CULTURE

Greek wine industry in turmoil

Up until a few months ago and even though the effects of the economic crisis were becoming clearly visible in terms of sales, professionals involved in the Greek wine industry were all smiles. This was because, following years of introversion and thanks to a series of joint efforts, local wine production had finally managed to display a clean-cut, new face beyond the country?s borders, displaying visible signs of recovery.

Speaking at a day conference in Nafplio in early June, leading American wine expert Steve Olson spoke of a new reality regarding Greek wines abroad. ?You might not be aware of this, but right now, New York?s top restaurants — not just those serving Greek cuisine — are rapidly moving to put Greek labels in their menus, because they are in fashion,? he said.

In an unexpected twist, however (though less unexpected for some), Greece?s National Interprofessional Organization of Vine and Wine (EDOAO), which since its establishment in 2000 had become a major vehicle for the promotion of Greek wine abroad, has now halted its activities.

The reason for this negative development is that a serious rift has developed between the two bodies comprising the organization. The cause is a complaint made to the European Commission in May by the Greek Wine Federation (an organization representing local wine producers) against the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food. The complaint concerned credit facilitation for the purchase and collection of the 2010 grape harvests for the sum of 10 million euros to cooperatives and 5 million euros to private wineries — even though the latter are responsible for at least 70 percent of production.

In response to the complaint, the interprofessional organization?s other body, the Central Union of Vine and Wine Producing Cooperative Organizations of Greece (KEOSOE), which represents cooperatives, suspended the participation of its representatives in EDOAO activities and demanded the removal of the Greek Wine Federation?s president from the organization?s board of directors.

?It is inconceivable that in this time of crisis the Greek Wine Federation is appealing against our own country to European Union bodies,? KEOSOE?s director Paraskevas Kordopatis told Kathimerini. ?Due to the highly unfavorable current conditions, characterized by high supplies and low grape prices, we asked for the granting of interest-free loans. Private wineries could have participated in this scheme, but they didn?t act on it. On the contrary, they went on to appeal, a move which might result in the European Commission demanding the money be returned, as has happened in the past. This is something which could destroy many of our members.?

What is certain is that EDOAO?s ambitious campaign for the promotion of Greek wine internationally, ?New Wines of Greece? (www.newwinesofgreece.com), has been suspended. The current financial storm has hit the industry particularly hard, with sales plunging by 40 percent in some cases over a period of just 12 months.

?Under no circumstances will Greek wine fall behind,? Greek Wine Federation president Angelos Rouvalis told Kathimerini. ?Even if this means creating a new organization.?