Last October, the Parparoussis winery in Patras launched a promotional campaign in North America that hinged on the remarkable idea of presenting a menu combining authentic Greek tastes with its own select wines.
The menu – prepared by Vasiliki Parparoussis, a seasoned cook and wife of winery founder Thanasis Parparoussis – included, among other combinations, octopus with Santorini fava next to a 2010 Nemea Reserve, roast lamb with a 2008 Taos, and a platter of cheeses and traditional sweets to go with a Muscat Rio Patras and a Mavrodaphne.
It was a resounding success as all the special evenings held at restaurants in New York, Boston, Houston and Montreal were sold out. More importantly, the events proved popular with a cross-section of American and Canadian society, not just Greek expatriates.
According to data from the National Interprofessional Organisation of Vine and Wine of Greece (EDOAO), Greek wine exports to the US and Canada have risen by 39% and 55%, respectively, in the last five years.
Moreover, according to a survey conducted by Accu Poll, 79% of consumers in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Dallas and Seattle with an annual family income of more than $50,000 and a university-level education, know about Greek wines.
These percentages are set to rise even further in 2015.
“We only export 60% of our production abroad because we do not want to be absent from the Greek market. Demand is so huge that we could export all of our wines,” says oenologist Erifyli Parparoussi.
Given that Greece has 600 wineries and 50 cooperatives, it’s clear that if anyone can talk about a success story in these barren years of crisis, then it’s the people involved in the winemaking industry.
Sofia Perpera, who is responsible for the campaign in North America and the manager of the All About Greek Wine company, says she is very satisfied.
“At the moment, it goes without saying that there is no serious wine dealer in America who is not familiar with our wines and doesn’t include at least one label on his or her list.”
“Publicity has surpassed all expectations,” she says, adding that “in the first seven months of the year alone, mentions in US and Canadian social media reached one billion, while write–ups weren’t just confined to wine or gastronomy magazines.”
A casual look through various media reports on Greek wine would seem to confirm this.
According to Forbes, “somewhat ironically, one of the worst times for the Greek economy happens to coincide with one of the best times for Greek wines.”
Bloomberg has urged its readers to “help the Greek economy by drinking,” while “Ode on Grecian White Wines” was the headline of an extensive feature story in the Wall Street Journal that lauded the Assyrtiko, Moschofilero and Malagouzia.
In the same vein, the New York Times heaped praise on the Assyrtiko, comparing it with the famed Sancerre and Chablis.
Even though he is a Xinomavro man, Stellios Boutaris, who heads the Kir-Yianni company, is remarkably candid when it comes to this Santorini white.
“The Assyrtiko has really shot ahead. It’s a must now for foreigners,” he says.
His winery was among the 53 that basked in glory last May in New York at the prestigious Taste of Greece event for consumers.
The tickets – at $75 and $125 – were sold out weeks in advance while queues formed outside the City Winery, where the event was held.
“The markets we targeted with investments and sound marketing – North America, Australia, China – reacted tremendously. And it’s not just that sales have gone up there. There is also a huge demand for expensive wines and you can understand how significant that is,” Boutaris said.
Yes, 2015 was a good year for Greek wines and not just across the Atlantic.
“Wherever I travelled this year, I kept on hearing positive comments about our wines, while friends and colleagues from abroad put in orders; indeed some were for more exclusive and refined (or with-it or hip) labels. It just gets better each year,” says Thodoros Lelekas, vice-president of the International Federation of Wine and Spirit Journalists and Writers (FIJEV).
One can only hope that mismanagement and ill-conceived measures such as excise tax do not inflict damage an industry that has contributed so much, not just to the economy but to the country’s image abroad.