(by Simone Perotti)
Paris Sigalas is one of those men whom Mother Nature has blessed in every way: an ever-present, slightly self-satisfied smile, as though everything were a pleasant surprise. The shining eyes of someone who often finds something to marvel at. “I had a problem finding the dock …” he says, almost excusing himself, when he climbs aboard.
There is no need to tell him to take off his shoes, he lives on an island. He knows all about seafaring things. He makes himself comfortable in the cockpit and we offer him a glass of wine. He reads the label: “Do you know what the name of this wine means? ‘Kanenas’, it is what Ulysses tells Polyphemus, when he asks him who blinded him. Nobody, so that the other Cyclops would not know on whom to unleash their fury. Very shrewd”. And Sigalas too has a shrewd Eastern look, a man of the islands. He lives in Santorini, even if he was born here “just back there, in Piraeus, it is here that I grew up”. A shadow of melancholy crosses his face, but he shakes it off. “I travelled, above all in France, during the years of the protest. What wonderful years of hope. Coming back, moving on, when everything changes, is never easy”.
And what did Paris Sigalas do after that? “I am a mathematician, I studied at the Sorbonne. I truly liked the class. It was like a theatre, you put on a show, with the public and all the rest. I love mathematics, we are all children of Euclid”. And then what happened? You started making wine, and on an island at that. “Santorini, which is where my family comes from. My grandfather’s father had taken some land, there was a house. The call of the land perhaps, or a wish to make a clean break with mathematics. Who knows…”
Talk to us of your island and your true passion: the wine. “Santorini is fully farmable, with rich volcanic soil, a mix of acidic and alkaline to give the best. We have some native grape varieties, some of the very few in the world, that have never been grafted, because phylloxera, which devastated viticulture all over the world, never reached us. A remote, happy island, sheltered from everything”.
People all over the world speak of his Santorini white wine, which is a traditional Assyrtiko that has been re-interpreted and improved, it is considered the best wine of the island, it has enthusiasts in the USA, experts know it. Covering 40% of experts, he is one of the persons behind the rebirth of Greek wine, 300,000 bottles per 25 hectares. “But on many plots the yield is under 7,000 bottles per hectare” which is average for those who look for quality. “The wine cooperatives follow very old, excellent and totally respectable methods, for example they use the grape vine for mixed vintages. But we need to keep on going, experiment with new methods. I studied it in purity, to see what it could give. Ancient is always beautiful, but not everything which is old must be kept that way. Something which is old, once didn’t exist, someone invented it, and that day research was carried out, and something new was attempted. The most important teaching of the past is the courage to try and experiment. And that is exactly what I did, with the production and wine making processes, I kept the old, mixing it with something new that would improve the product that comes from working the land. And the results are there to see”. We quickly look up a little information. It seems in fact that his range of younger wines is fresher, with a strong citrus flavour, while the wines aged in barriques (Kavalieros) develop a more complex flavour. Truly for experts.
Did I hear a mutter? “Certainly, as so often happens, even though when you do what you have to do, working hard, you end up understanding, at least in the long-term. Above all because there are still so many new things I want to do”. He talks to us of Vin Santo, whose corresponding Tuscan wine originates from Santorini. Historical contaminations that repeat themselves. I don’t discuss the recession with him. For just one evening I want to enjoy the company of a man who from mathematics returned to the land, on an island, and is in love with wine.