Interview of the general director of the Boutari winery in Santorini Economical crisis in Greece, How does this affect the wine sales?
It is sure that the economical crisis has affected the sales of wine. The boutari winery in Santorini used more than 1.100 tons of grapes in the decade of 1988 – 1998.The last ten years the winery is only using about 350 – 400 tons of grapes to produce around 250.000 bottles.That is a great degrease. Of course that has not only to do with the latest term of the economical crisis in Greece. When sales drop there are several factors that affect this kind of results. For example , 50% of the produced wines are exported to Europe and the United States.The crisis for the Greek wines was here even before the one we hear and see today. One major disadvantage for the Greek wines , that needs to be sold in the foreign markets is the price. The cost to produce a bottle of wine in Greece is much higher than in other countries. That makes our wines not price competitive against wines from Chile ,Spain ,Argentine and others. For example Germany was one of biggest Greek wine importers in Europe. Lots of Greeks had Greek restaurants there and of course were selling Greek wines. The crisis though did affect them first and then us. If the restaurants does not sell wine we don’t either.
What do you think must be done to overcome this crisis.And what do you see for the future?
We have to drop the costs of the wine production. New technologies have to be used for that. A good wine needs good grapes, yes that is true. We do have the good grapes and do produce good wines , but we need to compete with the term “value for money” to see more sales in the future .To achieve that , the vines need to give us more grapes with less cost, producing great wines. Technology today gives us many solutions to get there and we have to invest in that to get there. Santorini has a tradition in winemaking for thousands of years now.If you take a look you will still see the old traditional ways of growing the vines and not enough new technologies used in the wineries. My opinion is that the Santorini vineyards have to be reset and start over again from the very beginning.We have to use the today’s knowledge to achieve the results we need to be able to compete in exports.It is not enough to produce a good wine.We have to produce great wines with competitive prices. The general idea to overcome the crisis must start from within.I mean that the whole culture has to change to be able to survive. The education has get much better for our children to compete in the future with all the others. We must learn to have meritocracy and values and that starts from our very home.
What has changed in the Boutari winery the last years?
For five years now we use a new sorting method to pick the good grapes from the not so good ones.We now chill the grapes before vinification, that are just a few things that changed in these years. The sorting method costs the winery about the 20% of the grapes that come in.That is one thing , on the other hand we get much better wines.This 20% did affect the whole production all these years.Now we know that where wrong before… Chilling the grapes after sorting in big containers gives us much more aromatic and intense wines.That is also a new method we use now to get even better wine results. It is as I mentioned before… Technology helps a good wine to be a great one.
What is your opinion about the Santorini vines?
If you take a look on the Santorini vinefields you will see the traditional way of growing the vines.They take the vine stock and make it a round basket.The grape grows in it. That is a very old way of growing grapes.Yes it does look nice and it is a piece of the Santorini tradition, but we have to carry on.There has been evolution in the grape growing industry. The tradition says that Santorinias used and use this method to protect the grapes from the vast winds that blow in Santorini.I am not so sure that is so effective or rather so important. To harvest the vines here in Santorini we need lots and lots of manpower.That is a huge cost to the grower and wine producer.No mechanical means can be used at all.An other factor is that by growing the grapes in the traditional basket method the grape does not get the Sun it would if it was planted in the more modern way not to mention the drop of cost if we could use mechanical means to harvest and maintain the vinefields. An other matter that bothers me, is that Santorini is a very important wine production area of Greece and there is no actual terroir.Tourism has driven Santorini to be overbuilt with hotels ,apartments and houses all around the island. My opinion is that there should be a legislation about that. Where can you built hotels and houses and where should the vines be.I do not think that both should be in the same place for many reasons.
What is your opinion about the wine critics in Greece?
Of course we do have respected wine writers and journalists that know their job but they are not the majority and that is sad.
Would you be affected as a consumer by a Greek wine critic?
It would definitely affect me as a consumer but it would not be the major factor for me to tell if a wine is a good one or not before I have tried it myself. I will trust my individual taste and after that decide if the critic was good or not.
What do you think about the points given by several international wine professionals?
The point system used by Robert Parker , Wine Spectator , Wine & Spirits magazine and others are helping individuals to sort the best wines in the range of price they are looking for and in many cases the production area.The wine market is huge and these professionals are doing a good job.I also use their opinion when it comes to choose a foreign wine myself, and lets not forget it helps in making sales.
Could you tell us a few words about the Mavrotragano grape.
Boutari was the first one to discover the value of the grape Mavrotragano in 1995.Back then Haridimos Hatzidakis was working here as an oenologist.We found out that the wine produced had great potential.At the time Boutari could not invest in the production of a new red wine as the portfolio of the Boutari Group had already many good red wines with a result of the Mavrotragano to stay in an experimental use only.