Amongst my annual business travel highlights are without a doubt the recurring visits to California. One of the reasons is that I truly enjoy working the market with WineWise, who import my portfolio of Greek wine growers. Another motive is that I find it easier to detect and analyze shifts in trends for Greek wines than in the more crowded New York marketplace.
Two young winemakers whom I have tremendous respect for, Christos Zafeirakis from Tyrnavos and Georgas Diamantakos from Naoussa, joined me last week in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both are synonymous with producing Greek wines that intrigue and convince.
Apart from meeting with dozens of wine buyers throughout the week, we also had two memorable consumer events. The wine list at the Á Côté Restaurant in Oakland is focused entirely on traditionally made European wines. We were thrilled that they hosted a special Greek wine dinner for us. Manager and Wine Director Jeff Berlin and Executive Chef Matt Colgan made us a part of their family for the night. The restaurant was packed, and we nearly had to force our way out just before midnight. Sorry guys, but we had a very early flight to catch the next morning. In Los Angeles, the superb Woodland Hills Wine Company invited us to pour Greek wines for several hours to their customers. Hats off, their clients belong to the most engaging wine lovers that I know. They were eager to not only sip the wines, but also learn as much as possible about them.
For our part, we were deeply impressed with the Californian restaurant scene. Interior design and unique cuisines seem to go hand in hand. Amongst my personal favorites was a visit to the State Birds Provisions in SF. Apparently it is close to impossible to reserve a table, but we stumbled across this place late on Sunday evening, after we arrived at our hotel in SF’s Japantown district. Every restaurant we tried was closing down, and desperation on our part made us walk without any sense of direction. The State Birds Provisions was still open and some guests just left, leaving one table open to us. The food was simply outstanding, but it was only the following day that we learned just how popular this place is. Apparently no other restaurant in the US has gathered as much national publicity during the last months. Sometimes it is an advantage not being ‘in the know’…
After reflecting on our trip, four observations seem important:
1) The gap between those who champion ‘big’ wines and those who prefer ‘elegant’ wines seems to be narrowing. One private wine lover who is used to big style Californian wines commented that although he finds many Greek wines light on the palate, they are far too interesting to not enjoy.
2) There is a pronounced shift of buying interest from well priced entry level towards high end wines. This is a remarkable development that started about a year ago and seems to be gathering steam.
3) More choices of Greek wines can be found both at restaurants and merchants. This might be due to relative new players like Mani Imports in the market. This is very welcome news indeed.
4) Thus far this year, one indigenous Greek variety has experienced a surge of interest, especially from restaurants. The white Preknadi, grown in Naoussa, has only in recent years been resurrected. The resulting wines are now poured by the glass at several restaurants and wine bars in California. It is quite interesting that more wine lovers in CA might become familiar with this variety than their Greek counterparts. Of course this spike of interest might prove temporary, but it might also be just the start of something very real.