Creating the Craft: A Mark of Authenticity

Creating a wine that is representative of the region from where it belongs is a craft. Callum Tyndall hears from a Greek winemaker that prides himself on the authenticity of his product, as well as learning more about a new service that ‘sniffs’ out the best wine for the consumer

Craft is becoming common. Not in that the skill to produce artisanal product is now everywhere, but in that the idea of artisanal and craft product is slowly losing the veneer of elitism that has long pervaded. Craft beers flood supermarket shelves and pubs, craft spirits are experiencing a renaissance and even wine, knowledge of which has long been held as a mark of snobbery, is becoming more widely appreciable outside of the sommelier class.

This is due in large part to a growing customer base, particularly millennials, who demand a higher quality of product, one that is more authentic and in touch with the art of production. The expanding connoisseurship of customers has forced larger producers to cater to a more diversified base while allowing smaller producers to shine, their size having already directed them towards a more craft approach. The allure of authenticity is allowing such producers to flourish in the evolving market.  

Plastic Bottles and a Local Focus: Ameplostrates' Antonis Maroudas

Antonis Maroudas, owner and chief winemaker at Ampelostrates, has made his name as a winemaker by drawing strongly from the traditions and produce of his local Zakynthos, a Greek island also known as Zante. Producing on a very local scale, predominantly for his restaurant, Maroudas sells his wine to locals in plastic bottles and runs his own farm and vineyard. Rather than using authenticity as a kind of watchword for a certain elitism, Maroudas’ operation would suggest it is quite the opposite: down to earth and innately tied into the common culture of his local area.

In an interview with photographer Yannis Papanastasopoulos, Maroudas explained: “The preferences of wine consumers in our area mainly concern native (local) varieties, which based on the vinification and in correlation with the local cuisine create a complicated subject of culinary interest. We value that our consumers place a great emphasis on the quality of the wine, rather than the packaging and our philosophy is to make people feel happy based on a truthful, authentic experience. “

We value that our consumers place a great emphasis on the quality of the wine, rather than the packaging

It is notable that Maroudas’ approach removes some of the aesthetic elements of the wine experience, a concern with the visual presentation being stripped away to focus purely on the quality and experience of the wine itself. The philosophy presented would suggest that, in Maroudas’ eyes, authenticity can be distracted from by things such as packaging. If the wine is truly in touch with its authenticity, and of sufficient quality, it shouldn’t need a particularly fancy container. It is a philosophy that likely benefits from Maroudas’ local ties: by relying on a largely local customer base and the fact that he has built his reputation on that locality, there is no need to try and impress with visual tricks; he can instead focus purely on the wine. However, he does also state in the interview what would appear to be a contradictory sentiment.

“Every wine maker holds his own point of view regarding his product and his targeted consumer audience. A specialised production that focuses on quality, variety of grapes and vinification, obviously requires glass bottles and natural corks. The paper and plastic packaging is suitable for mass production that doesn’t focus on the identity of the wine maker and the grape.”

In some ways, this would seem to disprove his statement about packaging’s place in the quality and authenticity of the wine experience. He makes concession to what would be expected of high quality winemaking, the specialised production that requires glass and natural corks, and seems to cast the very plastic packaged product he produces in a lesser light. It could be considered, however, that Maroudas is highlighting that his very authenticity comes from a lack of expected specialisation, that by making a product that is designed for common consumption and addressed more towards his neighbours than connoisseurs, he is producing something truer to the local character. By removing the focus on the identity behind the wine, the experience becomes solely about the drink itself.

Image courtesy of Stokkete /  Shutterstock

A Nose for Quality: Wine Beagle’s Craft Curation 

Beyond the production itself, the appreciation of authenticity is spreading not only because consumers are demanding it in their products, but because that demand is being lifted by the marketers, supermarkets and other services in the industry that have recognised the boom in craft alcohol that requires catering to. One of those other services is the Wine Beagle, a curation service that seeks to bring wines from smaller producers to the attention of UK customers. Founded by former wine trader Jamie Collins, the Wine Beagle works by providing a fortnightly selection of wines, with detailed information about the wines and their background, from lesser known European producers and then importing them directly based on orders received.  

Collins said: “After 15 years in the wine trade with time spent at Majestic and more recently as a buyer at an online merchant, I was inspired to launch the Wine Beagle as I believe that many wine lovers are stuck in a rut with their usual tipple and often stick to what they know, but there are so many wonderful undiscovered wines out there. I wanted to bring these to the dining room tables across the UK for them to be enjoyed without my customers going through the hassle of finding them or paying over the top prices.”

I believe that many wine lovers are stuck in a rut with their usual tipple and often stick to what they know

The curation service is of obvious importance in furthering the popularity of “authentic” wine experiences, and is promising in the attention it can provide to smaller producers that may not be able to get their product into larger retail chains. However, perhaps more notable is the reduction in cost in what would otherwise be an expensive endeavour. Without traditional merchant markups or the cost of brick-and-mortar, and by supplying based on wholesale and strictly by demand, the service is able to make wines that would otherwise be hard to find and possibly even harder to buy, affordable.

Perhaps the chief obstacle between regular consumers and craft, authentic experiences, is a perception of classism, of an elite barrier of knowledge and wealth. And while there is still a markup on less mass produced products, the kind of experiences offered by the Wine Beagle are no longer so limited: they have become distinctly democratised. Both Maroudas and the Wine Beagle seem to have recognised a key market trend: that authenticity in all aspects of food and drink has become so widely desirable that it is illogical to attempt to preserve the elitism previously reserved for the wine market. Instead, the opportunity lies in bringing the same level of experience to everyone.

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