by Markus Stolz

Boutari

byMarkus Stolz
April 11, 2011, 16 Comments

For the first time, a Greek wine was featured on Gary Vaynerchuk’s Daily Grape last Thursday. The review of the Boutari Kretikos red 2008 started well, but ended with disappointment: “Tannic, disjointed, awkward, bitter, poor finish” were some of the descriptors used. You can view the episode here.

Boutari is the one Greek brand that is established well in the US, and it is unlikely that a bad review of one of their wines by Gary would hurt them in the short run. My best guess is that in the old days, this feedback would have simply been ignored. The business world is changing at a rapid pace, and no one can afford to do that anymore, not even a giant like Boutari. To my delight, shortly after the episode was available, the heir of the business, Marina Boutari, posted the following response in the comment section of Daily Grape:

Thank you for presenting a Greek wine on the show and making a small survey on Greek wines. *Boutari is a winery that was established in 1879 by my great grandfather and has now 6 wineries in Greece and 1 in France. In 2010, we received for the 13th time the International Winery of the Year award of “Wines & Spirits”. I am truly sorry that Kretikos did not deliver on this tasting. Since I do not want to leave all of you with a medium impression on Greek wines, I highly recommend tasting some of my favourites: Grande Reserve Naoussa 2004 (from Naoussa, North Greece), Kallisti Reserve Boutari 2007 (from the island of Santorini), and Moschofilero Boutari 2010 (from Peloponnese, mainland). The feedback of the readers in the comment section is very useful and will make us all at Boutari work hard to keep improving ourselves.

*Gary asked two questions of the day: What is your experience with Greek wine? How many of you have never had a Greek wine? The hundreds of replies that poured in should be analysed by the Greek wine industry, they certainly got my attention!

Marina’s engagement triggered immediate positive responses from Gary, Jon Troutman (Gary’s right hand at Daily Grape) and readers. Her actions were immediately discussed on twitter and facebook, resulting in an amplification of her message.  In addition, on next day’s show Gary gave a super kind shout out to Marina, showing his appreciation for her engagement, and promising her to continue to taste more Boutari wines (click here, minute 03:30). One really needs to put this into perspective; Gary literally gave the thumbs-up to Boutaris’ engagement.

The results of her actions are multiple:

The Daily Grape episode will not be remembered for the low score the wine received, but as the day the Boutari brand started to engage with its’ audience. The conversation has changed.

Many people will view Boutari in a different context, this includes Gary himself.

The brand has been personalised. Marina represents the leadership of the brand, she is the one person that every employee is looking up to in terms of guidance. She came across as honest, down to earth, caring, gracious and engaging. Her message came across big time – I very much doubt that any costly magazine advertisement would be able to achieve similar results.

By analysing her response, a few important lessons can be learned:

First of all she acted in a timely way, while the iron was still hot. Her avatar fitted her message perfectly. She started out with a “thank you”. She then personalised the Boutari brand by mentioning her great grandfather. She added positive information that people might not have been aware of (International Winery of the year). She stated that she was truly sorry for the performance of the wine, and offered alternatives. Finally, she acknowledged the readers and promised improvement. Most importantly, her response was coming from the heart. This was not your usual business talk, but rather an effort to voice her personal feelings.

Brands need to engage and pay attention. They must know what is being said about them. Not one Greek winery is yet engaging in social media in a meaningful way to date. I hope that this post will make you think that your brand might well make headlines without you being aware of it. How do you monitor the flow of information? There simply is no excuse to not take up Vintank’s awesome offer to use their Cruvee engine for free social media monitoring. Just fill out the requested information and at the very least, start listening. This is your chance to engage. It is so simple – yet most of you think it is too hard. It just needs your full attention and time.

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  1. Yiannis PapadakisApril 12, 2011, 6:00 pm

    Markus, I surely agree with your thoughts and recommendations, but I would like to focus on another issue. Kretikos is only one of many Greek wines exported (alongside Kouros and many others) that are not representative of modern, high quality Greek wines. This gives the wrong impression that Greek wines are still were they used to be before the 1990′s, harming their image in general. Gary himself was very enthusiastic when he presented (with you) a modern, high quality Greek wine like Thimiopoulos Ghi+Uranos at his Wine Library TV show. I know that countries with strong presence in international (wine) markets like Australia, have regulatory bodies that decide which wines are to be exported and which not, thus protecting the overall image of their country’s wines. I think that such a committee would be very useful given the current status of Greek wines internationally, but of course I am aware of the difficulties (should I say polemic) that it would face given the Greek attitude…

  2. elloinosApril 12, 2011, 8:28 pm

    Yianni, I agree that the Boutari wines do not mirror the modern style of Greek wines, and I also wished that the wines that are exported in volumes would be more exciting. Having said this, one must take note that they are striving towards introducing more high quality wines. I have tasted some of their “experimental” wines, and was quite pleased with the change in direction. Boutari is a giant, and any change in direction will take time. But the willingness seems to be there, and this is something that should be supported.

  3. Thomas PellechiaApril 13, 2011, 3:20 pm

    I agree that Ms Boutari handled the situation well enough, and I agree that Gary was responsible in his response to her. But I also wonder why one person is allowed so much power by way of an opinion.

    Wine consumers need to understand that these are opinions–not facts.

  4. Yiannis PapadakisApril 13, 2011, 3:38 pm

    Markus, don’t misunderstand me. I did not say that the whole range of Boutari wines are old-fashioned and unrepresentative of the modern era quality Greek wines. I was refering to Kretikos specifically. I really like and respect wines like Naoussa Grande Reserve and, occasionally Filyria and Skalani as well as the Santorini range, and have tasted (and own) the wonderful experimental series Xinomavros Terroir 1, 2 and 3. I also believe that the regular Naoussa is a very decent wine, very typical and fairly priced. Kretikos, alongside certain other wineries’ underperformers is one of the wines that might give the wrong impression (if massively exported) that Greek wines are still roustic and old-fashioned in the bad sence of the word.

  5. elloinosApril 13, 2011, 5:25 pm

    Thomas, thank you for commenting. I do believe that the wine consumers actually do view Gary Vaynerchuk’s ratings in this context. He is not your “classic” wine critic, and has done tremendous work demystifying wine and certainly taking a lot of pretentiousness/snobbery out of the discussion. As to power, he does have a huge audience…

  6. elloinosApril 13, 2011, 5:28 pm

    Yianni, I am really glad that you commented again and clarified. I was not misunderstanding you, but believe that your follow-up comment clarifies a lot of issues for the readers of this blog. Could not have worded it better myself, and I am in agreement with you.

  7. Thomas PellechiaApril 13, 2011, 7:45 pm

    Markus,

    Consumers hand over that power by thinking that someone else can tell them what they would like and what they should drink. Without any set of standards to measure against, there’s not much information in knowing the value of someone’s personal opinion.

  8. elloinosApril 13, 2011, 7:49 pm

    Thomas, I agree with you – but would hope that consumers are looking for guidance only. In any case, I think it is much more important that consumers are steered towards expanding their palate, and this IS a positive outcome.

  9. Yiannis PapadakisApril 14, 2011, 2:46 pm

    I think that Thomas’s comments lead to the fundamental question on whether there is a reason for the existense of winecritics (raison d’ etre in French if you will…). There was a wonderful article on this subject by Andrew Jefford (one of the wine writers I really respect), on a past Decanter Magazine issue. In fact the question can be expanded to whether there is a reason for the existence of critics of any kind. Of course this subject cannot be analyzed in the context of a brief comment such as the ones this blog’s readers submit, but the bottom line is that wine is a chaotic topic (like many others), so a hudge amount of information and education is needed for approaching it, hence the experence of people who have been dealing with this subject and have gained experience and knowledge is essential in the form of guidance to the less experienced. This leads us to the “giudance” issue that Markus has mentioned. And of course, to quote this world’s most influential wine critic (whom I respect without necessarily following) “There is no substitute to your own palate”.

  10. Thomas PellechiaApril 14, 2011, 3:20 pm

    Yiannis,

    That is exactly what I am getting at.

    First, I want to know how much the critic knows about the subject being criticized. Having been a salesman or even a long-time wine consumer isn’t exactly enough experience for passing critical judgment.

    Second, I want to know under what set of standards does the critic come up with descriptions and decisions about the wine.

    Third, I’d really like to know the method that critics use to pull numbers out of the air and assign them to wines.

    Finally, I agree with you that Andrew Jeffords is among the respected writers.

  11. Yiannis PapadakisApril 14, 2011, 5:14 pm

    Thomas, I am so glad we have started this conversation. Issues 1 and 2 are covered in Andrew Jefford’s article. The wine critic should judge the wine forgetting his personal stylistic preferences and favorites. The main criteria should be “hard facts” such as the wine’s complexity, balance, sense of place, ageability etc. There are-certainly- limitations to this: wine critics are human beings, not tasting machines. Another interesting text on judging standards/criteria has been written by the other wine critic I mentioned in my previous posting, the one I refered to as “this world’s most influential wine critic” (let’s call him TWMIWC, an abbreviation of the previous phrase, since even mentioning his name could cause debates among readers) in his “A working definition of greatness” chapter from his book “The World’s Greatest Wine Estates”.
    Thankfully, wine criticism has been democratized thanks to cellartracker.

  12. Thomas PellechiaApril 14, 2011, 9:25 pm

    Yiannis,

    Being an ex-winemaker and long time wine writer, I must admit that I am biased toward building a background before opening one’s mouth.

    Also, being an amateur painter and pianist, I am extra sensitive (as well as extra dubious) concerning aesthetic criticism.

    I believe it is fine for people to discuss wines, what they like or hate about them, but I do not believe that these opinions should be a guiding force behind the success of failure of wine brands, at least not until critics stop “shooting form the hip” and start following some set of agreed upon standards. Everyone seems to know that a wine rated below 85 is almost worthless to discuss and one scored 75 is plain worthless, but no one seems to know how these numbers are arrived at based on the arbitrary 100-point scale. If critics really believed that “there is no substitute to your own palate” then do they feel compelled to tell the rest of us what they like or dislike? I know, I know: they are a guide. My question: a guide to what? Their palate preference. Who cares?

  13. elloinosApril 14, 2011, 9:49 pm

    Yianni, Thomas, I love your discussion, greatly appreciated. You both raise very valid points indeed. Thomas, I can see where you are going with the “who cares” question. I often feel exactly the same way. I do feel however that this is not simply black or white, as obviously many consumers DO care. Personally, I appreciate those voices who do include less mainstream regions and put their “power” to work in a positive sense. Interestingly enough, their “judgement” resembles a different, less “strict” school of thought. In many cases, they do not slam the door in the face of the producers, encouraging the audience to look for other wines from the portfolio.

  14. elloinosApril 14, 2011, 10:15 pm

    What I dislike about wine critic in general is the idea that some use their position to “interfere” with the wine making techniques implemented by “offering” their guidance. Especially in Greece, wine critics seem to always shoot for this. They will make a judgement on the wine, and “suggest” changes that need to be implemented in order for the wine to become more suited for their own palate. This is simply not acceptable, and only fosters the respective ego. I keep wondering what value this abuse adds to anything.

  15. Thomas PellechiaApril 15, 2011, 12:08 am

    Markus,

    I don’t mind someone expressing an opinion on what can be done to improve the wine, provided that person knows what he or she is talking about. If you can’t identify or understand the interplay of pH/acid/sugar/alcohol/tannin, and the myriad other components, and you have no idea what it takes to make grapes mature, then you have only a limited right to say much about wine–IN MY OPINION, of course ;)

    Seriously, far too many so-called critics have no clue what it takes to grow grapes and to produce wine, yet they have no problem telling others what they should do to produce wine to suit their agenda as well as their palate.
    I’ve also often found that the worse people to accept criticism are critics. I wonder why that is. Could they believe that they are the arbiters of taste? Is there enough hubris in their lives?

  16. Yiannis PapadakisApril 15, 2011, 10:24 am

    O.k., now the level of this discussion has reached such heights that it simply exceeds me. Wine is fun more then anything elese, so let’s enjoy some good wines during the coming weekend and happy Easter to everyone.
    p.s. I will continue posting my tastimg notes on cellartracker and read wine reviews from different so-called wine critics, just because it is fun.