Business

German stands up for Greek wine

  • 25 March 2012
  • From the section Business
The vineyards of Dimitrios Georgas
The vineyards of Dimitrios Georgas

The Greek financial crisis has generated a lot of resentment between Greece and its richer eurozone partners, especially Germany. But not all Germans are fed up with the Greeks. Near Athens, one German is standing up for the Greek wine industry.

On a windy plain 20 miles outside Athens, grape vines vie for space with suburban sprawl.

Dimitrios Georgas
Dimitrios Georgas

The city is spreading out, growing along new roads that were built for the 2004 Olympics to connect Athens to the nearby airport.

Dimitrios Georgas points to his vines which are soon to bear fruit.

"They are ready. If we have some sun for two or three days - then pop!"

Georgas' family has been growing grapes and making wine here for generations.

He remembers how his grandfather and father used to sell wine by the barrel to small tavernas in Athens. Dimitrios would help out around the winery as a child.

Nowadays, he grows several different grape varieties, and looks after a business that produces around 50,000 bottles of wine a year - reds, whites, and the Greek speciality, retsina.

All of Georgas' products are certified organic. His wines, he says, are special, just like the Greek people.

"We are different because we think in a way, we act in a way, we drink in a way, we dance in a way. As long as we're not afraid to communicate our authentic culture to the outside world - we've got advantages."

Retsina meets Riesling

Georgas' views on the quality of Greek wine, and the Greek people, are shared by a former derivatives trader from Germany, Markus Stolz.

Stolz's wife is Greek. They always dreamed of moving back to Greece and eight years ago, they did.

Stolz's passion is wine and he likes Greek vintages.

"I also saw that the quality of Greek wines was improving year after year. I wanted to do something professionally with wines but didn't know what to do," he says. "So I began to look at the export figures for Greek wines, and I realised there was something wrong."

Stolz found that the vast majority of Greek wine was consumed in Greece. So three years ago, just before the Greek economic crisis hit, Stolz decided to give up high finance and set up shop as a Greek wine exporter.

Corked

He started by contacting wine merchants in his native Germany, and in Britain, where he had lived.

German wine seller Markus Stolz
German wine seller Markus Stolz

"I wrote about 100 letters, introducing myself, saying I will help you come together with Greek wineries, and the interest I received back was literally less than zero!"

Mr Stolz persisted. He started a blog on Greek wine, and used Facebook and Twitter to spread the word. He even got invited to the United States to be a guest on a show devoted to wine (a web show run by internet wine critic American Gary Vaynerchuk).

Soon the Germans, among others, started to listen. So Stolz organised tastings in Germany. But last year, attitudes started to change, as Greeks and Germans began blaming each other for the eurozone debt problems.

"I'll give you an example," said Stolz. "I had been working on a German wine merchant for one-and-a-half years, trying to get an appointment for Greek wines. I finally met him in November. We sat down, we tried the wines, he loved them. But before we broke off he said - OK, Markus, you just have to tell me - how can I sell a Greek wine to a German now?"

The current bad blood between Germans and Greeks started to play out online, Stolz said.

Dimitrios shows off his wines
Dimitrios shows off his wines

"Greeks would send me emails or call me up and say Markus, you have to make a political stance on your blog and tell the Germans off. At the same time, I'd get calls or emails from Germans saying Markus, you have to tell the Greeks off."

Stolz says he tries not to get too depressed about it. From a business point of view, he says, the American market is more promising anyway.

Stolz says he thinks Greek winemakers and the government in Athens should be marketing their wine in a big way right now - not to mention olive oil and cheese - two other products he thinks Greece could find more markets for.

And he's trying to get more winemakers in Greece to think about exporting, especially now that the Greek domestic market has been squeezed hard by the debt crisis.

When asked about that crisis, winemaker Dimitrios Georgas shrugs. Unlike other Greek wineries, he says, his is not burdened by debt, in part because he kept his operation small.

"So you and your family are OK?", I ask.

"Look, we don't drive Porsches or Mercedes," he says. "But we have what we have - and that's enough."

Additional reporting by Rob Hugh-Jones.

Listen to more on this story atPRI's The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, Public Radio International, and WGBH in Boston.

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