This article is an attempt to round up in small paragraphs some of the key challenges for Greek wine in the near future. It is the way we see and sense the developments for wines that not only want to become better but also memorable. With quality improving day by day we believe it is time that Greek winemakers start to evaluate some of the following points in order to lead Greek wine to the next level. Feel free to express your opinion, whether you agree or disagree with our thoughts.
- Organic and biodynamic cultivation
With the exception of few regions like the Ionian Islands, climate in Greece is mostly dry with limited rainfall, making organic cultivation relatively easy and botrytis risk-free. Still there is only a very small percentage (under 4%) of vineyards that are converted into this form of farming. For biodynamic viticulture things are even more scarce with only a handful of winemakers selectively practicing some methods but none so far Demeter certified.
Higher temperatures in the future will make current plantings unsuitable for quality wine-making
Why organic and biodynamic? Is it just a simple coincidence that Chateau Pontet Canet, Latour (coming soon), Chapoutier, Leroy, DRC, Humbrecht, Guigal, Peter Michael, Phelps and Cullen are practicing biodynamics? Although fine wines can be produced whether organic or non-organic methods are adopted, as demonstrated by wines like organic Beaucastel versus non-organic Ausone and Harlan, there is greater possibility to find better quality among organic/bio growers because of two reasons. Firstly, because these growers are more selective and time-caring in their adopted methods and secondly because organics as researched by Geisenheim result in 10-20% lower yields together with higher must weights due to improved ripening. Lower yields can be offset at some point by lower spraying costs. Other advantages include less residues in the soil because of reduction in spraying and therefore better soil activity (soil with higher levels of active microorganisms is able to transmit more nutrients in the vine). Regarding however the boundaries between organic and biodynamic viticulture things are not quite crystal clear.
- Is clonal selection the answer?
The good news is that within the next couple of years a number of certified clones for many indigenous grape varieties will be available in the market offering another ingredient in the hands of Greek winemakers. The bad news is that it comes with much delay although it started quite promising some years ago with Xinomavro. We truly believe that this will be a major step towards the improvement of overall quality for Greek wines, but this effort should be embraced from other players as well, not leaving behind big wineries. In Rioja, the spark for Tempranillo clones was ignited by Roda.
- Taming alcohol
It would be inaccurate to believe that climate change is responsible for the rise of alcohol in wines. This is mostly a consequence due to producers’ decisions to harvest late for what is called perfect maturity (phenolic ripeness) which together with lower yields and super efficient yeasts contribute largely to the usual 14.5% wines. But there are ways to control potential alcohol starting from the vineyard focused on canopy management, earlier harvest and adopting different vine densities among other. It is mostly a matter of will and courage.
- Limniona, Limnio and Vidiano grape varieties
With only 20ha under production for Limniona and 70ha for Limnio, these promising grape varieties are still a drop in the ocean of Greek viticulture. Vidiano, another upcoming cultivar is still widespread for the moment only in Crete. That makes us think that there is a lot of room in the Greek vineyards for these wonderful unique varieties.
- No more Syrah please
It would be inaccurate to believe that climate change is responsible for the rise of alcohol in wines
Be imaginative with international varieties! Why not go beyond Syrah in other late ripening and heat tolerant varieties? Considering the mesoclimate as the key-factor, Tempranillo, Sangiovese or even Touriga Nacional and Zinfandel could be nice options with the latter two being more resistant to warm climates. Not long ago PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA) predicted an ominous future for vineyards in the Mediterranean basin. Don’t be confused with the rise in alcohol levels; we simply mean that higher temperatures in the future will make current plantings unsuitable for quality wine-making, giving a jammy character to the final wines.
- Less ambitious wines (sometimes)
Whether it is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Syarh the trend at the moment is for more finesse and elegance, avoiding both over-extraction and over-oaking. Hence, less is actually more sometimes so it is possible that producers still on the enthusiastic side with their reds in particular, may want to consider less oak treatment, wiser tannin management for very tannic varieties and fruitier, fresher character.
- Character and personality
We need distinctive wines, full of personality instead of imitating a characterless commercial global style in both our reds and whites. Some ideas to make something different, authentic and unique: 1.Sustainable viticulture or ideally organic 2. Small-berried clones focusing in quality rather quantity 3. Low yields 4.Rigorous sorting of only the healthier grapes 5.Minimal intervention in the winery, rejecting the use of cultivated yeasts, enzymes, tannins, fining and filtering 6. No rush since patience is always rewarding.
- Sparking Assyrtiko
Sparkling Assyrtikos are on their way by at least two to three producers and we can’t wait to taste them. We anticipate with great enthusiasm as well the moment that a great Greek sparkling wine from the traditional method of course, lands in our glass with prolonged lees contact of more than 3 years.
- Natural wines
While the term is rather misleading since no real natural wine exists, we would like to see more efforts that are not limited to no added sulfites but to a rather nothing added, nothing taken philosophy. Use of clay amphorae should be also very welcomed to this risky bet. If you believe that we are talking about science fiction or rocket science just be a little more patient.
- Screw caps
We need distinctive wines, full of personality instead of imitating a characterless commercial global style
Screw cap is the future. As Konstantinos Lazarakis MW claims: “It is a pity for Greek winemakers who struggle to bottle their wines under the current financial turmoil, to use agglomerated corks; it is proven that after 6-12 months these corks will provoke glue aromas into their wines.” There is low perception in the Greek market for screw caps since they are related so far with cheap wines. It is very important to alter this perception which is related to psychological reasons. At the end as Konstantinos says: The market will follow the trend and if producers adopt screw caps for their wines then the consumer will eventually accept them.”
- Better packaging, imaginative labels and different bottle shapes
Nothing more than what the headline states, maybe with the adoption of half bottles for the restaurant scene. The trend is worldwide, so probably they know something better than we do.
- Cru labeling
Is it so ambitious to see in the near future a label stating the words Nemea-Koutsi or Nemea-Asprokambos? Wouldn’t that be a great evolution highlighting the differences between these distinctive subregions or terroirs to the consumer? Wouldn’t be profitable for the producers and the area? The same concept applies as well for Naoussa and the subregions of Trilofos, Gastra, Fitia, Paliokalias etc. We believe it would be an important statement for the diversity of Greek PDO‘s and a whole new blow to these areas.
- Team Effort
No real natural wine exists
It is the weak point for the Greek winemakers that should become more collegiate, regarding their marketing efforts. The example of a bunch of Swartland producers raising the flag of revolution, highlights how a team effort may increase product awareness. Their regional presence attracted even Indian investors, who finally bought a share of Mullineux estate. So far in Greece, the young generation of Naoussa is a tight-knit-group and hopefully this attitude will find imitators in other regions.
- Better pricing policy
Greek wine consumers are being pounded by economic crisis, but there are still wines in the market demanding higher prices than they should. New oak barrels and limited production is just an excuse. Otherwise everyone, even Wine Commanders could release 150 magnums for at least 300€ the bottle.
- Small producers
Small producers are only small in quantity terms while in quality they can actually be extra large. They deserve both our recognition when something unique is produced and a place to our dinner-table.