You know how we always seem to put off things that are close at hand? I’ve climbed up the hill to Acropolis only when I was supposed to take friends who were visiting from another country. The same goes for so many other monuments or places of interest, among which are the vineyards of Attica. I could visit so much more often than I do, but I always have my eye on going to wineries that are further away from Athens. It was time for me to write something about the city I’ve lived in for so many years. Luck was not making it easy as I called Stamatis Mylonas http://www.mylonas-wines.gr/eland he was still busy with work in the vineyard, I would then be away, so we postponed our meeting for two weeks later.
The winery is in Mesogaia, in the town of Keratea and is in the urban part of the town. “This was actually the yard of our family home, a classic Greek wine press, which sold the wine it made in front of the press at a sales point. We started this new winery in 2006 and actually moved in here in 2010. We’re a small family winery and our strength is based on our vines. Old vines. Our Savatiano and Mandilaria have an average age of over 50 years and the rest of our vines range from 7-17years.”
As we start talking it soon becomes obvious that Stamatis is a young man who is both daring and determined. We start by talking about the labels of his wines, which are quite unusual, in an interesting way. “You will not believe what I’ve gone through with these labels. When my importer in the USA first saw the labels he told me that he refused to market wines with labels such as these. He was willing to pay to make me change them. He really insisted on getting a separate label for the US market. I told him that I had put a lot of work and money into these and that’s how I wanted my products to be marketed. A few years later he said he was sorry for pressuring me, because he had had amazing feedback about them.
My wife knew the illustrator and designer, Nearchos Daskas, whose company ‘Polka Dot Design’ created the visual identity of Megaron, The Athens Concert Hall, and also the cultural books for the Acropolis museum. She insisted that we use him for our brand identity. He came here and saw me working in the vineyard. I usually have flocks of wild birds that keep me company, which are looking for their meal of worms, as I work the fields. That is how the sketch of the bird arose. We worked hard on the new concept for about a year. I wanted the labels to be memorable. The story of my family reminded him of a fairy tale and he drew ideas from Alice in Wonderland. That gave rise to the frog of assyrtiko and the rabbit of malagousia.”
But the labels were not the only thing he risked. Building the winery itself, and deciding to bottle wine from an area which wasn’t very highly regarded in Greece, was a bet in itself. He talked his father and brothers into investing in this project, even though his brothers had their reservations and “when I started out it was terrible. Impossible to get into the market. I thought to myself I’m in terrible trouble. I got everybody into this mess. I have to find a way out. It was easier for me to sell overseas, because there was no prejudice about savatiano.” He and his one brother had studied oenology and the other brother economics. Stamatis then decided to study the WSET and completed the Diploma curriculum.
“The WSPC and Konstantinos (Lazarakis) opened my horizons and my mind. Although I had studied chemistry and had specialised in oenology, I knew very little about the world of wine. I knew how to make wine in a lab, my father was an excellent viticulturist but his winemaking technique was very basic, so the classes taught me that making high quality wine and adding value to my product was the way to go. I tasted wines from around the world, I started travelling to wineries in other countries, even my honeymoon was spent going up and down wineries in France! Now, I make wine by smelling and tasting rather than by lab measures. I will look at the lab results, but in the end I will trust my senses.”
He farms organically even though he doesn’t have the certification and he explains to me that farming organically for Savatiano and Attica is a necessity. Obviously, wine producers strive to farm in this way, but grape producers are also forced to farm organically because it’s not profitable to do otherwise. If one also takes into account the dry weather and the fact that the savatiano are old vines acclimatised to the conditions of the area, not much is needed. “We plough a couple of times just to overturn the weeds and powdery mildew can be prevented with a little sulfur.” This year there was a lot of rain during the spring, which meant more weeds and more leaf growth. That is why it took almost a month’s more work in the vineyard. He predicts it will be a good year.
I ask him if he irrigates and he explains that it’s impossible to do so. He owns about 12 hectares of land but these are split into 21 different plots, here and there. “It’s impossible to have a well at each of the sites. It would be nice if I could gather the land somehow, it would make my work so much easier, but you know around here the prices are sky-high. The only thing one can do is maybe slowly manage to exchange plots and create larger pieces of land.” He makes around 90,000 bottles of wine and exports 60% of his production mainly to the USA, Australia and Europe. He recently set up work with a Japanese importer. As we continue talking I realise that he is very goal oriented, very focused on succeeding. I can ‘see’ how he has managed to make his mark and be so highly regarded in such a short time. “When I enter a new market I always prepare. I will go to seminars that help you understand the people of that country, their ways, their market, and so forth.”
I ask him about Wines of Athens, the group he and another four producers have formed to market their products. “The idea behind the group was to convince people that Savatiano is a variety which was underrated. That is why we started talking about the potential the variety has to age. Also, we felt it was important to slowly form a brand for Attica. We still need to try harder in that direction.”
On our way to the vineyards he tells us how he needs to be in control of absolutely everything in the winery. We visit two separate locations and see four plots of land. In the first site what is impressive is that the vineyard is rather narrow and amazingly long. “They had long narrow plots like these which they called ‘lahidia’, because it was easier to plough the land with the horses. Our soil is mainly sandy-clay with stone, although I have plots that are just stone, and about a metre and a half under that it will either be limestone or schist. The closer you go toward Lavrio it will be schist.” We then visit the area of Vouno and see the two plots that are completely set on stone. The one plot is 0.4 hectare and the other 0.2 hectare. From these two sites he makes the wine he calls ‘Naked Truth’. Very low yields and each grape is destemmed separately by hand.
We return to the winery because he has to run off to a meeting. I ask him about his resinated wine and he laughs, “You know I had said that I would never make resinated wine, because I thought it had contributed to the bad image savatiano has to the public. But, never say never, my importer in New Zealand insisted that I make some, and now my resinated wine is one of the first to be sold out. All of the people I work with overseas consider it a wine which is very interesting and different. Of course, we are talking about the modern version resinated wine.” By ‘modern’ version he means that the wine has been vinified from high quality savatiano grapes and the resin used does not overpower the aromas of the wine, but adds to its complexity.
I will quickly refer to the wines. All of his wines are made in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. He has nine labels of which one is a resinated white wine, one a rosé wine, one a red wine and one a dessert wine (this is vinified in amphora). The other five are dry white wines, savatiano, assyrtiko, malagousia, a blend of savatiano and assyrtiko which sees some barrel, and the Naked Truth a single vineyard skin contact savatiano. I will not focus on all of the wines. I will particularly focus on the wines I tried that are composed of Savatiano, whether in total or in a blend.
Stamatis definitely has a lot of power, although he looks quite laid back. I would say, that is what characterises his wine. Power, which is concealed under the floral, citrus, stone fruit aromas. Freshness and a palate that lasts beautifully until your next sip. The alcohol levels of about 12%abv are a bonus.
Savatiano 2018: Citrus fruit, stone fruit, and maybe a touch tropical. Amazing freshness. You would never think that this came from such a warm region.
Savatiano Oak matured 2018: Complex, structured, with the typical aromas of savatiano, but with more tropical and ‘woody’ aromas.
Naked Truth Savatiano 2018: about 1500 bottles/yr, skin contact for 15 days, minimal intervention. Tiny addition of sulfites (20ppm) when bottled. Creamy, intense, mouthwatering and slightly tannic.
Retsina 2018: Floral, fruity, nutty with the resin hinting at its presence.