by Markus Stolz

Open letter

byMarkus Stolz
November 23, 2009, 10 Comments

Greek house wineGreek wines deserve a much better image. Sometimes it seems that only the Greek vintners themselves are aware about the stunning and exciting wines that they are able to craft. An image is in many cases created over time by a population of people from different backgrounds who share similar experiences. To change the existing image, these experiences must be altered into a positive state. A critical mass of people must be reached to allow for this to happen.

Important wine critics and writers around the globe already started changing their attitude towards Greek wines. A lot of praise is coming from these important influential voices . This is a force that is not to be underestimated and it is gaining momentum. Now is the perfect time to start initiatives to change the image Greek wines are having with the common people. I wish to suggest one simple yet modern option today, which might be implemented without too many obstacles, and will lead to distinct positive results over time.

According to Wikipedia, Greece attracts 16 million tourists each year. It is probably an understatement that this is a critical mass of people that can be reached. Most tourists visit during their stay at least once, more likely multiple times, a Taverna to eat and drink. Tavernas usually offer good value for money when it comes to food, and are of course an important part of the Greek culture. The wine served is in most cases the house wine. The great majority of those are open wines, either purchased from the neighbour who, as it happens so often, grows vines, or self-made by the family of the taverna owner in the backyard. In both cases the wine will come from an untrained “hobby” winemaker. The wine is then filled into large plastic containers, and is very prone to oxidation. The quality is largely appalling. This is the first impression of Greek wines that the tourists take back home. To make matters worse, they will tell others about it.

An alternative is desperately needed. Of course it is not feasible for Tavernas to stock up on high quality bottles of wine. There is however an alternative available, through which solid, decent quality wines can be offered at similar prices to the current house wines: Bag in box wines. The number of talented Greek winemakers is growing every year, and these are the people who will have no problem crafting solid quality bag in box wines. Unfortunately, as of today not enough wineries produce and promote bag in box wines in Greece, and I would like to see more producers joining in. These wines could then be distributed to the Tavernas. At the islands, this should be easily achievable. On the mainland, the wines should be distributed to the local Tavernas in reach. It might not seem to be financially rewarding at first, but it will change people’s perception of Greek wines, I am sure.

Bag in box wines offer many important advantages, for example, they can be stored for a couple of months, and keep fresh for some weeks after being opened. They can also be excellent value for money wines.  Another very strategic advantage is that the tourists could be introduced to the Greek grape varieties. Label the bag in box wine as Roditis or Agiorgitiko! Get the Taverna owner to proudly tell his customer who orders a white wine that he can offer a really good Roditis.

It takes initiative – but imagine the results that could be achieved in a few years time. The image of Greek wines abroad would be altered to the better and this would lead to a chain reaction where people would actually ask for Greek wines, as they enjoyed them in the first place. I am aware that there are wineries that already have taken exactly this initiative, the Tetramythos Estate is a good example. But we need more wineries to join ranks.

My dear friend, the winemaker Christos Kokkalis  took another, more radical approach: He lives in a small village and was obviously fed up with the quality of the house wine that was offered at his local Taverna. The owner grew vines in his backyard and produced the wine himself. Kokkalis offered to help – and ended up doing the whole vinification himself. He now proudly says that you can get the best house wine in all of Greece in his village. And the Taverna owner does tell every customer very proudly that he offers a real good Agiorgitiko. :) Changes are possible – let us start today.

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About Markus Stolz

Over the last years, I have come to really appreciate Greek wines. There are many grape varieties that exist only in Greece and I have the good fortune of being able to try them all. I wish to share my enthusiasm with wine lovers around the world, who often limit themselves to maybe four red and four white grape varieties for most of their life.

  1. tobias cooks!November 23, 2009, 5:02 pm

    Quite honestly I do like in many cases the locally produced wines better than the mass produced bag in the box options. I have visited some of the manufacturers who produce bag in the box wines like the Enosi Pezon in Crete, who produce the probably most known “to krasi tis pareas”. Nothing to say against the quality and stability of this wine but it completely missses any local touch and taste. If you ever had a localy made retsina, grown on local soil of a small island you are facing a completely different product and excperience when drinking it. Of course such a wine will never fit the EU standards for storing such a wine but the flavours are unique and can not be found elsewhere. Here in Greece the tradition of makeing your own baverage such as tsipouro, raki or even wine has a long tradition and if you look around you will f ind outstanding lokal wines that never saw a mass production chain or even a lable. Often these wines are not made to last, but to be consumed within the year. Lots of knowledge in cultivation and processing grapes is kept up with this tradition, which in other parts of Europe, is unfortunately lost. Fostering the mass production and conformity will also lessen the local knowledge of cultivation and tradition of production. Sowith even cultivation grapes will get less and less, because when no local taverna is buying from the local farm, it makes no sense to cultivate further.

    It seems to be rather a bundle of reasons that lead to the small market share in the international realm of wine. It has to do with the fact that the variety and high quality of Greek wine is fairly new in the market and secondly that the Greeks are producing in a very small quantity which keeps the prices comparatively high. (or the other way around) In other words you pay a lot for what you get. This again targets at a very speciffiv target group that is into such wines. This puts the Greek wine internationally into a niche spot. Or better: The Greeks put their wine into a nieche spot.
    Further more Greeks are not yet really good with marketing themselves internationaly as we can see for example with the olive oil or tourism as such.
    I am not even sure if the Greek Wine Industry wants to be better or differently know abroad. Maybe they don’t?

    Cheers
    Tobias

  2. elloinosNovember 24, 2009, 12:01 pm

    Tobias, thanks for for your comment. I respect your opinion, but wish to clarify a few points: I was not referring to the mass produced bag in box wines. I was calling for the talented winemakers to start producing some high quality bag in box wines in addition to their existing portfolio. These winemakers know how to graft good products, and I have no doubt that they would be able to redefine the quality of bag in box wines.

    Of course there are very good local wines to be found throughout Greece, but the fact remains that these are rarely the wines that are offered by the tavernas. I was referring to the typical offering, which has sadly little in common with the wines you refer to.

    You are correct, there are many reasons that have lead to the small market share of Greek wines abroad. But I was not trying to pinpoint to THE problem for Greek wines abroad. I was rather looking for ONE simple way to start improving the negative image Greek wines have abroad, while being able to reach a critical mass of people with the results of this action. I know many winemakers and they strive to produce the best wines. They are very interested in seeing their wines on the wine shelves of merchants abroad. The Greek wine industry certainly wants to be better known abroad, and they fully deserve much more recognition.

  3. Kostas KatsoulierisNovember 25, 2009, 2:34 am

    Makus, another great article with some very good points raised. Agree with upping the quality of bag in the box wines – look at what other countries have done with their bag in the box wines… Secondly, I believe that some restaurants and tavernas do not store wine properly as quite often I have been disappointed with an oxidised wine from a producer I like and am a fan of – then again it could be bad luck on my part. Thirdly even if tourists have enjoyed good wines whilst in Greece, the choice of high quality wines at the airport (where they pick up their last minute souvenirs) leaves a lot to be desired. Fourthly Tobias above does raise a valid point over price – some of them are too expensive for what they are. Having said that however there are exceptions. I was lucky enough to attend the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter last weekend in London. Alpha Estate and Gerovassiliou received consistently good comments from most of the people who tried their wines – at least as long as I was at their stands. I remember quite a few people remarking how good Alpha Estate was value wise when compared to some of the Italian wines showcased at the same exhibition. Some people even remarked how good an aged Gerovassiliou Viognier was and compared it to a Condrieu!!!

    To be sure for a wine industry that is really only 20 years old (forgetting ancient history) Greece is doing well but I believe could do so much better…

    I am so glad there are people like you helping and raising issues, advertising the wines and initiating debates as this will surely help. Keep up the great work!

  4. elloinosNovember 25, 2009, 11:05 am

    Kosta, I am currently scanning my network to see if anybody has a connection to the Duty Free shop in regards to Greek wines. Concerning the prices, of course there are wines that seem “too” expensive. But name another wine producing country where a price range of 15 to 25 Euros covers 90+% of the top wines produced. Your example of Alpha Estate in comparison to Italian wines marks this point well. I have also had the pleasure of tasting the 2002 Viognier from Gerovassiliou – what a stunner! Thank you for reminding us that the wine revolution is Greece really is still very young, a fact one should not forget.

  5. tobias cooks!November 26, 2009, 4:16 pm

    Hello Markus,

    point taken. The storage ofen is poor and you can find wines gone bad quite often. This occurs as well to bottled whites in stores, which are kept in the shelf exposed to too high temeratures. I often recommend to people visiting Greece to check the year of the bottled wine when ordering or buying one in order to make sure to get the recent or previous years botteling. Under that perspective your idea is certainly vallid.

    The storing and shipping issue for sure is as well an issue of education. People often just don’t know how to store wine.

    As for the willingness of the Greek wine indusry to promote abroad my personal experience is that wine makers often focus to promote in Greece. Promotion or sales, especially online is viewed very sceptical. I had a few approaches in this direction, but they were never fruitful.

    Kostas, as for the pricing I do agree that there are very interesting exceptions.

    As for the topic of promotion of greek wine abroad:
    Markus, I can offer that you post a regular wine review or presentation on my blogs (German and English language). I can combine that with a fitting Greek dish. My readers are interested in mediterranen food, especially Greek one and I am sure that it would help the awareness. Sure we can position the post as a guest post by elloinos. Let me know if you are interested in that.

    Cheers
    Tobias

  6. elloinosNovember 26, 2009, 5:00 pm

    Hi Tobias, thanks for your elaboration. It is true that wines are often not properly stored, although there has been a lot of improvement over the last years, certainly in supermarkets. As to the promotion of Greek wines abroad, one has to keep in mind that there are many smaller producers that have an annual production of less then 20000 bottles. This production can easily be sold in Greece, and still many of those smaller producers like to see their products also abroad. Greeks are very proud people, but it is only logical that it is hard for these small growers to take the promotion into their own hands.

    Thank you very much for your generous offer to guest blog for you. I am always interested in broadening my readership. Right now it will be tough to fit into my schedule, as I guest blog for Wuertz, Snooth and have just been approved by Palate Press as a contributor. But we might start with a flexible schedule, i.e. whenever I have time on my hands I write something for you. I agree that this would help to promote more awareness. Best to email me mstolz at elloinos.com to discuss this further.

  7. Kostas KatsoulierisNovember 26, 2009, 11:55 pm

    Markus & Tobias, I believe a little bit on pairing Greek wines with food would also help. I think it would be another way of advertising Greek wine to people who are adventurous but may feel threatened by the unknown Greek varieties or the chaotic labelling on many Greek bottles (a point mentioned by Nico Manessis at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter). I admit I use Natalie MacLean’s Wine Matcher from time to time but am a bit disappointed that more Greek wines are not mentioned there.

  8. elloinosNovember 27, 2009, 8:18 am

    Kosta, thanks for your suggestion, food and wine pairing might indeed be a helpful column. As Tobias is a cooking expert, our personal strengths of food and wine could be combined.

  9. [...] The wine sales of tavernas in Greece are still massively dominated by bulk wine. It is an intrinsic part of the Greek culture to consume wine with food, and people here are accustomed to “wash down” their meals with a glass of jug wine. The problem is of course that the 16 million tourists who visit Greece every year will receive the same exposure, which leads to the impression that the quality of the wines leaves much to be desired. I had written an open letter to the Greek wineries last year addressing the issue; please take a moment to read it here. [...]

  10. [...] made my case nearly three years ago (please read this article for context), sadly nothing has happened since. I still wish that some producers would get together [...]

  1. [...] The wine sales of tavernas in Greece are still massively dominated by bulk wine. It is an intrinsic part of the Greek culture to consume wine with food, and people here are accustomed to “wash down” their meals with a glass of jug wine. The problem is of course that the 16 million tourists who visit Greece every year will receive the same exposure, which leads to the impression that the quality of the wines leaves much to be desired. I had written an open letter to the Greek wineries last year addressing the issue; please take a moment to read it here. [...]

  2. [...] made my case nearly three years ago (please read this article for context), sadly nothing has happened since. I still wish that some producers would get together [...]