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Published:  23 July, 2008

Mary Pateras, Director, Eclectic Wines, London. Interview: Josie Butchart

Eclectic Wines 47 Linver Road London SW6 3RA

Tel: 020 7736 3733

Mary Pateras and her friend Eva Maria Boehme of Domaine Evharis set up Eclectic Wines in 2002, to import into and promote fine Greek wines in the UK. The company now represents nine wineries, from as far north as Macedonia right down to the island of Santorini in the south.

What did you do before Eclectic Wines?

I was a housewife and mother. If you had looked at my CV you would have thought I'd been in prison! There was absolutely nothing on it for 20 years.

Why did you decide to set up the company?

My husband has known Harris Antoniou (of Domaine Evharis, near Athens) for over 30 years, and three years ago I helped him and his wife, Eva Maria Boehme, with their stand at the London International Wine & Spirits Fair. We talked about setting up a company together to promote their wines and, in my naivety, I thought it would be nicer to get a group of complementary wine producers together to make up an interesting portfolio. So that's how it started. I thought it would keep me out of mischief, a two-day-a-week job.

How did you get started?

Because I just fell into this, and the only thing I knew was that I liked drinking wine, I had no network of contacts. I simply flew by the seat of my pants. The only advantage to being older is that you are not afraid to ask questions. I just put my pride to the rear and asked as many people as I could for help, but it's been a very steep learning curve. Probably if I'd been aware of how difficult it was going to be I wouldn't have done it.

What were the main difficulties?

Partly the fact that I was selling Greek wines. When I started out I had no idea of how badly Greek wines were viewed. When I used to ring up cold there were an awful lot of people responding with comments such as dirty barrels, oxidised wine'. So I explained how much things had changed and tried to get them to taste the wines. People were often quite rude when faced with a call from someone who had no background in the wine business. But I also started completely the wrong way around, with private customers rather than trade customers. Then I met someone who said, If you really want to take it to a more professional level you should try and take some wine writers to Greece and get some press coverage.' That was the turning point and it suddenly became much more serious once we had organised our first trip to Greece.

What was the problem with selling to private customers?

Well, I started out using a database of Greeks living in the UK, and that was very difficult because the majority of them were not very proud of Greek wines. They all live here, so they didn't really know what was going on with Greek wines, and Greeks, as a nation, don't tend to drink very much wine anyway. But it gave us a start.

How did you select the wineries you represent?

Well, we didn't want to have anything that was in Oddbins, because we didn't want to be competing with them. We looked for producers who were making the most interesting wines and tried to build a range of wines that complemented each other. Three of the original wineries have fallen by the wayside - one was difficult to deal with and the second vintages from the other two producers just weren't good enough - but we've taken on four new wineries recently, bringing the total portfolio to nine.

Which styles of wine interest your customers most?

It's become very apparent that the interest is in indigenous grape varieties, or blends of international with indigenous varieties. Although Greece makes very good wines from international varieties, it is only our Greek clients who are really interested in them. The international varieties have a big percentage of the domestic market, but here in the UK we are selling to people who want to try something a bit different. Some want to go the whole hog with 100% Greek varieties, and others are looking for a blend, such as Biblia Chora's 50/50 Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc. People tend to like that because it smells and tastes slightly familiar but also has another dimension. Of course, for some people just trying a Chardonnay from Greece seems quite cutting edge and exciting, but they are very much in the minority.

Were the Olympics and Greece's Euro 2004 success good for sales?

Yes, both helped. I found out that quite a lot of wine merchants are interested in football! All the comments from people in the trade about Greece doing well in the football were a real lift. The Olympics could have helped much more than it did, but the Greek wine producers didn't stump up the money to use the Olympic symbol, which held them back. Unfortunately Greece has still not grasped that wine can help the country's image. A lot of distributors wanted to do special Greek window displays during the Olympics, but the commercial councillor at the Embassy couldn't even supply me with 20 Greek flags to give out. However, following the change of government in March, there is now a minister of tourism in Greece, and hopefully the new government will see that promoting wine, tourism and the arts together could be very good for Greece. The Olympics was fantastic and everything worked perfectly, so it showed that the Greeks can do it.