Greek winemakers see crisis as glass half-full

NEW YORK Thu May 17, 2012 6:39pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Greek winemakers are not pricing their wares in drachmas - yet.

The winemakers, visiting New York as part of an international promotional tour, doubted Athens would leave the euro-zone even after Fitch Ratings Agency downgraded Greece's sovereign debt on Thursday, calling the country's exit from the monetary union "probable.

"No, no, no. That is not going to happen," Stellios Boutaris, whose family owns the Kir-Yianni winery, insisted. "And if that happens, we will have bigger problems than just pricing wine in drachmas."

Boutaris said he was "a guy who always sees the glass half-full...There have been so many journalists coming to talk about Greek wines because they are looking for a positive story about Greece. And right now, it is."

Attempts in Greece to form a new government collapsed this week, jolting the European single currency on prospects Greek leftists opposed to terms of an EU bailout could win a June election and the country could exit the euro.

The Greek winemakers in New York ranged from big producers to boutique vineyards and one-man shops but all said they wanted Greece to keep the single currency because of the cheaper credit and relative economic stability it brought before the current crisis.

Angelos Iatridis, a University of Bordeaux-trained winemaker who worked harvests in France and Spain before buying his own vineyard, Alpha Estate, in 1999, thought the euro's hovering near its 2012 low of $1.2623 [ID:nL1E8GHCNN] was actually good for Greek winemakers.

"It's good for us because we will be able to sell more wine abroad," Iatridis said, noting that he exports approximately 45 percent of the 300,000 bottles he produces annually.

"The political situation is not stable right now, but I believe in the next election (on June 17) that we will have a much more stable government," he said.

Credit, or the lack of it during the debt crisis, is a major problem as wine production is a capital intensive business. At any one time, Iatridis has three vintages on his estate in Amyndeon, the country's northern-most growing region.

"There is no credit. That is why we work very hard going around to promote our wines," he said, adding that before he was in New York, the New Wines of Greece promotional tour had been to Denver, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto. Next month, while other Greeks are voting, he will be trying to sell his wines in Australia.

Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos, winemaker for the tiny Tetramythos vineyards in the village of Ano Diakopto not far from the Gulf of Corinth, took a long view of the political problems: "We have seen much worse things in the past four or five decades. This is just a blip."

Pouring his crisp, white Roditis wine, Papagiannopoulos predicted that the "politicians will come to their senses and this will all be resolved. We are not just Greeks, we are Europeans."

Even as he spoke, a new poll released in Athens found Greece's conservative New Democracy Party, which backs the country's international bailout, had re-taken the lead in the June 17 election race.

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