putting an end to bulk distribution, he began bottling the company’s wine. It was time indeed: the quantities of Retsina that Dimitris Kourtakis produced were so massive that General de Gaulle, then President of France, said on his state visit to Greece: “Kourtakis produces so much wine that the entire French fleet could sail in it.”
In the late 1960’s, Vassilis Kourtakis, the third generation of the Kourtakis family, the grandson of the founder and son of Dimitris and today’s Chairman and Managing Director of ‘Greek Wine Cellars – D. Kourtakis S.A., took over the company’s reins. Following in his father’s footsteps, he obtained an oenology degree from Dijon, France, complementing it with a degree in Business Administration from England. His entry into the company was accompanied by fresh ideas, youthful drive, and plans to conquer new markets beyond the borders of Greece.
Soon Vassili Kourtakis’wine credentials were being recognized. He was appointed 3 times President of the Greek Wine & Spirits Association, and this was followed by an eight year term as elected President of the European Wine Committee based in Brussels and Vice-President of the Vitivinicultural Advisory Committee. For these services to the wine industry he was created an Honorary Life President of the European Wine Committee.
In 1972 the company became a ‘Societé Anonyme’ while steadily the commercial success of the highly acclaimed ‘Retsina Kourtaki’ scaled new heights. From 1980 onwards company sales in Greece exceeded 60 million bottles annually. At the same time the company began to export its renowned Retsina: the Greeks of the Diaspora, scattered around the globe, sought out their beloved Retsina which brought the homeland closer to them.
In the mid-1980’s Vassilis Kourtakis created a state-of-the-art winery in Ritsona, Viotia. The new, ultra-modern plant had the capacity of vinifying from each harvest 30 million kilograms of grapes. In the meantime, while continuing with the production of its Retsina, the company adopted cutting-edge winemaking methods and engaged in the production of a new range of non-resinated wines. In 1985, the company launched its Apelia range. The new wine came in 75cl and 1.5 liter bottles and was destined for home consumption within the Greek market. Ten years later, in 1995, one of every two economy-sized bottles of wine consumed by Greek households at the dinner table would be the 1.5-liter bottle of white, rosé, red, or medium sweet Apelia wine.
In 1992, the rapid pace of growth of its exports and the need to expand its wine portfolio led the company to enter into a pioneering co-operation with the Calliga winery. ‘Greek Wine Cellars’ would take over both the production and sales of the Calliga products in Greece and abroad, thus adding a premium quality range of wines to its own portfolio. Additionally, the export drive of the company continued to take off, with exports to 32 countries around the world. In 2000 exports accounted for nearly half of the company’s annual turnover.
In 2004, the company took yet another decisive step by buying 50% of the share capital of ‘Oenoforos S.A.’, thereby undertaking to sell the ‘boutique’ wines of the noted and respected winemaker, Angelos Rouvalis. This union resulted in further success: ‘Asprolithi,’ a wine crafted by ‘Oenoforos’ continued its popular course in the Greek market, and two more wine brands crafted by Angelos Rouvalis, ‘Mikros Vorias’ and ‘Ianos’, were given a chance to show their merits.
In late 2009 ‘Greek Wine Cellars’ began a co-operation with the group ‘Grands Chais de France’ to distribute the GCF products in Greece. This leading French producer and seller of wines is especially noted for its JP Chenet range of wines. This is the No. 1 selling brand of French wine worldwide. Annual production of the JP Chenet wine range exceeds 400 million bottles. By this move, ‘Greek Wine Cellars’ added to its product range a renowned selection of imported wines, both still and sparkling, that were previously entirely absent, thereby complementing the company’s own portfolio of Greek wines.
The latest successful deal was concluded by ‘Greek Wine Cellars’ in March 2010. By this it became the sole distributor of the Babatzim products in both Greece and abroad. Anestis Babatzimopoulos is a gifted winemaker and distiller who, on his estate at Ossa, near Thessaloniki, produces the famous ouzo and tsipouro that have rightfully earned him the title of ‘master of distillation’ year after year. Through this latest commercial partnership not only the choice wines of this noted vineyard in Macedonia have been added to the wine portfolio offered by ‘Greek Wine Cellars’ but also, for the first time, the company has entered the spirits business, by selling and distributing the premium Greek distillations of ouzo and tsiporo from Babatzim.