Winemakers face cost crisis

Greece’s winegrowers, facing declining domestic consumption, are trying to penetrate new markets, with mixed results so far. Per capita consumption of wine in Greece has fallen from 33 liters in 1997 to 30 liters in 2003. The reasons are higher prices, especially since the introduction of the euro in 2002, the higher consumption of spirits – Greeks are the biggest per capita spenders on whisky globally – as well as the introduction of the so-called «alcopops,» mixes of hard liquor with fruit juice targeting the youth market. Since 1990, the number of wineries in Greece has grown from 100 to 450. They have introduced modern winemaking methods and have dramatically improved the quality of Greek wines. But while Greek wine became a quasi-luxury item, to be consumed in bars and restaurants, there was a decline in mass consumption. Most winemakers have a limited production and correspondingly high costs. Industry experts claim that the costs will put the sector in a serious crisis within the next three to four years. Some winemakers are now seriously considering forming partnerships to cut costs. The oenologists’ chief export markets are Germany and England, followed by Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. However, efforts to expand their market share within the EU have not yielded results. A somewhat better response has been seen in the US, to which 15 winemakers are currently exporting. At present, Greek and European wines are facing intense competition from US, Chilean and Australian wines. But, according to Greece’s largest winemaker, Yiannis Boutaris, future competition will come from China; concerns over that competition will be expressed at a world oenology congress in June, he said.