November 30, 2010 / 4:22 PM / 8 years ago

Greek winemaker's winning ways in vineyards and politics

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - While Yiannis Boutaris was campaigning earlier this month to be the next mayor of Thessaloniki, in Greece his older son was waging his own campaign in North America to win recognition for Greek wines.

A visitor harvests grapes at a vineyard in Pallini, a few kilometres from Athens, September 14, 2008. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

“My father is really the patriarch or the pope of Greek wines,” said Stellios Boutaris, who was in New York to showcase his family’s wines from their Kir-Yianni Estate.

“He is someone, who when he is not running for office, has spent his life promoting Greek wines, trying to change the image of Greek wines,” he explained.

There are more than 300 indigenous varieties of grapes in Greece, where wine has been made for roughly 5,000 years. In ancient times Greek wines were highly prized and sought after but things have changed.

The Boutaris family, which has been making wine since the late 19th century, has holdings in most of the country’s wine producing regions. The Boutaris Group produces about 15 million bottles annually and exports to more than 35 countries.

In the 1990s, Yiannis, who had been the group’s chief winemaker, left to produce estate-level wines on land he had bought 30 years earlier. It became the Kir-Yianni Estate where he tried to restore Greece’s ancient reputation for quality wines using modern winemaking techniques.

“My father reinvented Greek wine,” Stellios said, adding that he brought the French concept of terror to the Kir-Yianni Estate in Naoussa, Macedonia where they are concentrating on the Xinomavro grape.

“It is one of the most interesting and noble varieties in Greece,” Stellios explained. “It’s a variety that is quite similar to Pinot Noir - in color and in difficulty to grow.”

But he added that is it robust like Nebbiolo — the grape grown in Piedmont where it is turned into two of Italy’s iconic wines - Barolo and Babaresco.

Stellios, who holds degrees from INSEAD and the London School of Economics, wants to get the wines at Kir-Yianni on the world wine map.

“It will take some time, but we will get there. Good wine can be made in the winery, but only great wine can be made in the vineyard.”

The vineyards in Naoussa are on slopes some 300 meters (1,000 feet) above sea level in an area that has very hot, dry summers and lots of snow in the winter.

“We are concentrating on indigenous grapes, traditional grapes, but with modern techniques,” he said.

Yiannis Boutari, 68, who had previously been a city councilor and a candidate for the European Parliament, was elected Thessaloniki’s next mayor.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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