Greek Wine at a Crossroads

The future looks bright for the Greek industry, but major changes are necessary to ensure it expands its share of the world market


The Greek wine industry has shown tremendous reflexes over the past six years of the crisis. I would dare to say that it has gained a level of confidence it never had and become one of the top stories of the “new” Greece that we all want to live in.

Greek wine has managed to maintain and, furthermore, increase its market share over other alcoholic beverages. More importantly, it has started to find its place in wine lists and retail shelves all over the world. Greek wine is fashionable, its makers are gaining VIP status and consumers have happily embraced it as their favorite drink.

 

In these last few years, many positive practices from the past have returned with vigor. First, Greek wine has improved in quality. Whites made from indigenous varieties such as Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Moschofilero and Savatiano can easily compete with the native Spanish and Italian varieties. Reds made from Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko have become the choice of sommeliers all over the world. Second, the pricing of our wines has become much more rational and competitive. Third, the investment in wineries that started in the mid-1990s has been followed by investment in vineyards. While this development has yet to show its full potential, I believe that in the next 10 years it will be a major driver of our business.

Fourth, the National Interprofessional Organization of Vine and Wine of Greece (EDOAO) developed and executed a five-year strategic plan that established the guidelines for the development of the industry, especially in the export markets. This was a very solid step, which allowed us to place our cooperation on a firm footing and to fully avail of the European Union funds made available through the new Common Agricultural Policy. Last but not least, Greek winemakers have blossomed. We have started traveling, communicating, working harder, making better wines, talking the same language and, most importantly, working together.

All these developments will result in new challenges in the years to come. We have laid the foundation and now we are at a crossroads that will either lead us back to where we were or take us to new heights. We are in a position where we have to analyze the business environment we are operating in and take the necessary actions to shape our future. We must start measuring success in real numbers and start setting attainable goals. We represent about 1 percent of the world’s wine production and only 0.2 percent of world exports. If we double these numbers, the effect on our business and on the Greek economy will be enormous.

But there are some bigger picture issues that we need to tackle first.

“Greek wine has managed to maintain and, furthermore, increase its market share over other alcoholic beverages.”

The world wine market

…is changing all around us. The competition and pricing are fiercer than ever. New wine-producing countries (England, Turkey, India, etc) are emerging. Consumer habits are changing, with millennials taking the leading role for the first time. Social media has taken over as the main source of wine information and influence and the New World countries (US, Australia, etc) are producing branded wines like never before. Asia is fast becoming a leading market. Overall, the wine world of the 21st century has little to do with that of our parents. We have to take these issues into consideration and build our strategy accordingly.

Greek wine laws

Wine legislation in Greece has remained unchanged since it was introduced in the 1960s. Its reform is a prerequisite for the development of our industry. While we operate within the EU legal framework, it is our responsibility to take into consideration market developments and winemakers’ needs in order to make the laws governing production an instrument to help, not hinder, the industry. Existing regulations on new vineyard plantings, clonal selection, vine nurseries, protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indication (PGI), local winemakers’ associations, modern winemaking techniques and agriculture ministry controls are all outdated and inhibit growth. Now is the time to examine these laws and establish the checks and balances that will allow Greek winemaking to organize, control and structure the growth that will naturally come.

“I would dare to say that the Greek wine industry has gained a level of confidence it never had and become one of the top stories of the “new” Greece that we all want to live in.”

GREEK WINE 2025

EDOAO’s strategic and marketing plan, in place since 2008, requires revision. Greek wine is emerging from adolescence and a clear and focused path of action is needed. Building the “Greek wine” category and moving out of the “All others” section is a prerequisite for the country’s industry to succeed. Yet, Greek winemakers need to undertake private initiatives as well, within an organized framework. No generic activity can be “sexy” enough or private activity successful enough if it does not take place within a framework. A new semiprivate, professionally staffed company called “The Wines of Greece” should be established as a marketing subsidiary of the EDOAO in order to plan and execute a strategic plan, called Greek Wine 2025. Most winemaking countries have undertaken similar campaigns and managed to build a serious proposition for the market and consumer.

Exceed expectations

It would seem that Greek wine has surpassed the main problem it faced in recent years, namely the obstacle of trade. Even though consumers always loved it, we always had a hard time selling it to the mainstream market. This hurdle seems to have been cleared and we now have the ability to reach the end consumer. But are we going to see repeat sales? Are we going to lead the consumer to choose Greek wine again and again? We have to exceed expectations in all ways and manners. Packaging, communication, quality control, patience, consistency and punctuality are all attributes that we Greeks are not necessarily known for. This has to change. It is much easier to sell-in a wine (to a retailer or restaurant ) than it is to sell-out (to the consumer). We have to focus on the sell-out.

There are even more challenges. Will Greece’s highly fragmented wine industry see some consolidation? Big players are a prerequisite in a highly competitive environment. How will the self-made winemakers of the 1990s react? It is one thing to build a business and another to expand it. How will the small vine growers-turned-winemakers behave? This artisanal culture can become a driving force for the industry provided it maintains a passion and patience for quality and avoids the easy path of quick profit.

 

The future looks bright. Since the year 2000, the number of wineries in Greece has doubled to around 800. We are better equipped, more knowledgeable, better educated and more patient. We are operating in an expanding market. We all work together with a common goal. I strongly believe that in the years to come, the Greek wine industry will thrive and succeed. This is our opportunity and our responsibility.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WINE_BOUTARIS_CROSSROADS_03

Fifth-generation winemaker Stellios Boutaris is the owner of Ktima (Estate) Kir-Yianni.


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