The ongoing financial crisis in Greece continues to take its toll. Disposable income for the consumer is dropping like a stone, and by now every sector in the country is badly affected. The wineries are having a particular hard time, cash flows have completely dried up and I estimate that sales are down by between 30 and 50% over the last few months. The export markets have remained steady, but given that roughly 90% of the produced wines are sold within Greece, this offers little consolation.
A lot of stock remains unsold in the shelves of the wine merchants and the supermarkets. AB, one of the largest supermarket chains in Greece, has aggressively started a rotation of offers that are valid through a limited period of time. As a consumer, I am happy about this, as bargains can be found.
However this morning, I was shocked by the latest promotion that covers two very different wines from the same varietal and the same area of production. In my opinion, it sends out a dangerous message that might be very damaging in terms of reputation for years to come.
Assyrtiko is without any doubt one of the greatest Greek varietals. Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini, in the hands of a capable grower, can produce world-class wines that mirror their terroir. These wines deserve to be counted amongst the best dry white wines in the world. 2009 in particular has been a stunningly successful vintage. Please take the time to learn more about the wines of Santorini here.
AB currently discounts two Assyrtiko wines from Santorini. The first one is simply labelled “Assyrtiko Santorini”. It comes from Greek Wine Cellars, one of the country’s most powerful producers. They are the largest producer and bottler of Greek wines with significant exports, and cater mainly for the mass market. This wine is currently discounted by 40% and is offered at 4,30 €, inclusive of VAT!
I am shaking my head in utter disbelieve – growing vines in Santorini is extremely labour-intense and the cost involved is prohibitive for any serious grower to be able to offer their product so cheap. None of the other wineries will be able to compete with these dumping prices. What worries me a great deal is that I have received reports from the US, where a similar strategy has been employed with the very same wine. At a time where Greek wines finally start receiving recognition, this business strategy seems very contra-productive. The Greek wine industry has not been able to expand exports in the last years by offering average quality at discount prices. To the contrary, this has damaged its reputation. As far as the wine itself is concerned, the bottle I just tasted was in all fairness quite descent, it is not one of top wines I have tasted from this vintage, but it typifies the varietal and the area.
The second discounted wine also caught my attention big time. Gaia Thalassitis 2009 is one of the best wines of the vintage. I am not alone with this assessment; it just received a score of 91 points from Mark Squires who writes for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. This wine is currently discounted by 15% at a price of 9,99 €, inclusive of VAT. I wonder if this is a direct result from the first campaign. If so, it shows the chilling effect that might already be in the making. I wonder how the price negotiations will go in the coming months. I know for a fact that Gaia is working hard to set recommended offer prices for the export markets. The fact that their wines are now offered at discounts in Greece will not support this effort.
I find this all ironic in a sad way. A lot of money is being invested for strategies to improve the image of Greek wines abroad. Consulting companies are being paid, wine writers are being flown into the country, wine road shows are organised etc. Yet somehow the industry continues to be plagued by major mishaps. Make no mistake, the move to offer one the real gems from the wines of Greece, Assyrtiko from Santorini, at discount prices is exactly that.