By Maria Paravantes
The VAENI-Naoussa winemaking co-operative, consisting of 220 local winegrowers, has signed the biggest-ever wine export deal with a leading company in China.
VAENI is now reaping the benefits of concerted efforts after winning over the Chinese market thanks to its dynamic promotional initiative last year, which included sending over a “test” batch of 250,000 bottles.
“What’s important is to locate the source and arouse the interest. Now it’s all about seeing things through the right way,” VAENI President George Fountoulis told SETimes.
The Naoussa region in Macedonia, Greece, is one of the country’s leading wine producing territories, famous for its “xinomavro” variety. VAENI accounts for approximately 50% of Naoussa’s total wine production, producing three million bottles a year and exporting to 27 countries.
“The Chinese prefer red wines. The ‘xinomavro’ variety is unique and this creates great potential,” explained Fountoulis, adding that it is vital Greek wine producers become more extrovert if they are to break into other markets. He revealed the company is already in negotiations with the Indian market.
A bottle of VAENI wine now sells for between 2 and 14 euros in China. The company has also set it sights on exporting other Greek products, including olive oil.
Ever since the 2004 Olympic Games, China has expressed keen interest in traditional Greek products. China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao gave Greek wine his stamp of approval on his last official visit to Greece.
Wen drank a Domaine Tselepos wine, opening the door for Greek exports. Months later, viticulturist Yiannis Tselepos, the owner of Domaine Tselepos, inked an 840,000-euro deal and in 2011 saw off 45,000 10-euro bottles to Asia.
In the meantime, another Greek born into a winemaking family, Mihalis Boutaris, went as far as to move to China, and in collaboration with local producer Mogao, set up the Sunshine Valley Winery in the Gansu Province, western China.
He, too, agrees that moving outside Greek borders is of utmost importance. “Naturally every actual trading transaction or investment adds on to the trend of a more extrovert Greece, especially towards China,” Boutaris, who is Sunshine Valley’s chairman, told SETimes.
“Our vision is to make Greek production live up to the expectations, pave the wave for other Greek products, and make Chinese consumers enjoy Greek wines,” he added.
A new appellation system set up in the early 1980s, combined with higher standards set by the EU, has seen the quality of Greek wines improve and winemakers turning their sights to international markets.
According to a 2011 report by Dimitris Thomopoulos, of the Beijing-based Greek Liaison Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs, China’s wine market is among the fastest growing with imports increasing by 30% in the last five years — due in great part to stronger buying power and to the fact that wine is becoming a symbol of status.