Interview With A Winemaker – Leto Paraskevopoulou

28th April 2023

Interview With A Winemaker - Leto Paraskevopoulou

Wine isn’t just made, it’s crafted by the unwavering expertise of a Winemaker, sometimes old traditions are passed down by generations and on other occasions, new people venture into the industry, introducing us to new creations, this series of Winemaker Interviews will help you uncover the vast world and skills of how the artists passionate about wine make the world a bubbly place.

In this article we speak with Leto Paraskevopoulou, an amazing Winemaker from Greece. Let’s discover a little about her time in the Wine Industry.

Tell Us About Yourself

“I was born in Athens. I studied in the University of Leeds where I got my Bachelor’s in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and then went on to do a Master’s in Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh. I did all that without having the wine thing in mind at all. I was interested in science, indeed quite interested in Synthetic Biology, however, I found academia to be too restricting for me. I spent a couple of years trying to figure out what to do. I even did a year of Musical Theatre School, but quickly realised I was too scientific to navigate that particular community. Then I decided to give wine a shot.”

How Did You Become Involved In The Wine Industry?

“I suppose I was born into it but I will be honest here. I was very reactionary about the whole family business thing when I was younger. My studies might have been quite relevant but I was just very lucky (in the end)! My actual, personal journey with wine started when, at 22 years old and straight out of university (after my master’s) I worked at our tasting room over that summer. I did not dislike it but there was definitely something missing. A few months later I decided to give production a shot and (still not wanting to actually go into the family business) I got a job as a cellar hand in a big winery in New Zealand. That was almost catastrophic actually as I worked at a massive factory, basically as a worker, borderline having a number instead of a name, barely learning anything because nobody would give us the light of day. I will not name that winery because management was awful and really quite racist! That was the first time I experienced that kind of thing actually, it was quite interesting. It almost made me swear off wine altogether. At this point, for anyone who is interested in working harvests abroad, I will say this: If you are actually interested in wine and not just looking for a working holiday gig, please learn from my mistake! Go for smaller wineries, not the massive factories! Fortunately, I suppose I had the maturity to realise that the way of the factory is not the only way. So I decided to give production another shot.

“Of course, still not wanting to enter the family business, I got a job for the harvest at Domaine Sigalas in Santorini. 16 hour night shifts for the first few days then 16 hour day shifts for 3 months. Apparently, I was good at the job so I kept getting given more and more responsibilities, eventually becoming the supervisor for red wine vinification. At times I felt that the workload was nigh on impossible for the amount of hours in the day. And boy I loved every minute of it. The harvest ended and I thought I could keep on doing it forever, so I started looking for harvest opportunities in South America, Chile or Argentina. And then everything changed when the head of production in Sigalas handed in her notice. The, then, second in command and soon to be the new chief came to me with an ultimatum along the lines of “If you stay on as my second then I’ll stay, if not then I’m out of here as well”. I have the greatest of respect for this estate and that felt huge to me so of course, I stayed. And the previous chief went to Chile instead (isn’t that something!). So I ended up staying in Sigalas for about a year, now as vice chief. During that time I really saw the light. I fell in love with the job and started studying really hard every day. I finally felt like the thing had chosen me for more reasons than just being born into it. So I could finally join Gaia free of any doubt. It’s a pretty long story I know, but I feel like there might be a few people out there that can relate to this kind of thing so there you go.”

As A Winemaker, What Has Been Your Hardest Obstacle To Overcome In Producing Wine?

“People. Hands down. I mean, I think the hardest thing, in any job, is the management of people. It is easy to be in the lab running tests or in front of a computer or talking to the tanks (that’s right) or just making wine or just doing what you’ve been told to do, but human beings are a whole different matter altogether. You need to be able to control yourself first in order to lead others and I have learned (and still learning of course) universally valuable skills in that respect. It is a very good exercise! Another hardship that is more specific to the job, I suppose, would be the fact that our industry is, to a huge degree, directly at the mercy of nature. Every vintage is different, you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen until the days draw uncomfortably close to the actual harvest. It is very difficult and nerve wracking, but it is also very exciting and never boring! It is wartime. I love harvest I also sometimes get a little existential about the degree of subjectivity involved in wine. As a scientist it sometimes makes me want to tear my degrees apart. Though it can also be a beautiful thing!”

How Do You Determine When Your Wine Is Ready To Drink?

“That’s a good question. As a winemaker, you can’t go anywhere without having a clear vision for every label in your mind from the start. Without knowing exactly what end result you’re chasing, you’d get stumped by what should be simple decisions from start to finish. The wine is ready to drink when we deem that we are as close to that vision as we will ever be.”

What Part Of The Wine Making Process Do You Enjoy The Most?

“Wartime! I mean harvest time :p During that time, life is the harvest and the harvest is life. Everything else is forgotten. It’s like you have a massive get-out-of-jail-free card for all sorts of situations but the ones concerning the job and the team. It’s brutal and it’s cathartic. So good for the soul! I also really love doing blends, it feels like the ultimate moment that everything, all the hard work, has boiled down to. And I really enjoy lab work as well, it is, after all, my actual discipline!”

Thank you Leto, for sharing your words, knowledge and experience with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Leto Paraskevopoulou. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.

Oliver Walkey

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.