by N. Ioannidis
“Under every stone…” people say -and once again the saying is confirmed. Tain-l’Hermitage, a French village in the Rhone valley, known for producing quality wine, is where Giorgos Lelektsoglou has laid his roots. Roots, that is, which are much stronger and deeper than many vineyards in the area. Since 1988 he has been selling wine to the French, partnering with one of his three sons for exports, opening a wine bar with the other, and making his own (exceptional) wine. His field is one he loves. Wine.
He arrived in France in the 1970s, following some roaming in Romania, where he found himself after leaving his village near Serres to study. He stopped at Lyon, managed to survive without having any money, using amazing tricks that helped him through difficult situations. Holding on to a newspaper in Greek, he tried -without success- to pique the interest of our compatriots on the city streets. However, he soon managed to live in a tower and to teach Greek. He studied Political Science, married Veronique, and then accidentally “caught” the wine bug.
It started with an house basement, that he turned into a cellar. He would go out on his own and buy wine directly from producers, something he still does to this day. He knows each of the small or greater winemakers, cultivating his relations with them -and now also with the younger generations at the wineries’ helm- in his own unique way. He opened his first cellar in 1988, and he has been in Tan-l ‘Hermitage since 1994.
Today, in his store, located at the village’s main square, one can find 60 different high quality labels; expensive wines with excellent value for money. All come from producers in the North and South Rhone: Côte Rôtie, Condrieu, Crozes Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Châteauneuf du Pape, and so many others. So it is the (Greek) hands that are selling the French wine. But among them we found some labels that stuck out, as they bore the name of George Lelektsoglou. Those would be wines he makes in collaboration with some of the greatest winemakers in the Côte du Rhône. And so the Greek hands also produce French wine.
“I do not necessarily make the same wine every year. I don’t always make wine in the same region. I try to find out something different every year,” he says. And he goes on: “I go there at the season’s start, I visit the vineyards, I talk to the winemakers. If we find a common ground and vision, then we work together. I want the wine I make to have the least human intervention possible, to be a wine that shows its character, as well as the character of the region.” In the context of an amazing Greek-French hospitality, we tested both a Châteauneuf du Pape and a Côte Du Rhône (of different harvests), which left us with the best impressions.
It is obvious that George Lelektsoglou is a visionary, passionate about the world of wine. He never stops planning, coming up with new ideas. He talks about Chave, Guigal and Chapoutier, and describes with simplicity and ease how they changed the way they make wine, and how they found themselves in his cellar, talking, disagreeing, discovering. He talks about the influence of the great critic Robert Parker in the region’s upgrading, and in contemporary wine fashion. As any wine-lover, his cellar hides treasures –rare 40- or 50-year old bottles of emblematic wines. One, however, stands out: an 1811 Château de Fontainebleau.
George Lelektsoglou finds himself in Greece quite often. He mainly visits his birthplace in Macedonia, but also the islands. He is well informed about Greek wines, singling out the Mavrotragano of Santorini, and hoping that Greek producers would insist more on the local varieties. When the conversation turns to Greece, his nostalgia is laced with bitterness for the efforts he has made to invest in businesses here, to no avail. Of course this won’t stop him. He will continue to think and look for ways to do something novel.
Translation: Alexander Mordoudack