Master of Wine (MW) is a qualification (not an academic degree) issued by The Institute of Masters of Wine in the United Kingdom. The MW qualification is generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge. Join us to meet each Master of Wine in our monthly Masters of Wine interview. Konstantinos Lazarakis became the first Master of Wine from Greece and the broader region of Southern Europe, entering a prestigious circle of acclaimed influencers and game-changers in the global wine and spirits industry. Konstantinos is a member of the Council of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) and co-founder of Wine Wonders.
Konstantinos, thanks for joining our interview. Let’s start at the beginning. Your first encounter with wine was working as a sommelier in Bajazzo Restaurant in Athens. How did you grow as a wine professional from this time on?
Well, I was interested in wine a few years before Bajazzo, but this is how I landed in the wine business. Bajazzo was one of the finest restaurants in Greece at that time. Then I moved to London to work in wine retailing to gather international experience. I got back to Greece in 1999 to do my military service and shortly after I started working for Aiolos, a prestigious wine importer and distributor in Greece. In 2004, I established WSPC, now the largest wine school in Greece. Also, in early 2011 I co-founded Wine Wonders, a wine marketing company. Well, give or take some consultancies, this is my life!
What inspired you to follow the Master of Wine diploma?
It was actually my time at Bajazzo that made me think about the MW. Those years we had enology universities in Greece, but I was not keen to be a winemaker. So I was very sad to find out that there was no qualification for people in the wine trade. Then I heard about the Institute of Masters of Wine and off I went. This is the very reason I moved to London – I could not have access to the wines of the world in Greece at that time. Today things are far better.
What is, in your opinion, the relationship between music and wine?
Technically, I have been a music student for more years than being a wine student. (Although I think problems arise when you stop thinking you are a student and you presume all you are is a teacher). I am certain that studying music made me a better wine student.
Both music and wine are some of the most amazing creations of human genius. They are amazing ways of adding grace, joy, sophistication, and feelings to your life. Life without wine and music would be miserable – or at least not as fulfilling as it can be.
You passed as the first Greek MW. Did you experience extra pressure to succeed as a Master of Wine? How did you stay focused and determined to pass?
Yes, the pressure was immense because everyone in the wine sector in Greece knew that I was trying to be the first Greek MW. Failing was not an option because it would have been a catastrophic twist of events for a young man like me.
In an interview with New Wines of Greece, you told NWOG that Greek wine producers, in general, have been very reluctant to invest in marketing to promote Greek wine globally. Do you think this is still the case?
I order to understand Greek Wine fully you have to keep in mind several things. Greece is producing a tiny amount of wine, less than half of what Bordeaux is making in an average year. Then, we consume the largest amount of it, exports are less than 20%. So, for most Greek wineries, exporting is not a necessity but the cherry on the cake.
However, in the last decade, many producers understood the importance of growing into high-profile markets, being seen at top restaurants around the world, and spreading the wines wide and thin. So, more and more winemakers take a good look at the potential of exporting Greek wines around the world.
Do you think the Greek market is growing steadily toward an established category? What are the pros and cons?
Greek wines, for several decades, had the curse of the “others”, being crammed in the section of the lesser-known origins, bereft of the right of having a strong identity. I think this is changing. Now if you are a wine professional and you do not know that Greece can produce exceptional wines, then, I am sorry, your knowledge needs some serious updating!
The pros are self-evident, with Greek wines gaining traction in the most prestigious places. The cons are essentially one – there is not enough Greek wine for everyone.
Do you think the Greek wine market is facing difficulties climate-wise?
A number of the most recent vintages have been demanding. In 2021 the cause was too much aridity and too much heat, in previous instances, we had other challenging weather patterns. But I am pretty optimistic. Vitis Vinifera is a bit more elastic in nature than most people will think and Greek varietals especially have been dealing with heat and drought for millennia. So, I think Greek vineyards do have a healthy future ahead of them and Greek wines will be achieving even higher levels in the coming decades.
You wrote a book called: ''The wines of Greece. ''
What subjects did you address?
My book is not a coffee table book with large photos, it is not a book about ratings and tasting notes, it is not a buying guide. It is a relatively ugly, wall-to-wall-text book that takes a deep look at where Greek wines stand at the moment. The producer profiles are not about debating the different labels but showing the core of their personality and the character of their wines. Not a book to devour in one sitting but more a reference for those that really want to appreciate Greek Wine.
Are there new exciting projects you work on right now?
The COVID-19 pandemic months and years have clearly been the most creative time of my life. From creating a mini-bottling machine to our wine school for shipping samples to online students to having even Bordeaux En Primeur tastings for clients in Athens, to finding solutions to logistical problems around the world, these projects are recent but will keep me busy I am sure for years to come.
Which Master of Wine should I interview next?
Paul Liversadge MW, a great guy, living in Switzerland, the owner of Real Wines, a remarkable importing company.
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