BUSINESS

Greek wine starting to make its mark in the US

By George Georgakopoulos

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 non-connoisseurs 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 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 well-recognized 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 distilled 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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