“With a breeze of salt in the glass”
Dr Rainer Hermann, describes his experience when visited T-OINOS at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the most important German, financial newspapers:
“The Greek island of Tinos is a rather inhospitable place. Nevertheless, the Frenchman Stéphane Derenoncourt succeeds in cultivating a top-quality wine there.
TINOS, in July. It’s like another planet. Thousands of huge granite boulders lie on the 450-meter high plateau and on the slopes of the mountains. As if a giant had just played boules with them. The north wind of the Cyclades, the Meltemi, sweeps across the island of Tinos and over the vineyard above the village of Falatados. “It’s a crazy place,” says French vigneron Stéphane Derenoncourt. “You do not know where you are.” It was three years ago, when the winemaker came for the first time to the island of the northern Cyclades. His friend Gérard Margeon, chief sommelier at the famous Michelin starred restaurants of Chef Alain Ducasse, had brought him to Tinos to make wine in this strange place. “A crazy, but also a perfect place for wine,” he says today, looking at the grapes that will be his fourth vintage.
He is attracted by the inhospitable landscape in the interior of the island of Tinos like by few other places. He is tormented by the difficulty of making a good wine from the heavy wind, the dry earth and the strong sun. The wind blows from the nearby sea, so it is salty, which is reflected in the wine. “If you drink this wine, you should taste Tinos,” says Derenoncourt. At home, in Bordeaux, he fights against the rain and the humidity. Here at Tinos, however, he has to find other ways to produce a good wine. “Vines must suffer to make a great wine,” says Derenoncourt. He compares the wine with people. Anyone who had a difficult childhood could become an interesting person. That also applies to the vineyards. “These grapes here have a story to tell.” Derenoncourt comes to Tinos twice a year and he stays for a few days each time. He works as a consultant for viticulture in 16 countries. He had had offers from the New World, where there is a lot of money and where it has become fashionable to grow wine, a lot of times. He is passionate about places with a history in viticulture, Europe and, above all, the Mediterranean region.
This is also the case with Greece, where he works for Alexandros Avatangelos. The businessman from Corfu has already invested eight million euros in the project “T-oinos”. The name combines Tinos and the Greek word for wine, oinos. The businessman, who has lived in France and Belgium for a long time, earns his money in other industries. His passion, however, is the wine. A great wine connects the earth with the human – so wine makes the invisible visible. In the beginning, he had invested in Santorini, at a winery with 50 percent, but he has for long left. He visited Tinos for the first time in 2001. A friend, the sculptor Praxitelis Tzanoulinos, had invited him, and showed him above his home village Falatados an abandoned vineyard – on which now Derenoncourt is working again with inhabitants of the island. The islanders had previously produced here good wine a long time ago. Avatangelos bought the 13 hectares and started with the viticulture again. The first wine was produced in 2011. The potential was recognizable, but it had a long way to go. Avatangelos took Derenoncourt to the island.
The vineyard currently grows grapes for 25,000 bottles of organic wine – 15,000 with Assyrtiko, the classic white grape variety of the Cyclades, and 10,000 with the red Mavrotragano grape, which is particularly native to Tinos. In the medium term Avatangelos and Derenoncourt want to increase production to 45,000 bottles. In a first step, 8,000 new vines are currently being planted. Despite the high price, demand exceeds supply. The red and white wines are exported to only five countries, especially to France, also to Great Britain and Switzerland, Belgium and Japan. In Greece, they are only available in some restaurants in Athens and in Mykonos. The biggest buyers are the French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse and his starred restaurants. Greek wines have overall become better. T-oinos stands out again. Michel Bettane, the French wine critic, says they are the best in Greece. He came to Tinos with a group of sommeliers of French three-star restaurants to see for himself. “I saw this place and immediately thought it must be an incredible wine,” says Bettane.
In T-oinos he finds a high complexity. Each sip tastes different, the wines are always changing. Bettane says it’s not surprising, since Greece was the largest and best wine producer in antiquity when the French still drank beer. The Greeks are following this tradition, today but they still have not reached their full potential. In just three years, Derenoncourt made the wine above the village of Falatados the top wine. It required many small steps. For example, he has the grapes harvested in successive passages by hand, depending on the degree of ripeness and the wind. Above all, he had to work on the sandy granite floor. It is fantastic, but also vulnerable, says Derenoncourt. When he came three years ago, the ground was hard, almost like concrete. The roots were just 20 centimeters in the ground, then they went wide, and the roots were together in the fight for the scarce water.
Derenoncourt had to loosen the ground. He succeeded in doing this by planting wheat between the vines in the winter months when the vine is sleeping, working its way into the soil and loosening it. The roots could now grow more than a meter deep into the ground. In the summer of 2017, Derenoncourt had to irrigate the vineyard twice, only once in 2018, and this summer he hopes to be able to do without artificial irrigation.
Even more important to him is that the acidity increases and aroma from the soil arises when the roots reach deeper into the soil, so that the wine gets its own identity. “That’s the way to get the wine of a certain place, with deep roots,” he says. He left the large granite boulders in the vineyard. Because they belong to this place.”