By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be on the Greek island of Santorini (press junket via Wines of Santorini and the Brand Action Team) to get a first-hand view of Greek wines, Greek wine history and winemaking, and seeing if I can vigorously outrun anyone offering me a glass of Retsina.
The Greeks have, of course, been making wine since ancient times, not that you’d know it from any recent marketing pushes (or lack thereof) made by Greek winemakers and/or the region in general. In fact, at first blush I’d say that Greek wine generally (and wines from Santorini in particular) has a very rough and very long marketing road ahead of it if it wants to wine over the American market. Look at it this way:
- There has been little-to-no effort to exploit the amazing history, breathtaking winegrowing landscapes, and food-friendliness of Greek wines.
- Most wine stores in the U.S. treat Greek wine as an afterthought, giving it little shelf-space likely due to the fact that it doesn’t sell like hotcakes because…
- …consumers are scared to death when they see grape names like Assyrtiko, Mavrotragano and Nykteri that a) they can’t pronounce, b) most wine pros can’t pronounce, either, and c) they have no idea how they taste because so few restaurants offer them.
- Adding insult to injury, regions like Santorini sell the majority of production and therefore have little incentive overall to compete on price, which is usually $5-$10 more than comparable wines on the shelf made from grapes that consumers in the U.S. can pronounce and are familiar with.
Yeah – not quite as rosy a picture as those photos of the Santorini sunsets, is it?
We’ll see soon enough, I suppose – more reporting to come! In the meantime, we’ve got Walla Walla coverage and an amazing interview coming up this week here on 1WineDude.com. Enjoy!
14 thoughts on “On The Road: Santorini And The (Marketing) Trials Of The Greeks”
Hi Joe, when on Santorini don't forget to visit Domaine Sigalas!
Joe, I am delighted that you visit Santorini in Greece and hopefully you will report back in great detail. I agree with you that past marketing initiatives have not yielded any noticeable or lasting results. I certainly watch the current efforts with great interest ;)
Although the Greeks have been making wine since ancient times, the modern wine Greek wine industry is actually very young. Until the 1960's no wine was bottled, and in some up and coming wine regions this only happened within the last decade. The first boutique wineries only started out in the 70s and 80s, and the so called "wine revolution" in Greece really took off in the last 20 years.
Continued from below…
You offer two arguments why Greek wines don't sell in the US. The names of the grapes (BTW, Nykteri is not a grape, it is the name for the procedure of processing the grapes from the vineyard to the fermenter, which culminates in the late night) might be unusual at first. But are they impossible to learn? Is "Assyrtiko" really so much harder to remember than "Sangiovese"?
Secondly, I agree that Greek wines are not cheap. But I disagree with your assessment that they are usually $5 to $10 more expensive than comparable wines. Greece is actually one of the few wine producing countries where a price tag of up to $20 to $30 encompasses 90+ percent of the top wines produced. Sure, this is not cheap, but top wines from other countries can easily cost a multiple. In addition, there are many wines that score high in the US and cost between $15 to $20.
I wish you a great time and I very much look forward to learn if your above stance towards Greek wines will change.
Thanks, guys – and sorry about the confusion on how I included Nykteri!
I'm not saying that Greek wine is *bad*, just that it has a lot of challenges for breaking into the U.S. market. If that weren't a challenge, it's likely I wouldn't be here in Santorini on this trip, and the wines would be widely available and maybe even fashionable in the U.S. already.
Joe, have a great trip. I have had two Santorini landmark moments in my life. First, in 1985 my wife and I honeymooned there…we are still married, so maybe its a good luck place. Second, I tried some Assyrtiko for the first time a few years back at a notable Mediterranean small plate restaurant with a Med-only list. It blew me away as a food wine, and I have been buying it regularly since. I have no gripe about the bang for the buck on these wines. Get ready for an eye opening experience and have a blast…it is a magical place. Enjoy.
They could sell their wine all day long if they could impart a little of that Santorini view and Greek history with every bottle. I look forward to hearing more about the journey! Cheers!
Was there in the Fall of '08. Visited Boutari for a tasting as well. Awesome place & drinks overlooking the Caldera and The Donkey Station. Cheers…
I was on Santorini a couple of months ago and was not impressed with any of the wines we sampled. Hope you have a better experience than I. Perhaps you have to get past the tourist places in the village. Look forward to hearing about your experience.
Are you going to help Retsina become an international phenomenon? I hope not! :-)
hope you're enjoying your trip. one place to visit is boutari. decent wines, but their vinsanto is worth the visit alone. spectacular wine.
I was on Santorini, oh… 12 years ago? No drinking for me then, sadly. It was amazing though. I want to go back! Have a fantastic time.
We dont have the unpronounceable grape names problem in Israel but we have many other barriers/challenges.
Your post reminded me of the importance of TELLING A STORY when it comes to marketing unique wines and wine regions!
Enjoy your trip…
You should come with me to Israel sometime…
I hope the real world experience of being there will help put your point of view in perspective. As you know we work with a lot of countries with difficult to pronounce indigenous grapes and unfamiliar flavor profiles. Take Austria as an example…the same case could have been made for Gruner Veltliner including the pricing issue just five years ago. But flash forward to today and Gruner and Austria are now considered "hot", with a distribution presence that puts them on the considered list for a whole lot of people.
I believe it's our responsibility…wine bloggers and committed oenophiles to help protect the heritage of unpronounceable names, unfamiliar varietals that sort of taste like other grapes.
I'm guessing that once you've had a chance to taste a Koutsoyannopoulos Assyrtiko with fresh grilled octopus watching the sunset over Amoudi harbor, that your point of view might change. There ain't nothing quite like it!
I need to clarify, I'm not making any statement here on the quality of Greek wine, which I am experiencing right now and can tell you that the better Assyrtikos are world-class and capable of long aging. What I am saying is that Greek wine has to overcome some big, big challenges before becoming darlings among the average U.S. wine consumers (and I'd argue that Austria isn't quite there yet, either). I am cheering for Greek wines and hope that those indigenous wines **do** make inroads into the market – we just need to acknowledge that it will NOT be easy.
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