Oinofilia in Copenhagen
“Maria Warming Brink Tsalapati lives and works in Copenhagen, a European capital offering one of the highest quality of life levels in the world and, at the same time, a city where some of the most renowned restaurants of the world are gathered. Her relationship with the Greek wine is special and goes beyond the relationship that the average wine lover has. As a wine professional, the mission that she has taken up through Oinofilia, the company that she recently set up, is of titanic proportions, since she aims at reshaping the image of modern Greece focusing on its wine-oriented side.
“A well-made bottle of Greek wine is, actually, narrating a good story”, she says. “Each one of the wineries I work with creates a ‘wine thumbprint’, an acknowledgement of the local geography, geology, weather conditions, location, winemaking and agricultural traditions and methods, as well as the vision of the producer. Oinofilia’s wines shall engage the consumer in a positive image of Greece that has little to do with the headlines related to the economic crisis or the economic difficulties, but with specialisation, dedication, passion and quality-oriented handcrafted products.”
As Maria explains, “the goal of Oinofilia is to showcase, in close relation with the winemaker, the unique expressions of wines produced in varied terroirs by some of the oldest grape varieties of Europe. Wines that bridge the new with the old wine world. It is not the biggest wineries that Oinofilia collaborates with, but, instead, the smaller to medium sized boutique ones, which focus on specialization and adopt a natural, organic or biodynamic –overall green– philosophy”.
According to Maria, working on the promotion of Greek organic wines is not at all an easy goal and requires full attention and endless hours of work. Nevertheless, after these last two years of her involvement in the realm of Greek wines, she is mostly optimistic: “I strongly believe that the Greek wines will eventually infatuate the Danes”.
Last year, in collaboration with Stefan Jensen, a very experienced Danish wine professional, Maria opened Vinocultura, a wine shop which specialises in Mediterranean wines promoting exclusively ‘green’ wines. In the shop, which is located in a fashionable suburb of Copenhagen, small themed tastings take place three times a week, while ‘meet-the-producer’ tastings take place on a monthly basis. Thanks to its activity, Vinocultura will undoubtedly play an important role as a point of sale and a channel of promotion of Greek wine in Copenhagen and its wider district.
GREEK WINE AND THE DANISH WINE LOVERS
What is the profile of the average Danish wine lover? How well do the Danish know Greek wine and the Greek varieties? What are their preferences regarding wine?
“Generally speaking, the Danes know nothing about Greek wines. Some have tried Agiorgitiko from Nemea or Assyrtiko from Santorini, but years back, when the Greek wines available in Denmark where the cheap mass-produced ones, the ones you could find even in the super market. Some Danes have tried Greek wines during their holidays in Greece. Wines which were usually quaffable, non-complex ones, going down well in the sunshine, but definitely not something to take back home. Only a very small number of Danes have actually tried high quality Greek wines, know a winery or express an interest to explore the Greek vineyard.”
According to Maria, the interest in Greek wine will not grow by itself. It will be ignited through repeated actions and mass media campaigns, through promotion at wine education institutions, tastings, seminars etc. And, as there is no Greek diaspora in Denmark, like in the USA or Canada, familiarisation with Greek wines will not come as naturally as in these countries.
When it comes to wine, it is difficult to categorize the preferences of the Danes, because the style of wines imported in the Danish market is greatly varied. However, Maria feels that “there is an increasing interest in learning about and enjoying wines made of indigenous grape varieties and from a natural, organic and biodynamic produce”. This tendency and, at the same time, her personal philosophy are the reasons behind her decision to focus on this exact range of wines.
In Denmark, there is a general desire to adopt a lifestyle based on ‘greener’ –and often healthier- choices, from housing to food, clothes and all aspects of life. “This means that Danes’ wine choices need to match this whole concept.” In addition, there is also a trend towards trying new and unexplored winemaking territories, with stories and principles above the average. Many people are not afraid to taste something new in order to expand their knowledge; they participate in wine clubs, tastings and wine courses, or travel to wineproducing regions abroad.
This is the audience that Oinofilia wants to attract and the segment of the wine friends it wishes to satisfy. Already, as Maria explains, “some Greek wines, such as Tetramythos’ Black of Kalavryta and Hatzidakis’ Cuvée No15 have received amazing feedback by private clients, wine reviewers, chefs and wine bar and shop owners”. These wines have all the features that these clients look for: “They are organic, they’re made of an indigenous grape variety, they grow in a very well defined area, and they are only released in a limited number of bottles annually”.
GREEK WINE AND LOCAL FINE GASTRONOMY
In the last years, Copenhagen has been transformed into a large-scale workshop of innovative trends, which are based on a new philosophy and new ethics around food and cooking and have decisively influenced developments in gastronomy worldwide. To be present in this new reality would be a great opportunity for Greek wines to be promoted, and the fact that they are not is something that should make us worry.
Changing this situation should be set as a strategic priority. On the other hand, as Maria explains, in Greek restaurants “the Greek wine lists are the same as ten or fifteen years ago”. Unfortunately, the stereotype of the low quality wine pairing with the traditional mousaka and souvlaki is still reproduced perpetuating the negative image in which the Greek wine is confined.
“Greek wines can match all sorts of ethnic cuisine, the same way French, Italian, Spanish or Austrian wines do. For example, some of my clients were very excited about how wonderfully Retsina pairs with sushi. Now, Retsina is the only drink they enjoy with sushi. It is stories like this that need to come out.”
When it comes to the top restaurants of the market, things work differently. The lists are composed of wines that the sommeliers know well, and these do not include Greek wines. It is extremely difficult to enter the bar and restaurant circles and, even if you manage to do so, this usually takes a lot of time.
“Here, as in Greece, if you do not have connections or someone who can put in a good word for you, forget it. Fortunately, I got to know truly amazing people in the business, people who aren’t afraid to facilitate or promote a tasting with Greek wines. This helps immensely.”
However, according to Maria, it is only a matter of time before Greek wine finds its place in fine dining. “This year, the goal is clearly to get more bars and restaurants on board; and, I am happy to tell you, a handful of places are already in the pipeline.”
SUCCESS BASED ON A COMMON APPROACH
According to Maria, the relationship between the wine merchant and the producer is just as important as the one between the wine merchant and the consumer. “I need to experience the winery, the vineyard, the vines, the climate, the geography, the cellar work; to really get to know the wine production process before I start importing a wine, so that I can be fully capable to convey its philosophy and its special characteristics the best way possible.”
For Oinofilia, a true and successful commercial ‘partnership’ is based on common values and goals shared by both partners. The winemakers ought to recognize, and they actually do, that the market of Copenhagen is different than the markets of New York, London or Paris, and that being flexible is always useful. They also understand, as Maria Tsalapati points out, that they need to supply the market with some extra wine samples, to set prices that are suitable for exports, and, if possible, visit for tastings, as the personal presence is very important. “People need to taste, taste, taste and taste the Greek wines constantly, as the wines truly are ‘all Greek’ to them, in order to be able to understand the great quality, the amazing grape-material and the top-of-the-line vinification methods, and eventually make a purchase.”
“Greek wine is excellent, praised to the clouds by so many wine experts and wine lovers around the world. Greek wine is a first class product alongside the wines from our fellow European countries. ‘Rome was not built in one day’, though, and the same goes for the image of Greek wines and their penetration in Denmark.”
Oinofilia is founded on passion, determination and, above all, love for Greek wine. MONOPOL supports this effort and any other effort with the same goal, wherever it comes from. However, there is a need for ventures like these -especially when they develop and follow a solid business plan, as in the case of Oinofilia- to be supported by the Greek wine producers as well.” (Μο)