I’ve been eyeing this winemaker, Thanassis Parparoussis, for some time and I wanted to get to meet him. I’m a big fan of his wines but I’d never managed to talk to him; mostly it was his daughters that I had seen at wine exhibitions. So, the time had come for Nikos and I to venture towards Patras, in the Peloponnese.
Actually, the winery is on the outskirts of the city; on the fringes of urban. You wonder how this survived. You wonder at how passionate this family is about winemaking, because I’m sure others would have capitalized on using the land for real estate. We actually missed the entrance and had to call. As we drove up the path leading to the winery, with a small vineyard to our left, we entered the Garden of Eden. An old building to our left, which, we were told, was the original home to the family and now houses Thanassis, his wife and a tasting room, the winery to the right, and in front of us the most amazing wilderness you can imagine; all in chaotic harmony. Cactuses, plane trees, flowers, running water, peacocks, dogs, and a stable, with a tiny pen, housing a very elderly 34 yr old mare.
The peacocks were calling incessantly, since we hit the mating period. Their call is loud and gives you a feeling of urgency. For some odd reason, I thought peacocks don’t fly (they splendidly do). My impression was that they just strut around majestically and once in a while open that amazing fanned tail of theirs, as a show of unmatched beauty. From what I was told that is also part of the mating ritual. The more impressive the plumage, the better the chances of attracting the peahens (what do guys have to go through to spread their seeds!!) I loved this. I suddenly looked at Thanassis in a different light. I wondered if he, himself, is a peacock and his wines are his plumage.
Thanassis is soft spoken, polite, rather sparing with his words, but there is something proud and confident in the way he carries himself. I would say he’s around seventy, and was one of the first Greeks to study winemaking in France, Dijon, in the early 60’s. He worked in France for a while and returned to Patras. He came from a family who had a liquor company, so wine and ‘tsipouro’ were a family tradition. “My parents insisted that I study. I wasn’t particularly good at school but they said that no matter what I decided to become, studying gives you an asset that you can never lose”.
His family came from Bournova in Smyrna and the family had been through a lot of hardship before actually settling, as refugees, in Patras. His father, who died last summer at the age of 108, was 12 at the time and was orphaned by his father, who had been killed by the Turks in 1922. Thanassis speaks of his family and its history with great fondness. “They were happy people, with a sense of humour, and, you know, the people from Smyrna were cultivated”.
I ask him about how the winery started. “When I returned from France, I worked in a wine-making factory for a while and then decided to start my own winery in 1974. I started all of this myself. I took out a loan and planted the vines. What you see here is a small plot of 2 ha and we have another 8 ha about 35km away in the region of Araxos. The vineyard there is at sea level and is planted on sand with a geological substrate which is rich in minerals and shells. A geologist had told me that what we have there is very similar to the activity in Kyllini (thermal baths)”.
The production of the winery started with an impressive 500 000-600 000lt, which sold without a problem, but later Thanassis decided to limit his production to grapes sourced from his own vineyards and went down to 100 000-120 000 bottles. Apart from the wine, they also make grappa from Sideritis and Mavrodaphne (these are a more recent addition to their products) and they’ve been making an excellent distillate of Sideritis, aged in oak barrels for 12years, which is named “Apostagma Oenou Paleothen”.
Nikos asks him if he regrets having become a winemaker and he says: “If I regretted it I would have probably closed down, because wine-making needs a certain extent of “craziness”; you must really like what you do, otherwise you can’t survive the hard work. You must also enjoy food and life, otherwise why on earth would you want to get yourself into all of this? You know, wine is a cultural commodity; a drink that facilitates communication and pleasure.”
The varieties they grow are Sideritis (indigenous to this area), Assyrtiko, Muscat of Rio-Patras, Agiorgitiko (from Nemea) and Mavrodaphne (which they vinify both sweet and dry). In the mean-time Erifili steps into our conversation. She is the eldest of his daughters who’s followed in the footsteps of her father and is also an oenologist. She studied winemaking in Greece. She says: “Sideritis has been cultivated since the winery started 45 yrs ago and is indigenous to this area. My grandfather (mother’s father) used to cultivate it, and he would export the grapes in time for Xmas dinner, but it was my father who vinified it for the first time. It’s a variety that ripens late, end of Oct to beginning Nov and you need a number of tries in order to get excellent quality grapes. The wine has high acidity and a characteristic minerality.”
Thanassis takes over saying that: “The only way for the next generations of winemakers to survive is for them to make better wines; quality is what we can do, since the total vineyard area has reduced to almost half.” As Thanassis tells us this he remembers that La Revue du Vin de France, in the July/August issue of 2011 voted the winery as 40th best in an article named 100 Giants of the Mediterranean (100 Géants De La Mediterranée).
Ta Dora tou Dionysou 2017, 100% Sideritis white wine, mineral, with aromas of medium intensity, reminiscent of herbal tea, stone fruit and flowers. Very nice.
Assyrtiko 2016 , floral, green apple and pear, light to medium aromatic intensity, quite special in its expression of assyrtiko.
Petite Fleur 2017 a rosé version of Sideritis. This is a wine that is enchanting. Delicate, fruity, balanced. Lovely with food, but just as good without it.
Epilegmenos Oinos Reserve 2013, 100% Agiorgitiko. One of the purest expressions of Nemea. Delicate, red fruit, chocolate, coffee, and beautiful acidity.
Taos 2012, 100% Mavrodaphne. This is a beauty of a wine, but it needs food and definitely decanting. A dry mavrodaphne that beguiles with its intensely herbal character that lies on a bed of dark fruit. One of a kind.
We arrived at the winery http://www.parparoussis.com/ at 11:00am and left at 3:00pm. The warmth, the beautiful surroundings, the hospitality……the wines! We had to pull ourselves away. And, yes! Thanassis is a majestic peacock.