It is easier to find a Thymiopoulos bottle in Paris than in Athens. Believe me. Apostoles Thymiopoulos, around 30 y-o, is one of the most prominent Greek winemakers. He exports almost all of his wines to the United States, Canada, Europe.
Here is the south part of Naoussa appellation, northern Greece, east of Thessaloniki. Here it is homeland of Xinomavro ("acid" and "black"), the red grape that gives spicy, acid, silky wines.
His father produced grapes but gave it to the Boutari brand cooperative. After graduation, young Apostoles moved forward. He bottled his own production, developped a clear brand, worked the field closer to Mother Nature. And it works : today he employs 8 people and two horses, Hermes and Alexandre.
16 different parcels extend over nearly 28 hectares. But we are a bit far away from the Naoussa appellation. "All our vineyards are located close to the forest or in hills. We have very few neighbors, so we have no problem with those who would use too many chemicals." But when you say forest, you have problems with wild boars, as in France.
Vrana-Petra is his favourite plot. Small promontory, surrounded by a brook, it reveals a real mosaic of soils. Granite can be red, green or purple, and some quartz. Nature has made at will. The wind from the sea helps too. It refreshes during summer and limit moisture during winter.
The vines are maintained according to the Fukuoka's "natural agriculture". Basically we do nothing: no plowing, no weeding, no compost. But that's theory. It is much more complex, it must be monitored all the time. Apostoles already has an idea in mind: to make a separate batch with only Vrana-Petra. He has already made some experiments. To follow.
Even if the weather is less severe than in other parts of Greece, we are in a Mediterranean country. Need to irrigate with these black pipes. "This is to help young vines to grow." Once they reach adulthood, he cuts the cord.
Go to the nearby village, 500 meters above sea level. This splendid plot called "twig" faces a neighbor's plot. Mid-April. The difference between the two winemakers is obvious. Thymiopoulos let the plot live. But his neighbor...
Fortunately the Thymiopoulos vineyard is located higher than neighbors'. It does not receive all the junk swung in the vineyards. All around, we have fig, walnut, apple trees. And flowers, many flowers.
Still higher, he would plant aidani grapes, the white ones that are very successful in Hatzidakis', in Santorini. "I want to try something new in the land of red wines." It will be here on this hill.
Apostoles Thymiopoulos offers a tour of his vineyards as much as those of neighbors. Here he provided advices and the vine has resurrectd. There, he is looking for a small plot. Elsewhere, he likes this producer and would like buy his grapes. He is full of ideas and love for its immediate environment. The rest of Naoussa seems a little far and standardized (except Dalamara).
At the bend of a path, he points his finger to the small plot that saw the birth of xinomavro nature, a no-SO2 wine. Why this vineyard for a wine without added sulfur? Because the roots are deeper than elsewhere and that the grapes seem particularly resistant here. After years of experimentations, he says that making no-SO2 wines is very difficult. Above all, you have to avoid oxydation or reduction. But the xinomavro with its own acidity and tannins is a highly recommended grape. "If we can not make no-SO2 wine, who could?"
Production of this no-SO2 wine is around 3,000 or 4,000 bottles, depending on the year. But all the bottles go abroad. There is no demand in Greece by now. The head of Bientôt, a wine shop in Thessaloniki, explains that it is only a matter of time : one day, the homeland will also request less-sulfur wines. Thymiopoulos is a precursor. Of course, other Thymiopoulos wines are not stuffed with sulfur, just enough for the wine to take the road. Our man is consistent.
And in the glass ? That day, we prepared the bottling for rosé 2014. This year was a complex vintage, between hail and rain. The rosé is a great success : it has an explosive fruity. This is not necessarily the taste of the winemaker : Thymiopoulos prefers when it's chastened. "My rosé is best after a year in the bottle." The 2013 tasted a few weeks before was actually with more patina. It depends on what you want.
Before tasting the red, I ask Apostoles Thymiopoulos what wines he likes. Without hesitation, he says Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo and hates massive extraction. We now have an idea of the wines we will taste ...
A parenthesis : he also works with Marks & Spencer UK. He buys some malagousia grapes near Athens and make white wine. Sure, this batch is more common, less greedy, or let's say it lacks the true signature Thymiopoulos. But for ten euros the bottle, nothing to complain about...
His Naoussa young vines (2014) will be bottle late May. A wonderful grap juice but we guess that elegance will emerge. The same in 2013 tasted cherry or tomato. But who cares... "It is a wine that calls cooking, Greek cuisine, moussaka, pastitsio..."
Thymiopoulos is celebrated for his Heaven and Earth, iconic bottle of Naoussa. Here again 95% are exported. 2013 has been bottled the day before, it is already well established. There is something more bitter, with light tannins. The week before, I opened on 2012 I asked mysel : how such a wine can be so drinkable and be so stylish?
Now the xinomavro nature, 2013. This is obviously another dimension. The explosive nose suggests fruit but behind there is a true terroir. Some people often criticize the natural wines for being made without terroir, soilless cultivation... But not here, believe me. The girl of the wine shop in Thessaloniki says she has only drunk it once... in Paris!
And what about the Greek crisis? We will talk soon.