JOHANNESBURG - Kathy Gerarkaris is a winemaker who runs the only urban fully-fledged winery in Craighall, Joburg - Gerakaris Family Wines.
It is a marvel. Most winemakers in South Africa are based in wine areas, prime of which is Stellenbosch, Western Cape. This makes the winery unique.
Gerakaris says she gets grapes transported to Johannesburg in refrigerated containers in trucks from the Cape, and makes the wines “right here in Craighall”.
Considering that the grapes have travelled for long distances from the Cape, her operation is somewhat daunting, she says.
“When you consider how the grapes have travelled and all the rest of that, it’s remarkable. It’s all temperature controlled,” she says.
Founded in 2008 by Gerakaris, Gerakaris Family Wines, according to its website - www.gerakaris.co.za - is a wine wine marketing company focused on bringing on bringing boutique Cape wineries to the Johannesburg market.
So how did Gerarkaris;s journey bear vintage?
She was born in New Zealand, she did a postgraduate diploma in viticulture at the University of Lincoln in England.
Gerarkaris moved to South Africa, to settle and sink roots.
Gerarkaris worked for several top wine cellars including Thelema and Flagstone.
She says, “I love it here, I made friends here, got permanent residency, worked in the wine industry, little bit of winemaking, little bit of marketing, started a garagiste,” and the rest is history, or so they say.
She wanted to grow her operations beyond the garagiste movement, which started in 1995, and involved small artisanal winemakers who made 9 000 litres per vintage or less (12 000 bottles or 40 barrels).
“We (with her husband) thought we could do this on a larger scale,” she says.
It took Gerarkaris a couple of years to find the right location, and it took another two years to get a licence,.
Her husband, who put up the finance to buy the wine-making equipment, encouraged her to make a go of making her own wine.
“It is not a cheap financial entry,” says Gerakaris.
“We made our first vintage in 2010. Cabernet Sauvignon, and then changed to Syrah,” says Gerakaris.
The winery makes and markets a Ellaki (Chenin Blanc), Elli (Chenin Blanc) and Thomas (Syrah or Shiraz).
Gerakaris says, “Having a winery up here in Joburg is what gives me the greatest pleasure. People come here and are able to see it. It is an amazingly relaxed urban farm, kind of vibe.”
The business has evolved.
Gerakaris says Gerakaris Family Wines also provides wine education to professionals who may wish to know more about wine, supplies private markets and has clients to which it provides a variety of wine consulting services.
Though the business is making reasonable income and is “a viable business at the moment”, Gerakaris says they are "not making a killing out of it” but “we are getting there”.
“One of our big benefits is that we don’t own the farm. We buy in grapes. Investing in a farm is a massive undertaking: the cost of land, the cost of planting, the cost of working it, the time involved before you get a good crop of the vines,” says Gerakaris about her business decision to operate the winery from Joburg.
“Most start-up winemakers will have their own cellar space, but would not take up the cost of running the farm themselves,” she says.
As someone who loves the outdoors, Gerakaris says she enjoys her works and jests: “In another life, I was probably a farmer.”
Gerakaris feels lucky, as a woman entrepreneur and a wife, to be married to a husband who is wholly supportive of her career and vision and supports her initiatives.
“It’s very much a family business,” says Gerakaris.
She says, as a woman entrepreneur and businesswoman, she has not experienced any blatant discrimination that has affected her business operations negatively.
“I don’t think so. There aren’t that many females in the industry. Anyone who has a problem chatting to a female, I kind of move on. It’s to their detriment that they miss out of 50 percent of the population. I have never had any diloifficulties of being blocked, I surround myself with people who see passall of that,” says Gerakaris.
She says her principle in life is to do what you really love and enjoy doing. “Life’s too short.”