Nearly three years have passed since I published the page “Story of my life” on elloinos. The articles shared my personal journey leading up to my decision to leave the financial industry behind and make my passion my profession instead. It is a good time to take a look back:
Part 1: 2009 Getting started
The idea to link Greek wineries with wine merchants in Germany and the UK seemed like a no-brainer to me at the beginning of 2009. I did not know anyone in the industry and also had zero background in the wine business. Despite these shortcomings, I felt confident that my passion would be sufficient to get started. I was captivated by the overall quality of Greek wine and saw serious potential to increase the very low export figures. I had lived in the UK for a decade, and being German surely would help to conquer my ‘home’ market as well.
I wrote letters to about 100 merchants, introducing myself and offering my services to them. The interest I received was literally below zero. Instead of being disheartened, I viewed this as a solid exercise, as the responses received gave me valuable insights as to how Greek wines were being perceived abroad. Perceptions are most powerful, change comes by altering them. This was the day I got serious about informing others by telling stories. Thus, elloinos was born on the web as a way to communicate and educate.
I spent the first half of the year travelling around Greece, visiting wineries and making contacts. It might be telling that some of my earliest connections were made with mostly small, high quality producers like Kokkalis, Thimiopoulos or Dalamara. I also got my hands dirty by gaining some practical experience, working in the vineyard at Kokkalis and also helping out at the harvest. The picture included in this article shows my ‘bankers’ hand after planting some 1500 vines.
My Greek language skills at the time were very patchy at best, I must have made quite a strange impression with the winemakers, gesturing and committing every grammar mistake in existence. This must have been the time when my nickname “ο τρελος γερμανος”, which translates into “the crazy German” first made its appearance. A foreigner with no experience wanting to sell their products abroad! No wonder that I had to call up one winemaker a dozen of times before he finally handed me over his export price list.
I also attended a number of wine exhibitions in Greece, and flew several times to London, loading my suitcase with Greek wines. During the second half of 2009, I concentrated my efforts on the German market, networking like crazy and presenting Greek wines at every opportunity. I became active on twitter in May, and added Facebook three months later. I can honestly state that at least 90% of my contacts (remember, I did not have any) originate from twitter.
The first important breakthrough was made late in the year, when a number of German wine critics started publishing positive results and notes from wine tasting events I had organized for them. In addition, I started publishing articles about Greek wine for the US online portals Snooth and PalatePress.
By the end of the year I had one item with positive income: A sales commission of 396 Euros for selling one pallet of wine to a German wine merchant (sure enough from the winemaker whom I had called so often for his export prices).Travel expenses were roughly six times higher. Think about this – it cost me just 2000 Euros to get into the game. The word about Greek wine began slowly to spread in places where it had not before. At the same time others started to support my work. For this, I am forever grateful.