In an interview with Greek News Agenda (GNA)*, Konstantinos Lazarakis - the first Greek Master of Wine and Greece’s wine ambassador abroad – discusses the comparative advantages of Greek wine, current challenges and rebranding strategies for its promotion in the global market.
Q: Having been awarded the title of Master of Wine, as well as with many other awards and prizes, would you say that the way to the top was difficult? How did the story begin? What is it that still motivates you after so many years?
A: Achieving the Master of Wine (MW) qualification, considered one of the top accolades in the world of wine, took seven years; seven years of really hard work. For someone outside the wine business, it might seem like fun – akin to drinking expensive wines all day long, but the reality, trust me, is very different.
However, I believe that what it takes to achieve that level of dedication is love. If you are in love with what you do, then the hard work seems a bit less hard and a bit less work. The long hours seem shorter - especially when you are dealing with something amazingly beautiful like wine.
Love is what put me into wine in the first place. In my early 20’s, I was captivated by the fact that someone could use the nose and the palate to discover places, wine makers, varieties, philosophies about wine. Once I got in, wine would never let me go away. Then, keeping myself motivated is easy, once you take into account that no one could ever master wine, since it is so complex, as well as fascinating.
Q: You seem to have dedicated your professional life to the values of winemaking and wine drinking. Would you consider yourself Greece’s wine ambassador abroad?
A: I have been working closely with the Greek Export Organisation, now Enterprise Greece, since 2004, educating wine professionals around the world. I believe that I have talked about Greek wine to about 3000 people, more or less, over all these years; so, yes, someone could consider me a kind of Greek Wine Ambassador abroad.
I truly believe, however, that the true Ambassadors for Greek Wine are the Greek wine makers and Greek wine producers. Great wines always come down to the people that make them. The more these producers travel around the world and tell the stories behind their wines, the more wine professionals will be converted to true Greek Wine Apostles.
Q: Which are the Greek varieties and regions that have the most potential for growth? What strategies are employed to raises awareness as regards the sector?
A: This is an intricate question that could only be answered by an equally complex answer.
A strategic plan was carried out a few years ago by the Greek Wine Sector as a whole, and four regions / varieties were singled out as those on which our promotional effort should focus: Moschofilero grape variety from the Mantinia region, providing light and aromatic whites; Assyrtiko in Santorini, producing full, rich, mineral whites; Agiorgitiko in Nemea, with its velvety reds; and Xinomavro in Naoussa and Amyntaio, a diva turned into elegant, complex red wines.
But there is much more to Greece than these four varieties. Potential for growth sometimes comes from places or varieties that no one could have foreseen even a few years ago. Look at the wines from Crete! A decade ago Crete was considered a red wine producing area, especially where high quality wines were concerned. Now, producers have re-discovered ancient white varieties, like Vidiano, Dafni or Muscat of Spinas, and the quality of Cretan wines has gone through the roof!
Regarding strategies employed, the most fundamental issue for Greek wine is its complexity. Therefore, we must work hard on resolving this complexity, by investing on education. The more people know about Greek wine, not just wine professionals, not just people in other countries, the more confident they will become at choosing a bottle of fine Greek Wine. For the quality, there is no issue – the quality of Greek Wine has been top for many years now.
Q: In your opinion, what are the comparative advantages of Greek wine, and what are the challenges in boosting exports and rebranding Greek wine in the global market?
A: In a wine world of increasing monotony, globalisation and the dominance of specific grapes and wine styles, Greek wine is a haven of difference. The names, the concepts, the tastes are different. Greek Wine is true wine. Believe me, there is not much true wine out there. Because of that, Greek Wine is unbelievably drinkable, a perfect partner to a meal. The food friendly nature of Greek Wines is outstanding.
Nevertheless, the names are tricky to pronounce, many producers do not market their products with the correct labels, the image of Greek Wine was not the best possible around the world for decades, so exports have been sluggish in past decades.
But not anymore. The fact that Greek Wine is top quality but not overexposed in certain markets is turning into an advantage. Greek Wine might well be the Wine Worlds’ best kept secret.
Q: What is your personal favourite Greek variety? What would you consider its ideal food pairing?
A: How can I choose a personal favourite with so many amazing grapes? It is impossible to choose. The instance is all important – I would prefer this grape at a hot summer lunch by the sea and that variety in a small village up the mountain with snow falling outside. For every single Greek wine, I can think of a moment that it would be my favourite.
As far as the food and wine matching goes, I think, sometimes, we over-complicate things for something that, above all, has to be enjoyed. I will give you my advice. Choose a wine you really like – a style that you are fond of: dry aromatic white, full red, whatever. Then choose a food that you really have an appetite for. Then invite someone that you really love over, and I am sure it will be the perfect match!
Konstantinos Lazarakis became the first Greek Master of Wine - the most prestigious title in the world of wine - in 2002. He is also a member of the Council of the Master of Wine Institute (IMW) and the current Chair of the Trips Committee. In 2004 he founded W.S.P.C. Ltd, the Greek subsidiary of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust of London, the most influential educational organization in wines and spirits in the world. His book “The Wines of Greece” became one of the four wine books short listed for the Andre Simon Memorial Award 2006. Having received many awards and medals and working as a consultant for the Enterprise Greece Organization and Aegean Airlines, as well as for a number of wine producers, restaurants and hotels, Konstantinos Lazarakis may be considered Greece’s wine ambassador abroad.
* Interview by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou & Athina Rossoglou