At Greek winery, signs of economic crisis are few and far between

The World

Dimitrios Georgas, with a broad smile, standing in the middle of his family’s 20 acres of vineyards, asks if you want to see some dolphins.

In any other circumstance, it might be a surreal question for a vintner to ask you. But not here. A loudspeaker blast from the Attica Park Zoo, which you can see beyond the vines, has just announced its next dolphin show.

Georgas’ fields are only about 20 miles from downtown Athens, and only a couple of miles from the airport. With disdain, he points out a hollow shell that will be a multiplex cinema, if they ever get it built. This used to be “the countryside,” but now the city is spreading out, growing along the new roads built to connect the airport to the city for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

“When you flew in, you landed on what used to be some of my fields,” Georgas said.

He was forced to sell some of his family’s land to the airport authority when the new facility was built. He says he’s under pressure to sell more land to developers. He’s resisting, to a point.

Georgas’ family has been growing grapes and making wine here for generations. He remembers how, back in the old days, which really weren’t so long ago, his grandfather and father would sell wine and retsina (that special Greek white wine laced with pine resin) by the barrel to small taverns in Athens.

He helped out around the winery when he was a kid, then went away to university never planning to come back and be a wine-maker. But he did come back, eventually. He expects his kids will follow a similar pattern.

The operation here isn’t big, and Georgas likes it that way. He said after a morning at the computer, he takes great pleasure in getting out into the fields and tending the vines. He doesn’t want to grow too big, he said, because then he’d be forced to spend more time in front of that computer, and less time in the fields.

Georgas grows a few different grape varieties, and bottles a combination of reds, whites, and retsina. He also makes all natural juices and concentrates. He has chosen quality, and uniqueness, over quantity. The winery produces about 50,000 bottles worth of products a year. All of his wines, juices and concentrates are certified organic.

He said a professional soccer team in Athens uses his juices after practice as an energy booster.

Georgas does a few exports, but less than ten percent of his total production. He sends some of his products to Austria, and some to France. He knows his target audience, and he likes to sell to them as directly as possible, through farmers markets and organic food stores and the like.

But he’s looking to export his grape juice concentrate — you can cut it with water and make juice, or even use it like syrup on pancakes — to New York.

“There’s no use trying to sell a cabernet in New York,” he said. “I think they have enough of those already.”

As for the economic crisis, Georgas shrugs. Unlike other Greek wineries, he said, he is not burdened by debt. That’s one of the reasons he kept the operation small. He does have very modern equipment, some of which was paid for by European Union money.

But it was a good investment, he said. You need good technology to produce a certified organic product and being organic he can charge a bit more for his wines and other goods. He vows he will never add sugars or other additives just to get his wine to a certain price.

But his family is doing OK.

“Look, we don’t drive Porsches or Mercedes. We have what we have, and that’s enough,” he explained.

He picks up his glass of rich red wine, and points to it with his other hand.

“There is no crisis here.”

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