Marketers will tell you that positive brand perception is vital to success.
Greek wine still suffers from a tarnished reputation among many consumers in Australia based on poor quality retsina imported into the country in the 1970s and 80s, and often served in the tavernas frequented by tourists to Greece.
The Greek wine industry has evolved, and the wines have improved considerably over the last two decades.
However, it would be fair to say sales have not reached their potential when we examine exports and consumption in Australia.
Many Australian wine drinkers have possibly never heard of assyrtiko or agiorgitiko let alone had the opportunity to sample a glass made from these much acclaimed Greek grape varieties.
Figures sourced from Wine Australia show that Greece ranks 11th for wine imports by volume to Australia sitting behind Argentina, Chile, and the USA. The value of Greek wine imports to Australia is around $1.5 million a year which equates to less than one per cent of market share.
While reputation and perception may have hampered the industry in the past, what is it that is preventing the Australian consumer picking up a bottle of Santorini assyrtiko instead of a Marlborough sauvignon blanc in 2018?
In a recent New York Times article highlighting the attempts to introduce Greek wines to the palates of New Yorkers, Jason Wagner, wine director at Union Square Cafe said that one reason New York restaurants don’t carry many Greek wines is that they are often hard to pronounce.
“People get intimidated by wine,” he went on to say. “If you have something with a totally different alphabet, even anglicised, it’s a little scary to order it.”
However this view is not necessarily shared in other parts of the world.
Executive Chef at 1821 Restaurant in Sydney, David Tsirekas, doesn’t believe that Australians have baulked at ordering Greek wines for fear of being embarrassed.
“It may be the case in America but not here. Yes they have a difficult time pronouncing them but it makes them more curious about the grape and its similarities to new world wines.”
Tsirekas said 1821 offers 76 Greek wines which amounts to 70 per cent of the restaurant’s wine list.
“Our customers love the wines. They understand that together with the food we deliver they stack up to Australia and the rest of the world [in terms of wine]. They aren’t any worse or better, they are just simply more suited with Greek food.”
Nikos Kosmas from Monemvasia Wines agrees with Tsirekas on the naming issue.
“Names are not the problem. It creates a conversation and extra interest for the customer. Technology helps with reading the label and details about the wine they are drinking.”
While industry insiders agree that damage was done to Greek wine’s reputation with inferior products in earlier times, there is a firm belief that with the right marketing and education Australians will embrace the quality modern wines now being offered.
In June last year, a group of winemakers and wine educators from Greece headed Down Under for the third consecutive year to showcase 90 of the country’s best and latest wines as part of a Wines of Greece series of tastings for trade and consumers.
At the time, Wines of Greece president Vangelis Argyris told Food Magazine that there is “unprecedented demand for Greek wines with a 30 per cent increase in sales in Australia over the last two years. Our native grape varieties are leading this demand and we’re hoping to bring some new varieties in June that haven’t been widely seen in Australia before.”
The trend is heading in the right direction but as a passionate advocate for all things Greek, Tsirekas believes that more should be done.
“Marketing [of Greek wine] has always been poor. It also depends who is importing the wines and what else is in their portfolio. Sometimes they get lost in portfolios or have to compete against better-priced wines. The biggest issue is [that] we are so far away and the cost mounts up. By the time it gets on the table, a bottle of the cheapest Santorini assyrtiko is no less than $85 to make it worthwhile. How is that going to compete with a similar grape like a riesling or a pinot gris which is better known to Australians?
“There has to be a concerted effort in education. Especially in exposing the local experts to how far the Greek wine industry has come along and become world class and always improving. They are just not villagers anymore making homebrew stored in their basements.”
Kosmas believes that the large Greek population should play a role in the success of the wines in Australia but acknowledges there have been hindrances in the past.
“It deserves to have a good reputation in Australia because of the (large) Greek diaspora. Unfortunately, for many decades the Greek wine industry made a big profit selling retsina which was not competitive with wines from other countries in terms of quality. Since 1995, hundreds of small wineries have appeared. The quality [has]increased but the reputation remains and it needs time and big efforts in marketing to climb up in the ranking.”
Tsirekas has a long-held dream to lead tours of the wine regions of Greece in years to come based on a belief that “Greeks do wine really well.”
“As time progresses, the Greek product will be championed alongside the other classic grapes that we’ve come to love from the rest of Europe.
“Suddenly now people are taking note [of Greek wines] and even local winemakers like Australian icon Jim Barry is producing assyrtiko in Australia. Though still young and [in] need of some work, his dedication will enrich the profile of assyrtiko from Greece.
“We need to show support to these people because it only helps Greece back home.”