Jason Ligas: the patient wine maker

In November 2015 Frangiskos and I had our honeymoon in Northern Greece, doing what we love the most: eating, drinking and being in nature. North Greece is an amazing destination for wine and nature lovers. We visited many wineries, but only a few of them touched our hearts! Domain Ligas is definitely one of them and is found in Pella, on the slopes of Paiko mountain.

The visit

Until then all the tours in the wineries were very formal tours : an employee giving a speech about the history of the winery, the premises, the equipment, the styles of the wines and the wine making process. Full of technical details and then a simple wine tasting of their wines listening again to a long list of flavors and aromas hidden in your glass.

In Domain Ligas you forget that you are in a winery and also the reason why you are there, to begin with. Jason Ligas, a young, talented and very positive person, was waiting for us in the yard of the winery. He grabbed a couple of plastic chairs from all around the winery and we all sat in a table. Then Jason started his interrogation: who we are, why we are there, what we do, etc etc. No, no, he was not at all interested in showing us what he does, he wanted to learn all about us, our mentality, our mindset, our agriculture methods, our experiences! From this very unconventional start, I realized that we will try some very unconventional wines. Wines made from a person that patiently listens, has open antennas to new information and is so interested in learning about others.

At some point Jason remembered the reason why we were there and brought us a couple of glasses and opened a bottle of white wine. “This is Kidonitsa, a variety from your area (Laconia). It is very unknown even in Greece and it’s a shame to leave such a grape in the shadow. My father and I decided to preserve it by planting a couple of hectares with kidonitsa vines and to reproduce them.” He was positevely surprised when we told him that we also have this grape variety and indeed it is a variety  that Greece should not be without. “Come on let’s have a look at Kidonitsa vines.” Of course! A wine is made out of grapes, so who cares about buildings and equipment… Jason brought us directly to the source. We also took our glasses with us and we were drinking wine in the field, exactly where it was made! That was an experience!

The farm

We visited the farm and understood the respect that this family shows, first to the environment and then for their products. Forget about vines hunging in perfect lines in cordon and no weeds underneath. The vines are in pergolas or goblet depending of the vines’ necessities and not for the yields. The soil is full of wild grasses that are cut in spring and left in place to protect the soil from dehydration and to help regenerate it. The variety of plants and bugs around, can tell how healthy the farm is. They practice permaculture, they forage wild herbs found in North Greece, they macerate them and spray them on the vines. Nettle is his favorite “It’s a multivitamin, it helps the plant grow healthier and protect itself”. They don’t till the earth, they don’t disturb nature’s balance in the soil “All these wild grasses develop mycorrhizas to their root system which play an important role in soil biology and chemistry. So we do our best to protect them and not destroy them”.

The person

Jason is one of the most mature young males I have met. Partially because he knew since early age what he wanted to do with his life and partially, because he is very patient. He studied viticulture in Champagne and then worked with top natural wine makers in France. The family winery was already there, waiting for him, but he preferred to patiently learn and develop his own perspective of wine making. Then he worked in Paris as a sommelier in restaurants, in very close cooperation with chefs preparing elegant dishes. The reason? “I wanted to learn how to make gastronomic wines” (it was the first time that I heard this term). “So I started observing gastronomy, how chefs works, how they cook, the ingredients they use and their expectations from a dish tastewise. Only when I understand their work, will I be able to make a wine that highlights their effort and bring the gastronomic experience to another level”. For years he shadowed established chefs in gourmet restaurants in Paris, while tasting great natural wines from all over the world. Only when he completed his personal mission, he returned to Greece and put all his experience and inspiration in barrels and later in amphoras and made wines that someone can now find in the same restaurants that inspired him.

The wines

In the winery they believe in micro-cuvees. Domain Ligas grows only Greek and local varieties: Xinomavro, Limniona, Roditis, Assyrtico and Kydonitsa. The wines are certified organic but they go beyond the organic certification. They are also natural wines/ raw wines/ living wines or else vin vivant in French. All these terms are used to characterize the wines that ferment with indigenous yeasts, are unfined, are not stabilized by adding sulfites and usually they are not filtered. In fact, once the fermentation in complete, there is no sugar left so the yeasts (only indigenous in case of natural wines) become inactive, but they are still there and very much alive. Thus the wine is also alive and can change if the yeasts decide so! In case of natural wines, the winemaker has to be very patient and follow the chemistry of nature. Actually, making a good natural wine is much harder than making a good “processed” wine.

In Domain Ligas the harvest is done by hands, the fermentation starts spontaneously without any additives and all their cuvees ferment in natural material, old oak barrels (to avoid the toasted wood taste) and recently in clay amphora. The stabilization is done with patience and by observing the wine. There is no temperature control so the wine and the yeasts in it are exposed to different temperatures. “We don’t control the environment of the wine, so if a second fermentation begins that is fine with us. If nothing happens during the months that the wine rests and matures, it means that it is safe to bottle it. This is a natural stabilization process for us.”

As mentioned before, Domain Ligas creates gastronomic wines, made for an ideal pairing with food and an ultimate gastronomic experience. Ligas wines are characterized by their freshness and tingling acidity. As natural, Domain Ligas wines are to be drunk fresh and young. They have of course some dynamic varieties like Xinomavro that stand well in time.

Take a sip

Luckily, Domain Ligas is present in many European countries and also in the USA. You can also taste their wines in the artisan wine fair RAW WINE in New York and London. You can find more information about their wines in their RAW WINE page. In Greece, you have only a few chances to take a sip of Ligas miracles: in Athens in Heteroclito   and Materia Prima  wine bar, in Thessaloniki in Mourga  restaurant and of course, in eumelia where you can have a wine tasting with food pairing.

Domain Ligas produces also organic spirits, Raki (the greek version of grappa but fruitier) and Tsipouro (raki flavoured with anise). At eumelia during the winter we love making “Rakomelo”, mixing Ligas raki with honey, the ultimate hot drink!

Check out an amazing rakomelo recipe and YAMAS!

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