Glut grape crop dampens wine-makers’ spirits

Wine cooperatives said yesterday that 2004 has been the worst for the industry in the last 15 years, mainly due to a glut in grape production. «The increase in production, combined with the high level of reserves and the large quantities of grapes for double use (which are also suitable for currant production) that went toward winemaking, compressed producer prices for exclusively winemaking varieties, while also affecting the quality of the wine produced,» said Christos Markou, president of the Central Cooperative Association of Viticultural Products (KEOSOE). He condemned those cooperatives and private winemaking enterprises that used large quantities of double-use grapes for their indifference to the impact of the practice on the quality of Greek wine. The total quantity of wine-quality grapes this year, according to the latest government data, was 424,000 tons, against 386,000 tons last year. A further estimated 120,000 tons of double-use grapes also went for wine. Markou said the practice is not new, as previous governments have been averse to assuming the political cost of tackling the problem. But this year, the glut in production exacerbated the problem and inspection mechanisms did not function as they should have, despite relevant EU and national legislation. The fines which the European Commission has imposed on Greece for violations of such regulations totaled 56 million euros in the 2002-2004 period, a sum that would have sufficed to restructure Greek viticulture for five years. Markou said wine-producer prices are down by about 25-30 percent from last year and cooperatives have had to shoulder this cost, which has plunged them in serious financial straits. The price of the Agiorgitiko variety of Nemea, for instance, has fallen from 42 cents per kilo in 2003 to 30 cents this year, and of Santorini’s Asyrtiko, from 73 cents to 59 cents. Markou said KEOSOE has asked the Agricultural Bank for credit to cooperatives at lower rates and for European Union approval of greater spirit production.