by Markus Stolz

Wine Inc

byMarkus Stolz
January 11, 2010, 15 Comments

I was pointed to an article published in Greek by Ta Nea online that caught my attention. In it, an account is given how some well known Greek wineries have started to establish new operations abroad. The well-known Kir Yianni Estate entered into a joint venture with Mogao in China in the fourth quarter of last year. An area of 150 ha located in the Northwest of the country will be planted with the Greek grape varieties Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, and Moschofilero. The annual output target is 1 million bottles of wine.

The Spiropoulos Estate expanded into Argentina; Boutari runs a winery in the South of France, and Gerovassiliou, Tsaktsarlis and Soldatos teamed up and established Escapades in South Africa. This new estate already realises exports to Germany, Sweden and the US. According to Gerovassiliou, it is an open secret that Greek wines are very good, but still have problems in the export markets. South African wines are much easier to market.

Greek business people are often extremely successful and embrace new opportunities. The above wine estates are certainly very skilled players – and their moves were well planned. The establishment of an estate in South Africa is leveraging the operation of Gerovassiliou, who is hopeful that this will also benefit exports from his Greek winery. The decision by Kir Yianni to enter a joint venture in China might be the boldest move to date. China is a powerful country that is just starting to turn cautiously to wines. The decision to plant Greek grape varieties might turn out to be a very smart move, as the Chinese can familiarise themselves by buying wines that are produced in their own country.

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  1. PeterJanuary 11, 2010, 6:05 pm

    Great news! It’s about time Greeks thought about “expansion”. A great way to promote the Greek varietals.

  2. XtianitoJanuary 11, 2010, 9:50 pm

    Glad to have found your blog.
    I own a winebar in San Diego, CA
    and am encouraged by this news of global oenophilia.


  3. steveJanuary 11, 2010, 10:14 pm

    the chinese already grow these four grapes in china???
    when you have time please clarify

  4. elloinosJanuary 11, 2010, 10:17 pm

    Peter, these are very smart moves indeed. It will be very interesting to analyse the results in a few years time.

  5. elloinosJanuary 11, 2010, 10:18 pm

    Steve, no, the joint venture was signed in October 09, the land has been secured, and the goal is to grow these varieties there.

  6. SalleJanuary 12, 2010, 1:02 am

    When will Greek wines be readily available in the UK. Surely the supermarkets should take them on.

  7. Kostas KatsoulierisJanuary 12, 2010, 1:07 am

    Very interesting news! The cynic in me would say that this is simply another sign of the globalisation of wine. But on this matter I am no cynic. It is the future of wine and another area in which Greeks are catching up with French, Australian, US and South African wine producers who have been setting up joint ventures or buying up vineyards abroad for some years now (Rothschild/Mondavi, Bouchard & Chapoutier immediately spring to mind). I believe it was only a matter of time before more Greeks began to look abroad. Who knows maybe there will be a joint venture between a Greek winery and Lolonis in California? In any event I have known of a Greek shipowner that has had a vineyard in Uruguay for years.

    I also understand that the French have been interested in Xinomavro for some time now and that an Australian Assyrtico is on the way. One might argue that foreign wineries will misuse the Greek grapes or take business away from Greece but I firmly believe that these will simply open doors and real wine lovers will look to the source in much the same way American wine drinkers fell in love with California pinot noir and then became enamoured with Burgundy.

    Kyr Yianni’s move is smart on other levels. Firstly the low costs of production and manpower in China will mean that he can take on the New World wineries in terms of high volume and low price. Secondly at least two of the grapes to be planted in China go very well with Chinese food – barreled Assyrtico can match with many Chinese appetisers and Moschofilero is a good match for many delicate dim sum type meals (indeed I have seen Spiropoulos on a New York Dim Sum restaurant wine list). Thirdly having a base in China doesn’t only mean the Chinese are potential customers but the whole of the Far East, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Japan being very important wine markets too. These are very interesting times for Greek wine. Thank you Markus!

  8. elloinosJanuary 12, 2010, 10:28 am

    Salle, the UK wine market is unfortunately very hard to gain a foothold in. The exchange rate does not help, and in the current economic environment the focus seems to be on selling what has been selling in the past, rather than exploring new products. I am however hopeful, that this strategy will shift in near future.

  9. elloinosJanuary 12, 2010, 10:33 am

    Kosta, thanks for your great insight, you sum up some very valid points, love your comment!

  10. Yiannis PapadakisJanuary 12, 2010, 5:37 pm

    Mark, I am aware of 2 more projects from Greek winemakers abroad.
    1. Bodegas CK owned by the Greek ship-owner Krontiras in Mendoza, Argentina. Panos Zouboulis is the chief winemaker, and one of their wines, the Dona Silvina Malbec Reserva 2006 was awarded the best Malbec over $50 in Argentina a year ago.
    2. I recently saw a bottle of wine produced in Tuscany by a joint venture between a Tuscan winemaker (I do not remember whom, but I am sure he was not one of the big names) and Hatzimichalis. Unfortunately I cannot give you more details on this issue, but this wine is currently available in the Greek Market through Hatzimichalis’s own retail network (Wine Garage).

  11. elloinosJanuary 12, 2010, 5:56 pm

    Yianni, great additional information, thanks so much. What would I do without the great engagement from my readers? The comment section has become a little treasure chest lately.

  12. Kostas KatsoulierisJanuary 12, 2010, 10:53 pm

    As for the UK market, you have mentioned some key points. Another major reason must be Steve Daniels’ departure from Oddbins which as you know from your time in London is a large high street chain of wine stores. Any hope of Threshers taking up Greek wines was dealt a blow when they went into administration. The economy is perhaps one of the main reasons Greek wines aren’t doing better in the UK despite recent coverage in the wine press. In this climate, people may not be willing to take a chance on a medium priced wine from an unknown producer with perhaps an unfamiliar grape variety. Certainly Vickbar and Novum do what they can (as do Decanter and Jancis Robinson in their own way) but I think the next stage is with the supermarkets – the range has improved tenfold lately (they have their own section at the Decanter World Wine Awards now). During my pre Christmas visit to London recently, the only Greek wine I saw at a large Waitrose in the City was a Samos Vin Doux. There were a lot of DWWA medal winners but no Ovilos, Alpha Estate or Gaia Estate sadly. I also believe that Marks & Spencer used to have an own brand Nemea but I didn’t see it when I was there.

    Labelling is another issue and one which Nico Manessis has complained about repeatedly. The problems are that either there is far too much information on the label which will surely tire the casual shopper OR it is all in Greek which doesn’t help matters either.

    Food matching is also perhaps an unexplored area. Natalie Maclean (NatDecants) unfortunately does not have many Greek wine entries. To be fair Fiona Beckett champions Assyrtiko and has mentioned Aigiorgitiko at various times on her website. I have already mentioned Moschofilero and Chinese food but think Gaia’s Ritinitis Nobilis is a fantastic match for fragrant Indian and Thai curries.

    Tourism is another issue which could help Greek wine in the UK. The UK has more visitors to Greece annually than any other country yet it appears this fact has not been utilised. I have already mentioned the range of Greek wines at Athens airport (sorry Markus you must be getting sick of this) but what about opening a good wine store in Plaka with regular tastings? What about more promotion of wine tourism, I know there are the Wine Roads of Northern Greece and Wine Roads of Nemea but EOT (Greek Tourist Board) could support these more. And then there is advertising…or the lack of it. Once again I apologise Markus for I have gone on too long.

  13. elloinosJanuary 13, 2010, 12:09 am

    Kosta, thanks for another round of “hit the nail on the head” comments. As for the UK supermarkets, sadly they still offer mostly the exact wrong type of Greek wines. I would really like to see some more effort from the wine buyers. Labelling is an issue, but somewhat blown out of proportions. Exported wines have bilingual labels, they might not be perfect, but have improved a lot over the last 2 to 3 years. Food matching could be a real bonus for Greek wines, as they are so versatile – I need to give this more thought, you might be on to something here… The tourism industry certainly would be a potentially powerful resource for the wines of Greece, I’d be delighted to exchange views with the Greek Tourist Board – contacts are needed though.

  14. Yiannis PapadakisJanuary 13, 2010, 5:27 pm

    I have found details on the Hatzimichalis Tuscan wine. It is co-produced with Tuscan producer Dievole, who produces a series labeled “Plenum”, consisting of blends of the Tuscan grape Sangiovese with local varieties around the world, with the aid of winemakers from the respective countries or regions. So this was his 5th attempt, hence the name Plenum Quintus and it is a blend of Sangiovese and Aglianico, a variety that became famous from southern Italy, but as the name suggests (aglianico from elliniko) it is of Greek origin, and it was co-produced with Hatzimichalis.

    Another important issue to me is the following:
    It is o.k. to see Greek winemakers investing in different regions around the world, but this will not be as helpful for the reputation of Greek wine as would be the opposite, i.e. famous foreign winemakers investing in Greece, a situation we have not seen until now, unfortunately. It is not difficult to imagine what a boost to the reputation of, say, Nemea or Naoussa or Santorini would be if someone like Christian Moueix, Pietro Antinori or Miguel Torres (to name 3 first-class winemakers from 3 different countries that have indeed gone international) invested and started producing wine there.
    What about German winemakers? A number of them (like Robert Weil, Dr. Loosen, Joh.Jos Prum or Selbach-Oster to name a few) enjoy a huge respect worldwide and some of them have expanded internationally. Could you Markus lobby in that direction?
    P.S. I have to admit that my proposal probably exceeds the scope of your business…

  15. elloinosJanuary 13, 2010, 5:45 pm

    Yianni, great work, thanks so much for sharing this with us! I love the fact that you found out so much detail on the “Plenum Quintus”, including where its name came from.

    I have had similar thoughts to yours in regards of investments being made in Greece from top winemakers abroad. I even have someone in mind to speak to, but as so often, timing is crucial. I value your contributions highly, they add a lot of depth to these pages.