The next big movie about why Greece is such a beautiful state of mind should be the story of Metaxa itself. The sweet spirit following 130 years old secret recipe has it all: the flavor of sea breeze in the sunset, the culture of Greek mythology and the vision for the future inherited from its brilliant founder, Spyros Metaxa.
At the end of a two days trip into the heart of Greek spirit, I have finally some time to think about what I saw but more important about what I felt. In a sweet chilly night, we’re a few happy people sitting for dinner above Athens, on top of Lykabettus mountain. I write happy as for us, a small group of journalists, the last 48 hours had everything you need to be happy down to the basics of this beautiful feeling. Strangely, all these now connect to me through a magic liqueur I hold tight in a glass – the purest 12 stars Metaxa. Funny, but before coming here, to Greece, my father was the only person I found to put on a happy smile when mentioning this powerful name. Now, talking so much about my experience gathers more and more Metaxa lovers around me. Yes, Love should be the evaluation scale around this magic spirit. As no other technical scale really applies to a magic spirit combining aged wine, essence of roses, herbs and so many emotions.
Back to the beginnings of Metaxa story, there weren’t many spirits in the world worth drinking for pleasure. Whether it was whisky or any other high strength alcohol, people were drinking fast so that they get more courageous and see life in colors. But not for Spyros Metaxa. He wanted to come up with the sweet alternative to offer a silky feeling as this was his destiny. Coming from a family with origins in the silk trading, he inherited a name which actually means silk in Greek. So here we have a story about how ambition can move mountains. He managed to overtake the difficulties of a small state coming to life and in 1888 he founded the Metaxa company in the city of Piraeus. Aware of the fragile foundation of a Greece reborn in 1831, the entrepreneur realised the solution for economic success should capitalize on export. Therefore the distribution network was built by targeting the Greek communities. Little by little the brand expanded and managed to even cross the Ocean to the United States.
But what does Metaxa such a sought-after spirit? For this answer, in a warm September Thursday, I landed on the small airport of Samos Island. Here my travel in time journey began. The first two arguments to put Samos in an epic light are two of its epic ”locals”: one would be Queen Hera, Queen of the Gods and wife of Zeus, and the second one would be no other but the mathematician who’s theory has followed our school years: Pythagoras. Like these names and stories sit together perfectly the story of Metaxa blends also perfectly in a movie scenery composed by legends and technical tricks. Here, on this blessed land sitting only 700 metres away from Turkey, the inventor of Metaxa came to discover the magic ingredient for his masterpiece: the Samos Muscat wine. Starting from the sea level and up to 1000 meters on the Ambellos mountain, Samos got the gift of having the sweetest Muscat grapes the world has ever seen and tasted. They grow slowly into a rough sole full of stones so the production is small but sweet like nowhere else. The Greeks are here to make a second miracle as they still practice old fashion cultivation on small properties.
Looking at the big picture, the farmers on Samos island are like a big family where everyone owns a piece of wine yard of between half a hectare or maximum one. To quote Yannis, the agronomist who tours us among the dreamlike scenery: „In economic terms is not profitable, but every farmer has another job and here he works for passion and all the family helps.” So, they go by along these almost a hundred years plants that sit somehow randomly in small terraces which I climb to by ruining my shoes. Even so, the heritage of making wines makes the locals know exactly how to analyze and begin the harvesting only when the sugar level is perfect. And that would be in August for the grapes along the sea level and in September for the best production up the mountain. Even if the first association of wine yards farmers is dated 1934, the museum of Samos wines gathers all the proofs you need to have a clear picture that this tradition has been refined on the island since more than one century. Going through the barrels, bottles and old papers, Metaxa is always present as a constant client for these unusual fresh and crisp sweet assortments.
For the final step into the world of Gods, I fly back from the island to a small village near Athens. The House of Metaxa has since 1968 moved from Piraeus to Kifissia and gathers all the production under the same roof. Here the miracles continue as Huity, the communication manager gives a lesson about what a powerful brand should feel like. She was next to me during all the trip but it is only now she starts speaking with emotion about Spyros Metaxa legacy. She gets a glimpse in her eyes I have probably seen only with Porsche engineers talking about the founder, Ferdinand Porsche. ”Why the Warrior of Salamina as a symbol for Metaxa? Because destiny made that an ancient coin to be found during the building of the first distillery. So Metaxa decided it is the perfect symbol for his mission we still share today. We have a kind of spirit to compete with all the big brands. Coincidence or not, the warrior of Salamina takes you to year 480 before Christ when the Greeks defeated the Persians and therefore finished the Persians wars.” It almost doesn’t matter that today the brand is no more owned by Metaxa family as it is a fundamental piece in the heritage of Greece itself.
Going through the headquarters, I can’t help by recognizing a lot of manufactured processes to go into the yearly production of not more than 10 million bottles. Here in Kifissia is the destination where the Samos Muscat wines are left to age for 5 to 7 years before going into the magic blend. The place where the barrels are left to rest is the cellar where you can hardly take a picture as it feels somehow strange to disturb such a deep piece of mind. When moving from Piraeus, barrels from the Spyros Metaxa times made the travel to the new house together with all other aged barrels that today make the difference into the private reserve bottles. Today the company takes pride in having the barrel number 1 with ”Spyros” engraved on the top. More romantic is I discover a second one baptized ”Despina” next to it. And here Huity, my special host, lets me know the wife of the founder played also an important role in the story as she managed to continue the business after her husband died.
Deep into the cellars of Metaxa, the experience goes one more step forward. From the dark surroundings among the 3,5 thousands litters barrels I get to see the spark of the founder in the eyes of Constantinos Raptis. The final character and maybe the most important one in the modern story, Constantinos enters the scene as the fifth Metaxa master in the history. He has inherited from Gods the gift of mixing more than aged wine. When the time is perfect, he adds essence of May roses he collects in middle of June from a place 2,5 hours away from Athens. The recipe also gets herbs and a few more secret hints for which Metaxa is not a brandy or any other standard spirit category you get to know in the industry.
Only a few hours after I left the Metaxa experience intense ride, I am on the Lykabettus mountain and I am convinced there is no other spirit in the world able to share so many emotions. For sure, the orange notes are a detail from the Samos Muscat wines you recognize in any glass of Metaxa. But here I would add the memory of ”sunset postcards” from this blessed corner of the world. Greece has it all: the nature, the people and the stories.