Gustav Clauss: the founder of the first great wine industry

 

July-August 2022 Greek Business File, Issue No 138

Business History

by George Vailakis

If there is one product that supported the economy of the newly formed Greek state like no other, it is the raisin, since it covered more than half of the total value of the country’s exports — when it was still taking its first steps. In fact, from 1830 to 1860, the volume of raisin production increased tenfold and the increase in exports was proportional

As raisins had become increasingly desirable in the European markets, at that time more than 120,000 acres were cultivated in the Peloponnese. Somehow history would intersect with the personal story of Gustav Clauss (1815-1908), an ambitious German, who in 1845 found himself in Greece to work. And this was only the beginning. He later became the founder and creator of the first large wine industry — the legendary Achaia Clauss.

The hut that turned into the first Greek winery

In 1848, Gustav Clauss came to Patras to take over the management of the export department of the raisin export house Fels & Co. It is the time when the Greek raisin becomes irresistible. The ports of London, Liverpool, Marseilles, Trieste, Amsterdam and Odessa were the destination of ships leaving laden with raisins. Patras was the largest export port of the product to the West, while the economic benefits brought by the raisin trade were the main reason for the general economic development.

Clauss demonstrates exceptional abilities and his work in the newly formed Greek state ensures him a lot of financial comfort. Along with entrepreneurship, he brings a cosmopolitan air as well as the philhellenism of his Bavarian homeland. In 1858, he married Thomais Karpounis, daughter of a colonel. The couple lives in Patras and in 1860 they have a daughter they name Amalia. Clauss enjoyed life in the countryside, he loved horse riding and on one of his excursions he will find himself on a plateau called Riganokampos with a wonderful view of the Patraic Gulf – a dreamy area rich in water. There, he decided to buy a small vineyard and build a hut, so he could spend the night. The following year, he made wine for personal use and for some of his friends. The wine tasted unique and his friends were delighted. This is how he got the idea of organising a winery. He realised the prospects of such an enterprise and, after purchasing the largest part of Riganokampos, in 1861 he founded the Achaia-Clauss Wine Company Ltd and proceeded to plant many vineyards.

The fall of raisins

In the meantime, demand for raisins, which had been so strong in previous years, had begun to subside, creating a huge problem for Greek producers. Due to the “raisin crisis” that began in the 1850s, the processing of raisins into wine, in order to make use of the excess production, was more imperative than ever: it was a solution.

The full article is published in the July-August 2022 Greek Business Filehere.