Please tell us a little about yourself and your backstory. You studied both chemistry and oenology at the University of Athens before moving to METAXA – something you’ve been doing for nearly 30 years now. Did you always want to work with wine and spirits? You spent a lot of time in your father’s vineyard when you were young, right?
When I first stepped foot in METAXA it was 1985, so it’s already been 32 years… I had always found the world of wine and spirits fascinating, which was the main reason I followed the science of oenology. As a matter of fact, at a very young age _I was probably around 18 years old_ I had persuaded my father to create a small vineyard that I could work on and practice my love for winery.
Truth be told, this was an endeavor that bonded us, as it inspired both him and me. The science of chemistry gave me a great base on which to evolve as an oenologist, it offered me solid grounds on which to stand as an expert.
As I understand it, there is an apprenticeship system at METAXA – every Metaxa Master finds an apprentice to whom he can pass on the legacy and the skills. You studied under Evanglelos Skevis, could you tell us a little about what that entailed – will you be finding an apprentice too?
I am the fifth Metaxa Master. The first three were members of the Metaxa family. Mr Skevis, the fourth one, was the Master who initiated me into the secrets of the METAXA cellars. This was an extremely talented man of practical knowledge, an excellent craftsman. I had been working for Metaxa for seven years when I became master in 1992.
During that initial period, Mr Elias Metaxa, being an oenologist himself, saw in me someone that could embody the difficult and demanding role of the Metaxa Master. Both him and Mr Skevis saw talent combined with a scientific background that could bring in more to the METAXA, a potential to go further and to break some barriers.
So, I got more and more involved in production and from then on it is all part of my personal history that is so entwined with the House of Metaxa… As for my successor, we have already selected him. He is working by my side, preparing to take over the role of Metaxa Master when I step off.
Asides from METAXA, what might we find you enjoying a glass of? And foods – any particular favourites?
I love Greek wine; I enjoy both red and white, depending on the time of day and the mood. As for food, I love anything that comes out of the sea. A well-grilled fish from the Greek waters is the ideal dish for me. This is, I think, the main reason I love fishing!
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the life of a Metaxa Master? Your role encompasses so many things, as I understand it. Do you get much time off?
Apart from paperwork, contacting my colleagues and giving instructions to the people working in production, there is also the tasting of the different blends that needs to take place in the course of each day. Some days, however, are exceptional, as you work on the creation of a new product, something that I find the most attractive part of what I do.
This is exactly where a Master finds his place and raison d’être. It doesn’t happen very often, so it becomes a precious, extraordinary and careful process that will lead to the development of a new one-of-a-kind product, aimed to be identified with the brand’s DNA as well as its future. As for my time off, like I said before, I love spending it by the sea!
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far? Of all the blends you have been involved with, which are you proudest of?
It would surely be my first creation as Metaxa Master, METAXA Private Reserve. I would say this was the most fascinating and unforgettable moment, since it gave me the stamp of approval, the acknowledgement of the people around me. It was my first chance to prove their choice and trust in me.
Where do you get your ideas?
The ingredient that sets the tone in every METAXA creation is the wine made from the Muscat grapes of the island of Samos. So, this is always my guide, every time I create a new METAXA. Each time it is challenging and exciting to deliver the METAXA character in a new, sometimes surprising, style.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge was when we decided, for the first time, to go beyond our familiar path and create an ultra luxury product. I am talking about AEN. The challenge was big. However, I discovered that when you truly believe in something, and you also have the background to support your choice, you can make anything happen.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
I always draw inspiration and strength from my father. He was a man who believed he could achieve anything he set his mind to. He had a very confident outlook, something I feel he passed on to me. As for inspiration drawn from flavours, it would be anything that comes from the sea. This is my mother’s side in me, as she was born in Asia Minor, a place in absolute correlation to the sea.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
The best part is when I create an exceptional, new blend. My least favourite part of my work is anything that has to do with paperwork, things that keep me away from creation and inspiration. Thankfully, usually it is a very small part of the job!
What advice would you give to people aspiring to a career in the drinks industry who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Be patient. When you work in the world of spirits, results take time. You cannot create a career in fast, short steps, this field requires patience and very sensitive ears, so you can really listen to and capture the essence and needs of the client. Success is relevant, it is not about understanding your own needs but the needs of the people who follow and respect your brand. Put them and the product first, and yourself second.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Since I am really patient and I love passing on knowledge, I believe I could easily become a teacher.
If you could get anyone to try your METAXA (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the range would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
It would be Sir Winston Churchill. A man who not only gave so much to our common conscience but someone who was also a connoisseur who knew how to appreciate the finest things, life’s little luxuries. I believe he would truly appreciate a glass of METAXA.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for the brand?
My aim is to maintain the fine tint of the METAXA family, since this has proven to be the strong point of the brand; all the while guiding METAXA fans to further enjoy more premium creations. What would make me very happy would be to see METAXA expand geographically in even more countries.
Where next for you and METAXA?
My interest and passion for METAXA has not diminished a bit, I still have some very good years in me. I have created many different METAXA styles and the company has supported me to take the brand to another, premium level, starting with Private Reserve, and on to, AEN, METAXA 12 Stars and Angels’ Treasure…
One or two more could be in the cards…I really enjoy being Metaxa Master and, before I step off, I also have to be very sure that my successor is fully prepared and ready to continue my work.
If you could employ any character from Greek mythology to come and work in your cellars, who would you pick, and why?
Since the work we do in the cellars is not just about simple creation but it is mostly an inspirational labor of love, I like to picture the nine muses walking into the dark corridors, between the casks, and sharing their precious gifts with us mortals.
The goddesses of literature, science, poetry, dance, history, music, all dear and beloved daughters of Zeus, they would bring their charms together with their divine ingenuity into every little drop of golden spirit in the METAXA oak casks. Now that I think of it, I believe they have already cast their magic spells into every soul that devotedly works in the cellars, so, maybe they have been here since the inception of the House. It certainly feels like it!
If you had a day to spend in the life and body of your seven year old self (but with your current experience and mindset), what would the first three things you would do?
I would run in the fields, soaking up all the warmth of the deep sun beams beautifully filtrated by the heavy, ripe grape clusters and just lay on the ground, watching the sun set over the thick vine leaves. Then I would take the long way back home and sit on the table, letting my mother scold me one more time, while eating the delicious dinner of stuffed tomatoes she would have prepared for me.
And then I would take my father’s hand and walk with him in the moonlight, listening to his stories, while the loud song of the tired cicadas would from time to time to cover his voice. Of course it would be during the summer in Lyrkia, my father’s village.
You have acquired a pet dragon and are morally obliged to look after it. It is 25 ft tall at the hips, spits fire, eats half a ton of raw meat a day, and likes long walks. What would you call it and what would you do to keep it entertained and housed?”
I would call it Ladon, from the ancient Greek dragon that never slept, watching over the garden of the Hesperides nymphs, the “daughters of the evening”. I would not try to train it but I would devote myself to taming it, as the Fox suggested to the Little Prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece, “…if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
So I would let my dragon guide me through his needs. I would try to listen to them and communicate my needs and boundaries as well, teaching him respect and friendship. Where he would sleep and what I would do to keep him entertained, we would figure it out together as we would go along…