A Legend at Forty?

A Legend at Forty?

How many winemakers do you know who have managed to make a name for themselves, completely by themselves, and from a country that is not exactly well known for its production of wine? And hardly forty years old. Probably very few. Apostolos Thymiopoulos is one of them http://www.thymiopoulosvineyards.gr/

I am often accused of only seeing virtues in people, but it’s very hard not to, particularly if you meet someone like Apostolos. I first met him about four years ago. Seven of us had organized a trip to Naoussa, and Trilofos is the first stop on your way up from Athens, on the edge of the zone. We were met by Apostolos at his parental home, and he admitted that he had postponed a trip for the following day, in order to be able to receive us. My first impression was love at first sight. A young man who is charming, talkative, full of energy, full of ideas, a dreamer. At the same time he is knowledgeable, to the point and business oriented. He has a part which is ethereal and a part which is very reasonable and down to earth. But, most of all, he is modest. He could have been quite full of himself. When we were there he had already conquered some of the most demanding markets and was on a roll.

He walked us to his vineyards, explained the differences in terroir, even among sites that are next to each other, and he had just started building a tasting room, above the winery. At that time the building was standing, and a cobblestone fence was being built around the winery using materials from the vineyards. A couple of months ago when I visited the winery again, it was still not finished, but the beautiful terrace, that overlooks the vineyard, was complete. This is because whatever money he makes he tries to invest into his business first, so that doesn’t leave much for ‘luxuries’.

I ask him why he became an oenologist and he laughs: “Good point! I know I should say something like I grew up with vineyards all around me, which is true, but in all honesty, that’s all I wanted to be. I studied in Athens, and that was the only choice I put down for University. I wanted to work as a winemaker. In the beginning I thought I would work for other wineries, but I never did. I came home and made wine from our own grapes. I began winemaking here. My father used to produce grapes and sell them. My first bottling was in 2003 and that was released in 2005. Around 1500 bottles. But, it went very well, and then I started buying land, planting vines, etc. I never left.” He is certified organic and owns about 26 ha of land; he sources grapes from about another 26 ha, from other producers, who are also certified organic.

He goes on to tell me that he doesn’t follow a specific protocol each year when he vinifies, but tries to ‘listen’ to what the particular year requires. “I have a very simple winery, no fancy equipment, I work with ‘wild’ yeasts, with all the risk that entails.” I ask him if he looks up to other winemakers and he says that he admires the work of Roumier in Burgundy and Olivier Humbrecht in Alsace. We go on to talk about his wines, his newer labels Rapsani and Acroterra (a joint venture with the Chrysos Family) in Santorini, his exports, “You know France was the country that opened doors for me in 2005. Even though I had been exporting to Canada, the USA and Australia, it was France that paved the way. With all the competition around, it’s imperative that you deliver a product that makes an impression. Nowadays, I have loyal clients, who know my wines very well, especially in the States.”

As we talk, I feel I admire this young man even more. He has things he could have ‘sold’, that would have definitely given him the lead, but he chose not too. He conquered that with his work. I like people with principles. I can see why he was popular at school, and why he is generally well liked. I tease him about his wife, Eleftheria, who is also an oenologist, with years of experience at the best wine lab and he says: “When it comes to deciding, I never falter. I stole her away, it was seizure.” They have a lovely daughter, Melina, who is now 3yrs old and I can’t tell you how much his eyes shine when he talks of her.

The Wines:

Earth and Sky introduced a new way of making wine to Naoussa, that is now followed by others. A school. They now talk of the ‘old school’ and the ‘new school’ and Apostolos founded the ‘new school’. He now has Atma White (malagouzia and xinomavro!!) and Red (xinomavro and mandilaria). His fresh, easy drinking wines. Alta is a xinomavro from vineyards at higher altitudes and is fresh, with red fruit and floral aromas, not expected of a xinomavro. His Rosé de Xinomavro is a recent addition; it finishes fermentation in oak barrels and this gives it unexpected weight. Acroterra (he makes two labels), I tried the premium one and couldn’t believe the complexity of the wine. The Rapsani I haven’t tried yet, but I’m looking forward to it as I’m sure it will be, yet another, surprise.

What can I say. An impressive man who makes impressive wines. Some people have been blessed with charisma.