Follow how I got introduced first to my future wife and then to wines (this combination still rocks) in this second part of the story of my life.
1992 – 2002
In 1992 I felt that it would be beneficial for me to work abroad. I was offered a job as a senior trader at Chicago Research & Trading (CRT) in London. Back then CRT was one of the largest derivates trading companies in the world. Whilst working off my 6-month notice period at Commerzbank, in Frankfurt, I met my future wife, Alexandra.
At the time the lady who headed the bank’s backoffice had caught my eye. I would often casually drop by her office, which she shared with a Greek girl, for a chat. Life is full of surprises: in the end I totally fell in love with the Greek girl – Alexandra! We started going out and soon after, I moved to London to commence my new working life with CRT. Alexandra and I visited each other every single weekend, until we got married, 15 months later.
Shortly after we started dating, she introduced me to her parents. I explained my work to her mother in great detail. She carefully listened to my monologue for 20 minutes. I tried my best to explain to her all about derivative markets in simple terms and felt confident, that I had deeply impressed her. After I finished, her only remark was: “I would not buy anything from you”. This was my first experience that Greeks can be quite straightforward!
My time with CRT was great, the company had its own culture and the atmosphere was very much that of a great team. The Head of the London office there was a Scotsman, who introduced me to the world of wine. First, he made sure that I became a member of the Wine Society in the UK. Second, he introduced me to quite a few fine wines. I was hooked in no time. London is the European capital when it comes to wine education and wine tasting events. The UK ruled France for about 300 years and the affiliation with fine wines has remained to this day. I started taking wine courses offered by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the auction houses and was awarded the advanced certificate at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust with Distinction. I started attending wine tasting events hosted by Michael Broadbent, Steven Spurrier, Clive Coates, Hugh Johnson, Serena Sutcliffe, Andrew Jefford and others as well as wine tasting events offered by wine merchants at least twice a week: the latter was a great way of broadening my knowledge.
In early 1994, just after CRT had been taken over by Bank of America, I accepted an offer to work as an Executive Director for Goldman Sachs in London. I also became quite active buying wines at auctions. From time to time I would sell earlier purchases to pay for the warehouse and insurance costs, but I also consumed some very fine wines.
Towards the end of 1995 I decided to move on professionally, and try out living as a self-employed trader. Before my new start, I took a month off and went on an extensive wine trip trough France and Italy with my wife. We visited all major wine regions in these countries. One event is still rooted firmly in my memory: In the Rhone valley, we visited Jaboulet Aine. I was a huge admirer of their wines. We received the usual tasting routine from one of the personnel, until Gerard Jaboulet stepped in the room. He had just had visit from Charles Jourdan, the fashion designer, who also happened to be his daughter’s godfather. They had shared a bottle of La Chapelle 1985 and there was still about a third left. Gerard started a conversation with us and poured the remainder of the bottle. He was in a chatty and friendly mood and excused himself to fetch another bottle. He presented it as a blind tasting, and luckily I identified it correctly as La Chapelle 1983. Gerard stepped out again, and presented another wine under blind tasting conditions. This was a bit of a giveaway; the wine in question was La Chapelle 1978 – monumental. He asked us where we were staying for the night. We had not made any arrangements, and he recommended the Maison Pic . He suggested that we have dinner at their restaurant and insisted that he would settle the bill, so our only expense would be the discounted nightly rate. We were only too happy to accept this generous offer.
Le Picque hosts a 3 star Michelin Restaurant, a fact that we were not aware of. When we arrived at the Restaurant, both my wife and I were handed menus without prices. Gerard Jaboulet had already selected the wines for us. We had a wonderful meal and the feeling to accept such generosity by someone whom we had only just met was overpowering. Gerard Jaboulet had enjoyed the company of visitors who enjoyed wines. Nothing more, and nothing less. We met him again a year later at a large tasting event organised by the Wine Society in London. Sadly, he passed away far too early, shortly afterwards.
In the years to come, we would host many dinner parties, pairing food and fine wines. My wife loves cooking and I love tasting! I took up Ashtanga Yoga extensively, starting to practise 6 times a week for 90 minutes. I dropped 15 kg in weight, and felt great. This lasted for about two years, until 1998, when my wife gave birth to our first child. I was working from home, gave up Yoga, and gained 15 kg. Back to square one in weight terms, but now a proud father. Fifteen months later our second child was born, 18 months after that the third.
In order to get a more steady income stream, I founded a company that was offering financial market trading education for private customers, and also tailor-made trading services for German banks. After I secured a contract with one of the top 10 banks in Germany, we decided to start building a house in Greece. We moved to Germany as an interim solution to better serve my German customers and bridge the time until the house in Athens was completed. We rented a spacious house in a small village in the Taunus area, close to Frankfurt and just a 15 minutes drive away from the Rheingau, a famous wine producing area. I enjoyed visiting many estates in the area and tasted a lot of Riesling wines during this time. I also started mountain biking and integrated this quickly into a daily 90 minutes routine. In the summer of 2003, together with a couple of friends I crossed the Italian Alps with the mountain bike. In autumn, we were all set to move over to Greece.
My general views on wines were shaped by these early experiences:
- Wine education can come in all sorts of shapes. Personally, I prefer a mix of social and formal events to obtain a rounded knowledge foundation.
- Winemakers are their own breed of people: passionate and almost artistic yet at times rough and eccentric. They always respect and appreciate genuine interest in their wines. Their insights are the most valuable knowledge one can obtain.
- Tasting wine is the only way to train your tasting abilities. This does not have to be at formal events, just taste as many wines as you can. The ability to effectively communicate what you have tasted to other people is a different matter.
- Always remain open – we all might easily become limited by our own preconceptions. As an example, bag in box wines can offer very good quality.