Wine & Other Stories

Wine Importers: Athenee

Written by Veronica Lavenia

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Founded in 1975, Athenee is the largest importer and distributor of fine wines, spirits and beer from Greece and Cyprus to the United States.
Athenee has been representing family-run wineries, distilleries and breweries for over forty years. Particular attention is paid to companies that adopt biodynamic, organic and sustainable agricultural practices and winemaking methods including spontaneous fermentation, the use of amphora and concrete tanks.
Privileging this selection makes our portfolio unique.
Let’s find out more from the words of Andrea Englisis, Athenee vice president.

© Athenee

Compared to your beginnings, how has the demand for Greek wines evolved in the United States? Is there a greater knowledge on the part of your customers of Greek wines or do they trust exclusively your experience?

Athenee was established over 40 years ago and has seen the evolution of the Greek wine industry firsthand.  Initially, the wines coming out of the country were from the major negociant names and were relatively inexpensive.  However, in the 1990’s & early 2000’s, the industry started moving away from the negociant producer towards the smaller, boutique winery, and that has been the trend ever since.  Add to it the younger generation that is now involved and you have great labels, modern winemaking and a slew of rediscovered varietals being grown and produced. 

In terms of knowledge of the customer, that depends.  Those that are willing to be educated and approach wine with an open mind and a curiosity about grapes that are anything but chardonnay, cabernet and merlot are usually very receptive.  If they are looking for a huge oaky wine from Greece, they will more than likely be disappointed but that is not the consumer for wines from our portfolio.

I am a strong believer in knowing the importer.  The way we select properties to work with is different from another importer.

For Athenee, it is about top quality products that are expressive of their terroir and varietal.  We work with small to medium sized producers that at a minimum practice sustainable farming but for the most part, all are organic or biodynamic.

Overall, our producers tend to shy away from heavy oak use, which translates to cleaner, more pure expressions of the grapes themselves and the wine’s character.

In most cases, if the consumer or customer likes the style of wines we carry, they are usually open to trying something with our back label on it.  Some customers trust our decades of experience to present them with the best options and some need a bit more “work”.

© Athenee

Are there wines more in demand than others, perhaps coming from specific Greek regions?

For the longest time the only wine anyone wanted to see was a Santorini Assyrtiko and the rest of the country was overlooked.  However, when looking for value and excitement, Greece offers a lot more “bang for your buck” everywhere other than Santorini.

Our customers have recently gravitated more towards our unoaked or carbonic reds plus wines, our stainless steel and concrete tank fermentation whites.  Skin Contact wines are also of interest but we tend to offer more “low sulfite”/minimal intervention wines.

What factors influence the choice of the US consumer when buying Greek wines?

For many it is a trip to Greece that they had. For others, its expanding their knowledge to learn about new regions and grapes that exist nowhere else BUT Greece.  Since most Greek wines tend to be lower in alcohol and higher in mineral/acidity, making them perfect food pairing wines. For others, they are simply exhausted with the generic mass market wines that come out of major growing regions and they simply want a change.

© Athenee

Over the course of your career, did it happen to you to overestimate wines that did not have the expected response in the USA and, vice versa, underestimate labels that turned out to be successful?

You can never know what the market will react favorably to and what they won’t.  Sometimes it is simply the timing – there have been things I wanted to bring in but at the time were not in line with market demand.

Thankfully, we have not had many “flops”.  With the pandemic, we have become much more cautious with taking large positions on new products/producers.  We would rather build a new brand/wine more slowly to make sure we “get it right” than be stuck with hundreds of cases.

© Athenee

What are ATHENEES’ medium and long-term goals?

As a family owned import business that has been around since the 1970’s, our goal is to continue to provide the US consumer with the best products from Greece and Cyprus.  Our reputation of working with top quality producers is what keeps us relevant in today’s market.  Our supplier partners are more like our family than just business acquaintances – we pride ourselves on our long standing relationships and being able to respond to market demands quickly with the right portfolio mix.

About the author

Veronica Lavenia

Writer, book author and magazine contributor, some of her works have appeared in the most popular International magazines.
Digital Content Manager and Communication Manager at "The Wolf Post", since the birth of the platform.

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