Greek wine start­ing to make its mark in USA

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY GE­ORGE GE­OR­GAKOPOU­LOS

RE­AL­ITY CHECK More and more Greek wine is flow­ing in North Amer­ica as lo­cal brands shed the im­age of cheap im­ports and evolve an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar range of tastes that are earn­ing crit­i­cal ac­claim and distinctions at in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions across the At­lantic.

Long gone are the days when wine from Greece meant just the resinated white retsina. Lo­cal la­bels have de­vel­oped qual­ity choices that ap­peal to con­nois­seurs and non­con­nois­seurs alike, as Greek wine cap­i­tal­izes on the North Amer­i­can mar­ket’s swing to­ward more ex­pen­sive vin­tages.

In the United States, many of the coun­try’s top restau­rants of­fer Greek wines, hail­ing mostly from the Pelo­pon­nese and Crete, with a sur­vey in New York find­ing that Greek wines were avail­able at as many as 480 restau­rants and 520 wine re­tail­ers last year.

Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics con­firm the in­crease in vol­ume as well as in the value of the lo­cal wine that trav­els to North Amer­ica. Hel­lenic Sta­tis­ti­cal Au­thor­ity (ELSTAT) fig­ures for 2012 showed a 37 per­cent in­crease in the value of Greek wine sold in the US and an 11 per­cent in­crease in vol­ume, com­pared to 2011. In Canada the an­nual in­crease amounted to 56 per­cent in value and 3 per­cent in vol­ume. Data for 2013 are not yet avail­able.

But what is the ac­tual pic­ture on

fig­ures for 2012 showed a 37 per­cent in­crease in the value of Greek wine sold in the US and an 11 per­cent in­crease in vol­ume com­pared to 2011. the ground? “In our case Greek wine im­ports have been av­er­ag­ing a 15 per­cent growth per year for the last three years,” says Jim Tsi­boukis, vice pres­i­dent of wine im­porter Este­son Corp in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia.

“It is an up­hill bat­tle to pen­e­trate the US mar­ket, es­pe­cially Cal­i­for­nia that is a pre­mier wine re­gion pro­duc­ing over 30,000 la­bels of well­rec­og­nized wine va­ri­etals. There are over 400,000 wines do­mes­tic and im­ported avail­able in the US, so any gains in mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion of Greek wines we con­sider a tri­umph,” he told Kathimerini English Edi­tion.

“Only a few years ago, Greek wines were viewed as sub­stan­dard. To­day, they are be­com­ing the lat­est fash­ion, at least in the US. Recog­ni­tion of Greek wine, as well as dis- tilled spir­its and beer mak­ers, is in or­der as the strug­gle of Greek wine producers has brought good re­sults in com­pe­ti­tions,” he added.

The Min­istry of Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment and Food has re­al­ized the po­ten­tial for growth in Greek wine ex­ports and has nearly dou­bled fund­ing for the pro­mo­tion of do­mes­tic la­bels in non-Euro­pean Union coun­tries: From 36.3 mil­lion eu­ros spent in the four-year pe­riod from 2010 to 2013, it has bud­geted for 72 mil­lion eu­ros in the five years from 2014 to 2018.

Yet pro­mot­ing Greek wine on the ground is far from easy: “In a typ­i­cal large su­per­mar­ket in the US there are over 300 Chardon­nays on the shelves. Even if we were able to put one or two Greek whites next to them, they would dis­ap­pear in a sea of whites... In ad­di­tion, the Amer­i­can con­sumer is sim­ply not aware of the ex­is­tence of Greek wine and with names like Assyr­tiko or Agior­gi­tiko it makes it even harder for them to ask for, or re­mem­ber, them. The only hope lies in in­tro­duc­ing the con­sumer through the in­sti­tu­tional trade, such as restau­rants etc. That may in­crease the de­mand in the re­tail sec­tor,” said Tsi­boukis.

The im­prov­ing qual­ity of do­mes­tic wine is what is help­ing it pen­e­trate such tough mar­kets, Tsi­boukis con­cludes, at­tribut­ing his com­pany’s progress pri­mar­ily to the ef­forts of the vintners: “We be­lieve and have pegged the foun­da­tions for the suc­cess of our busi­ness on the ‘mer­aki’ [the pas­sion] and the crafts­man­ship of the Greek pro­ducer.”

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