The Greek food and agricultural sector has historically been a main pillar of the country’s economy and one of its major export industries, accounting for approximately one third of total exports. Agriculture makes up over 4 percent of Greek GDP and utilizes nearly five million hectares of land. These days, the Greek wine industry is constituting an increasingly large portion of that.
“The Greek wine industry 20 years ago had less than 100 wineries. Five years ago there were 600. Now, there are more than 1,000. It means that there is a tremendous potential there,” said Stelios Boutari, the CEO of Kir-Yianni, a high-quality wine producer in northwestern Greece.
While Boutari admits that the financial crisis of the last decade has negatively impacted all Greek sectors – including agriculture – he added, “I dare to say that is has been good for Greek wine.” Greek winemakers have rebounded from the crisis very quickly, he explained, becoming increasingly export-oriented and of higher quality.
From 2009-2016 (during the height of the financial crisis) Greek wine sales increased by more than 80 percent in the United States, more than 90 percent in Canada, nearly 105 percent in Australia, 555 percent in China and 562 percent in Japan.
“In the last five years, we [Kir-Yianni] more than tripled our exports, and it looks like we’re going to double our exports by 2020,” Boutari said. “We’re very lucky with the opening up of the Japanese market in the last three years, and we’re very lucky to say we have found a very good distributor down there and we see step by step a lot of growth coming up from the Japanese market.”
Kir-Yianni currently has its footprint in more than 27 countries, made possible by the century-old family tradition of commitment to quality, innovation and the best winemaking practices. Kir-Yianni was started in 1997 by Boutari’s father, after he left the Boutari Wine Group, the premium family wine company that his grandfather established in 1879.
“Our motto is ‘Innovation Builds Tradition,’” said Boutari. “You really have to try looking at different things, new things, marrying traditional methods with innovation and new technologies. This is something that we have been doing with Kir-Yianni from our first day. It is very important for our culture to constantly question ourselves and question the quality of the wine, to strive for better and better and better quality.”
Boutari noted that “Greek white wines are definitely some of the best in the world,” although, “we still have to do a lot of work with Greek reds.” This is because white wine can be created with good technology; but red wines “need a good vineyard,” meaning winemakers must lobby the Greek government and the EU to allow more acreage for vineyards. Still, Boutari said, “I think the next few years are going to see fantastic Greek red as well.” In fact, Kir-Yianni is currently focusing largely on the production of Xinomavro, a local red from the uplands of Naousa that is made from one of the world’s rarest noble grapes.
With better quality wines, Greek producers stand to gain from huge price increases. In fact, in the United States, the average price of Greek wines has already increased by about 41 percent from 2009-16, while the average price in China increased by 103.5 percent in that same time period.
Boutari thinks Greek wines are still underpriced in the high-end market. “Greek whites, especially between 10 and 20 euros retail price, are fantastic value; they are wines that if they had the tag Made in Italy or Made in France they would sell much more easily and at better prices,” he commented. That’s why the company is heavily focused on targeting an international market, to promote the high-quality of Made in Greece products.
Although Greek winemakers export 84 percent of their wine to EU countries, the gains, in terms of sales, are stronger outside of the EU market. While Boutari admitted that western European markets like Belgium and Holland are very also fundamental to Kir-Yianni’s sales, “The United States of America [is] most probably the most important and the most precious market in the world right now; the market is growing by 2-3 percent a year. … Canada, especially the Quebec region, is very open to Greek wines.”
As their products continue to spread across the global wine market, the Made in Greece name will hopefully evolve to reach the level of fame of its Southern European neighbours. For now, Kir-Yianni undoubtedly serves as an example of a successful Made in Greece enterprise.