by Markus Stolz

Thoughts
from Germany

byMarkus Stolz
November 16, 2011, 7 Comments

Greek wine is becoming the new darling in a number of important export markets, yet has failed to make any noticeable advancement in my original home country, Germany. I am currently spending a week here to reassess the situation. The currently predominant climate is a challenging one, as the financial crisis has led to a general anti-Greek sentiment with many Germans. I view this simply as an additional obstacle that needs to be overcome. Sales of quality Greek wine into Germany have been so low for many years, that any further drop would be negligible.

The German wine market is fragmented – there is no single wine centre city that carries a similar influence like London or New York, who are setting trends in their respective countries. To be able to win in Germany, you must win nationwide.

Something is amiss: The influential players from the German wine industry are simply unaware of the evolution of Greek wines in the new millenium. The knowledge base from distributors, supermarkets, and large wine merchants is outdated and in many cases a decade old. I do not blame them; it was the job of the Greek wine industry to ensure that they tell their own story. This did not happen. Those Greek wines that do make it into the country are sadly the same that did so a decade ago: Mainly mass-produced, cheap and utterly unconvincing samples that do not deserve to represent Greece.

Greek wineries must break the Catch 22 – in the past, marketing initiatives were funded by the wineries according to the amount of volume that was being exported to Germany. This meant of course that those wineries who already had a market share are the ones that contributed most funds for the campaigns – and had the most say in the execution. This put the focus right back to those products that do nothing for the reputation.

Meanwhile, I continue to take things into my own hands and seek one on one engagement. Yesterday morning I filled the trunk of my car with exciting Greek wine samples. I drove 3 hours to meet an influential wine merchant, and had a 90 minute conversation. It was a great exchange of thoughts – the owner found the information I provided compelling. The fact that I presented numerous indigenous grape varieties, coupled with the sheer amount of wineries that are certified organically, and the fair price points brought a huge smile to his face. He admitted that the last time he looked at Greek wines was back in the 90ies. He is now seriously considering listing some next year. The 3 hour drive back was a happy one.

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  1. Rudy D.November 17, 2011, 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the post Markus. Organic, bio-dynamic, and natural wines are in vogue now, especially in California. And, organic certification offers another level of product differentiation for Greek wines (which already benefit from being derived from unique and indigenous varietals), but I wonder how that translates into a quantifiable competitive advantage. It stands to reason that the value of a certified organic wine would also be a function of additional cost (for certification and how that effects retail pricing), reliability of the certification (so how much do consumers trust the certification process and the certifying body), and general overall wine quality. I’d be interested to know more about organic certification for Greek wines, i.e. what are the standard(s), who administrates certification, etc. Maybe that is something you’ll explore in a future post?

    Thanks again for another thought provoking post.

  2. elloinosNovember 18, 2011, 1:40 pm

    Rudy, thanks for your comment and interest. You might be surprised just how many Greek wineries carry an organic certificate for their products. The US NOP certification has to be applied for additionally, some wineries have already done it, others will follow. This is indeed a cost and time consuming process. And you right, I might add a post on the issue some point in the future.

  3. Kostas KatsoulierisNovember 19, 2011, 4:27 am

    Markus, I’ve just come back from a month in London and this time found it harder to find Greek wines in the big Supermarkets over there. The article raises various issues which we have discussed before. Greece faces an uphill struggle to change the recent perception of it and its people in the outside world. I still believe that there are obvious synergies that can and should be made between tourism and wine here. Tavernas need to revamp their lists and train their staff on proper service, invest in proper storage and have keener prices rather than some of the outrageous mark-ups one finds here. Part of that is also down to us as consumers in demanding and complaining where necessary – hopefully the crisis is an opportunity for the Greek consumer to realise and wage their power. The same holds true of Greek restaurants abroad re: range, training and investing in storage. Beyond that we should look at: 1) wine print media – when was the last time Decanter or Wine Spectator had a section on Greek wines? 2) pushing the food friendliness of Greek wines, great strides have been made already but the momentum needs to be kept up. 3) Specialist tastings in London, Paris & NYC. Greek wine in particular but Greece in general needs to rebrand. Check out this interesting presentation which I am sure you will have seen: http://www.slideshare.net/kooboo/brand-greece . Sorry for the rather disjointed nature of this post but I am leaving for the airport in a bit. Am going to NYC for Thanksgiving. Hopefully I will find a better range in that wine store in New Jersey this time around!

  4. elloinosNovember 20, 2011, 4:25 pm

    Kosta, all your points are valid. The trouble is that more often than not, Greeks seem to stay in their own way. One only needs to look what has happened to the EDOAO and its joint initiative to market Greek wines abroad. Because of politics and egos, most efforts are now on hold and decisions can only be taken one by one. A lot of energy, effort and funds have been seemingly wasted. Are you aware that a 40 minute long movie “The New Wines of Greece – Yours to discover” was completed many months ago? I have a copy at my home, it is VERY professionally made and in my view, would have made a difference to the public image towards Greek wine. But, it was never released because of – actually, I do not even know why it has not.
    In any case, some export markets are really starting to open up. And I have said this several times in the past, NOW is the time to act, the window of potential impact won’t be there forever. I am doing my part and I can see that it is working. But of course the potential for the whole wine industry could be so much higher if the people within in would set aside their sometimes small minded politics that have far larger yielding consequences.

  5. RobertDecember 7, 2011, 3:16 pm

    Markus, I suggest you watch a presentation by a man named Peter Economidies on youtube. It’s called REBRANDING GREECE. the presentation is in English, and it’s fantastic!!
    I think as a business man, you will appreciate this man’s mind and advice on ‘marketing’ and ‘branding’
    See link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chhn5oEmITs

  6. elloinosDecember 7, 2011, 7:44 pm

    Dear Robert, the timing of your comment could not have been better. I am currently in Istanbul at a Marketing conference that is chaired by Peter. I got in touch with him right after I saw his presentation a couple of weeks ago, and we connected and exchanged our views. Peter is doing fantastic work and it is a great pleasure to spend some quality time with him here.

  7. RobertDecember 18, 2011, 7:17 pm

    That’s wonderful to hear! And yes, Peter is a great Greek, …and you are a great PhiliHellene
    I think with the two of you combined,one could create an amazing brand for Greece.
    Keep up the good work!