This article first appeared here in Khuluma Magazine
Drive along Johannesburg’s Marlborough Ave, adjacent to Delta park, and you’re bound to find a bustle of activity. The Delta Café buzzes with families out to soak up some sunshine, avid green fingers browse the specials at the Colorful Splendour, all while walkers and cyclists whizz by in one of the city’s favourite green belts. What might catch many off guard however, is that you’ll also find locals sitting for a wine tasting at Joburg’s very own winery.
Tucked away in the collective of small businesses, you’ll find Gerakaris Family Wines. It was a cool autumn afternoon, with an hour to spare before flying out of the city, that I found myself sampling my way through the range. With a glass of wine in hand, discussing winemaking, I had to pinch myself to remember I was in Joburg, and not back home in the Cape Winelands.
Kath Gerakaris is the winemaker and owner and shared her unique journey with me. After studying viticulture and oenology at New Zealand’s Lincoln University, she visited South Africa for a short stint of winemaking. With the South African industry having made such a significant mark in the Southern Hemisphere, much of her New Zealand material referenced South African studies. Coupled with falling in love with the country on a previous visit, heading across was a no brainer.
An initial six weeks at Stellenbosch’s Thelema Mountain Vineyards turned into nine months on the estate. Fast forward some time, and marriage took Kath to Johannesburg where away from the vineyards, she pursued wine marketing. It was initially her husband’s idea to source some grapes and make some wine in their garage, but five years later she decided to grow the project. After a lengthy search, the right venue was found and Gerakaris Family Wines was born.
Of course, Kath has seen her fair share of heads turning when she mentions winemaking in Johannesburg: “Their response is often blank.. a pregnant pause while they work out what they should be saying. Some of the visitors think that the wine barrels at the cellar are just a nice display!”
Winemaking in Johannesburg has landed up being somewhat easier than anticipated. While the cellar climate may be cooler and dryer, it hasn’t posed a challenge. What has been difficult, is the isolation from her contemporaries in the Cape: “The biggest thing for me personally is that I don’t sit around Friday nights with friends who are winemakers and talk. I land up going through long stretches where I’m not talking with winemakers at all.”
But despite any challenge, that has arisen from winemaking in such a unique location, Kath has achieved something significant. Grapes are sourced from the Swartland and Elgin and then delivered to the cellar where she currently produces around 9000 bottles per year. The lion’s share of the sales happens directly through the tasting room – the car guards are well used to seeing visitors returning, boxes in hand. The remainder is served in glasses in several local restaurants, proud to serve a tipple made only a stone’s throw away.
Now that we know the story, it’s time to be introduced to the wines:
- First up is the Ellaki Chenin Blanc 2022, a fresh unwooded Chenin, elegant in character presenting stone fruit on the palate.
- The 1242 Syrah is what Kath refers to as her happy mistake. One year the truck carrying grapes came off the road, and although the driver was fine, the fruit was lost. After a desperate call to a friend, replacement fruit was sourced from the cooler Elgin region, offering an interesting alternative to the other two Syrahs from the warmer Swartland climate. A lighter-bodied wine, but still with substance.
- Tom Syrah 2018 is a classic Swartland Syrah that is full of fruit and freshness, but herbaceous with an added spiciness, and enough personality to match its big mouthful.
- The penultimate wine, my highlight from the selection, is the Elli Chenin Blanc 2020. This naturally-fermented food wine has a structured palate from fruit, with the oak component playing a supportive and not domineering role.
- Lastly, and undoubtedly Kath’s favourite, Thomas Syrah 2017 sports long tannins and an equally long palate. This elegant wine is made from the finest of the barrels in each year’s production.
I asked Kath what’s next for Gerakaris, and she was quick to tell me that she’s on the search for a new varietal – something unique to add to the portfolio; so keep both eyes and palate peeled. For Joburgers up for a new experience, Gerakaris is a tasty fit. Tastings are run Wednesday to Sunday, and cost R100 per person, with cheese boards available on request. And if you’re planning on visiting on a weekend, make sure to book in advance. gerakaris.co.za