Importer Insights: Diamond Importers

Chicago-based importer Ted Diamantis, president of Diamond Importers knows a thing or two about diamonds in the rough. For 20 years he's been championing the Greek varieties, weathering the storms of rejection and educating the wine trade about the (then) little-known virtues of the wines.

Finally, the clouds have parted and like other long-time Greek-wine advocates, Diamantis' passion is paying off. His portfolio includes Domaine Skouras, Domaine Sigalas, Alpha Estate, Domaine Douloufakis, Domaine Karydas and Alexakis Estate.

How did you get into Greek wines?

Twenty years ago I was living in Greece and met a young winemaker, George Skouras, who had studied winemaking in Dijon and was making a groundbreaking wine. He got me into the wine culture, explaining how it's a way of life. I was inspired by that, and when I came back to the US and saw there was no representation of boutique wines, I thought I saw a need and I wanted to fulfill it.

What were the early days like?

Twenty years ago there were no places to market Greek wines. Greek restaurants would tell me if someone asked for a Greek wine, they'd bring it in. The industry was mostly immigrants who left their villages in the 1950s and 60s with very little knowledge. They didn't even have bottled wine and as far as they were concerned, it was a product someone else made and they didn't know what was in it.

It was an attitude if you didn't make your own wine, you didn't know what went into it. And because they themselves didn't know them and valued them, they didn't market them. So they sold international varieties because they thought they had to do what everyone else was doing.

The Greeks were very difficult to penetrate—they didn't know how to value it or sell it. And at that time, not even the wine educators had information about terroir or Greek appellations. But the Greek wines resonated with non-Greeks. These were people who drank other wines of the world and understood price/quality value.

How do you describe your selection, your mission or your philosophy?

I wanted to concentrate on the top appellations in each region—those producers who understand the appellation and the terroirs of those appellations … People who have a true philosophy of expressing the vineyard site and the fruit of the land.

I look for balanced wines, with consistency and, most importantly, I work with high-quality people who have vision and are not here just for today but for tomorrow … people who are tied to their soils and tied to their country.

What do you see that's unique about Greek winemakers?

They're not hobbyists: they're people who are devoted to their trade and their craft and working at the highest level possible. They want to be part of world wine community. They realize they have to be advocates and how much work is really required to get the traction they need in international markets.

What has changed about your business?

Now people say Agiorgitiko and Assyrtiko to me before I can say it. People used to hang up the phone on me. People closed the door on me. Now they don't.

It's been yeoman's work. I knew nothing would happen until there was critical mass about Greek wines. We knew if there was one player, we weren't a category. But because of all of our work—because of writers, sommeliers, and because Greek wineries are making better wines, there's a critical mass of information out there now.

Any challenges you're facing?

People need to be able to brand the wine by other than the shape of the bottle, like Mateus. So, because Americans drink by varieties, they have to be able to pronounce them. I say get people to drink Greek wine and I'll teach them to speak Greek later.

The wines have been doing well, even through the crisis: how are your producers reacting to that?

The crisis has affected them. Domestic consumption has dropped but they have a worldly view and they see the importance developing those markets. 60-70% were consumed in Greece but now that's changed. The cost of fine Greek wines won't drop—and are only going up. We have to promote our wines outside of Greece. We won't be the cheapest, but we shouldn't represent that for Greece.

What's hot now?

The white trend. The varieties tend to be a little easier to understand and say. Assyrtiko is a variety and region that people can get a handle on, and Moscofilero will be next. But Agiorgitiko is going to be hot. I believe in the profile. Xinomavro will establish itself.

Now the wines are speaking to people and their palates, and people's palates have changed now. It used to be a different class of people who drank acid, terroir-driven wines—now that has expanded. The consumer has changed and Greek wines have changed.

Obviously, you're a believer. What would you like to say about the future of Greek wines?

They are a living history of what we've done-the greatest untold story in the wine world, and they've captured the imaginations of wine professionals and educators who want to get into history through wine.