“I really believed in myself and proved a lot of people wrong. I was proud of what I was able to accomplish.”
Aside from sports and my kids, wine is the only thing that I am interested in.”
Gus Kalaris developed his excellent palate and his love for wine at an early age. His father, a Greek Orthdox priest, often received wine bottles from funeral parlors and the Greek Embassy. Gus would then sneak into their basement and have some of the wine, despite his age. This fascination led him to work as a bartender and then as a salesman for a wine distribution company.
As a salesman, you can earn as much as you want, as little as you want. This job opened my eyes to the prospect of doing this on my own.”
In December 1986, he started Constantine Wines with just $14,000. His company achieved uninterrupted success over the years due to Gus’ discipline and his firm belief in his products. Now, Constantine Wines has earned a stellar reputation in the wine distribution business. This also paved the way for Gus to acquire over ten acres of vineyards in Calistoga to fulfill his dream of creating Axios, the critically acclaimed luxury Napa wine brand.
When I purchased the vineyard, I had an idea: at the time, it was planted for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. The Sauvignon Blanc was really old and low yield, and it wasn’t the focus I wanted to have. Cab is the easy play—it’s the most sought out there. But if I’m going to look at my vineyard everyday, I want to see something that I loved. So, we replanted it to Cabernet Franc. We continue to make a name with Merlot, but the idea is to make a Pomerol-style wine that is Cabernet Franc-Merlot.”
Gus Kalaris’ belief to always overdeliver propelled Axios to notoriety, garnering Wine of the Year at the Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition for their 2013 Kalaris Merlot. Axios’ other vintages had also received high praise from illustrious wine critics and publications.
In September 2017, Gus went back to his roots. With the direction of Bob Egelhoff and a partnership with Greece’s Alpha Estate, they bottled Philotimo, a stellar blend between Xinomavro and Axios Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
“It’s truly a greek wine,” Gus says. “Philotimo is one of the grandest words in the Greek language which means ‘friend of honor.’ You’re a steward of the community, being in the right side of history. We’re really proud of it.”
As someone who loves to surround himself with wine, Gus Kalaris also knows the value of surrounding yourself with good relationships. The importance he gave to this had proved to be indispensable: it led him to meeting good suppliers and creating invaluable friendships in Napa.
I was very fortunate to have really strong mentors in Napa. The Director of Harlan Estate, Don Weaver, was instrumental to getting all the Napa brands and getting our book out because he had faith in me. Although I was representing these people, they all rallied when it came to the winery.”
Despite the demands of his work, Gus thinks it is essential for anyone in his position to give back to his community. He is involved in numerous charitable organizations such as the Cal Ripken Sr Foundation and Pathfinders for Autism.
You have to give until it hurts. I’ve been blessed by being part of these organizations and the people you meet—it’s just mindblowing.”
In the world of vino, there is no room for complacency. Competition is bigger than ever before, with lots of people seduced by the success stories in the industry. If anybody was going into the wine business, they might learn from Gus Kalaris and the experience he has acquired over the course of thirty years.
You need to be hyperdisciplined. Don’t go spending your cash on anything but inventory. We are proud of our humble beginnings. When we first started, we only had a card table and a typewriter. If we started with more money, I don’t think we would have been successful. You have to believe in the wines that you buy and you need to foster great relationships.”
You can purchase Axios wines at www.axioswine.com.