Le Figaro – The vineyard of Aeolus
“DISCOVERY On the island of Tinos, in the Cyclades, Clos Stegasta revives a thousand-year-old wine tradition. A Greek-French story.
Not a soul on the horizon, just a few goats and huge blocks of granite strewing the landscape, like a titans’ ball game…” describes Stéphane Reynaud in his recent article at the “Le Figaro” French newspaper.
And he continues:
[“I have invested here to dynamize the place, the landscape”, explains Alexandre Avangelos. The Clos Stegasta is the pride of this Greek. He wanted to plant vines here, in Tinos, an island in the Cyclades archipelago, poor in water, blown by the Meltemi, to the point that some made it the home of the god Aeolus. A 9 hectare estate perched at an altitude of 550 meters. He discovered this place in 2002, and it seems to have shaken him. Since then, he has continued to carry out his great work.
The island lends itself to revelations. At the beginning of the 19th century, Saint Pelagia, after a series of dreams during which she saw the Virgin covered with gold, had a ground dug where a miraculous icon was found, now housed in the basilica of town. Avatangelos did not see the Virgin, but he dreamed of superb grapes. “The Phoenicians had planted vines here, but we could not find the original land register. Only the earth remembers it. Because the earth has memory, like the vine. For us, it is a question of synchronizing this root memory and that of the soils … In addition, the vines must respect the earth. Otherwise, she can develop a feeling of “guilt”, ”explains the owner.
Alexander Avatangelos does not make his wines himself. He trusts his small team of wine growers and the French consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, who, over a long period of experience – 147 estates call on him in 16 countries – has built a personal vision of viticulture. Derenoncourt knows how to assess what type of wine a land can give and does not leave the owners he advises to be deluded. The man, who is also an expert in biodynamics, like his Greek client, speaks of the plant as a person. “The vine, like man, if it grows without frustration, will not be very interesting. The vine needs to stay on the edge of suffering, ”he explains, when asked whether it is necessary to resort to systematic irrigation. On these arid lands, rain can be absent from May to November. To prevent the plant from suffering torture, the estate benefits from three ancestral wells, two drilled wells and water reserves.
On another site, in a valley, he planted 3 hectares of mavrotragano, an indigenous grape variety dedicated to red, spread over 27 terraces. “Here, the very poor schist soils make it possible to produce wines without heaviness ”, comments Stéphane Derenoncourt. Only three thousand bottles are produced each year.
Ecology starts with excellent products
Small volumes, certainly, but which satisfy Alexandre Avatangelos, passionate about this precision in production. However, his studies and career had not directly prepared him for viticulture. A student in Montpellier, he followed Yves Michaud’s courses, obtained a doctorate in philosophy, then became interested in Lacanian psychoanalysis, but also in biochemistry. He studied homeopathy in depth – he took care of his vines with arnica preparations – and many other things. He also writes poetry, in French.
After completing his various courses, he went into business being a broker in the world of ship-owners, working in the building sector, particularly in Africa, and in the world of energy. He is more favorable to nuclear power than to “these dirty wind turbines that the Greek government wanted to install in Tinos. In a country where respect for the environment is not always a priority, where nature is often abandoned, you should believe in your own principles”, he says.
Before dropping anchor here, the Francophile first entered the world of wine in Santorini, creating the Sigalas brand. But he left this island, disappointed by the practices of some: “They do anything over there. They bring in grapes from elsewhere, vinify them on site and present them as a local cru … And then, their wines taste like burnt rubber.” He nevertheless called on a nurseryman from Santorini who delivered him the plants of Assyrtiko, a great Greek grape variety. For him, “ecology begins with the production of excellent products that enhance a place. It is the result of a private process, or the assembly of different private initiatives ”. He says “not to be linked to the country in which (he) works but to the place, to the land”, and thinks that “patriotism does not claim itself, it is linked to the product and imposes itself” .
In twenty years, the man has invested 10 million euros in his vineyard. He provides another 3 million for the construction of a winery. “The investment may pay off in four or five years.” He seems very excited by “the creation of invisible concepts that we manage to make visible” or by “the luck of the modern world, which can transform the useless into the vital”. In the meantime, he and his Belgian wife, Anne, have settled on the coast of Tinos. Both speak passionately about the island, how it evolves, grows.
Alexander Avatangelos’ wine is good. The white 2019, stretched to perfection, is rich, with a pleasant saline touch. A wonderful companion of oysters, octopus or sea urchins. Previous vintages, notably 2018, which are more crystalline, gain in size and power over time and also happily accompany taramas, mackerel and herring. The “rare” white cuvée is marked by discreet lemony notes. For their part, the reds present an unexpected freshness, turn out to be tasty, sometimes with a cherry side. The 2018 is very successful, with a superb depth of taste, a spicy hint. The “rare” 2017 cuvée, produced in only 2,000 bottles, is creamy and finishes to perfection.
The prices of these wines are at the height of their rarity, up to 80 euros for the rare red. Prices without similarity with those of ordinary Greek juices. Where to find them? In the restaurants of Alain Ducasse, of which the Executive Wine Director, Gérard Margeon, is very involved in the Greek domain. Or on the site of consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt. Obviously, it is on this spot that we value them best.]