By VICKY J. YIANNIAS
It is probably safe to say that almost everyone reading this article has enjoyed one, or many, glasses of Boutaris fine wines in his lifetime’s dining experiences. But today, the name Boutaris conjures up more than liquid refreshment.
For Yiannis Boutaris, a fourth generation member of J. Boutari and Son, one of Greece’s oldest and most important winemaking dynasties, winemaking is by definition a responsibility of love for all of nature.
“Wine is a symbol of a whole world for me. And the vine does not grow in cement,” says Boutaris, who is a winner of Time Magazine’s 2003 “European Hero Award”, an award given to a three individuals for their initiative on a “Green Cause”, that is, dedication and engagement to making the world a better place.
He was also appointed by the Ministry of the Environment and Public Works to preside on the Committee Natura 2000, a commission which oversees the utilization of European net Natura 2000’s protected areas in Greece.
In a lecture and slide presentation program titled “Mother Earth and Civilization: Some Cases of Interest” at the Foundation for Hellenic Culture in New York on Thursday, February 19, Mr. Boutaris shared his experiences and views on winemaking and all it involves.
“It is unavoidable that certain concepts – such as quality, technology, trade, progress, tradition, and civilization arise, concepts that are intertwined with both wine and environment in winemaking,” said Boutaris. “I conveyed the experiences this product of the earth gave me to other fields as well, such as interference into the environment, technical progress, offers of services.”
Boutaris perceives that problems encountered in winemaking and the environmental problems facing society today are very closely connected. “The main force behind all of my actions in those two areas is a search for man’s relation to his natural environment.”
“Mother earth and civilization are two elements that influence each other and function in harmony as a necessity. I am extremely careful about aphorisms and excesses regarding human interference in nature. I believe that an environmentalist should study both the history and the economy of a place in depth.”
Boutaris’ actions have centered around the “three major experiences I have lived.” The first major experience was his taking over, in 1969, of an old family company which produced and sold wine, Ktima Kir-Yianni in Naoussa, established by his grandfather in 1879. His father, who died in 1991, guided him and his brother in building a very large wine company, which influenced Greek winemaking.
This enterprise ran parallel with his other two major experiences. They are the founding of Arcturos, a sanctuary for the protection of wildlife and natural environment, and the revival of Nympahaion, the ancestral village of the Boutaris family. Both the sanctuary and the village share the common denominator of survival.
Boutaris’s second major experience is the founding of the animal sanctuary Arcturos, a nonprofit organization protecting and nurturing confiscated “dancing bears”, and wildlife such as the lynx, wolf and wild mountain goat, as well as the sheepdog, with the primary concern of human interference in the environment.
Boutaris’s third experience, begun in 1988, is the revival of Nymphaion, the declining 16th century ancestral village of the Boutaris family in the mountainous northwestern part of Greece, through mountain tourism, because of the exceptional natural beauty of its surroundings and the marvelous and original architecture characteristic of the area.
These actions gave him great satisfaction, says Boutaris, because “beyond the results of the work itself, my three children have actively taken over with the same perceptions as mine.”
In 1996, Boutaris retired from his seat in the Boutaris Company, which in the meantime had become a publicly registered company that entered beer brewing and distribution of wines and liquors, to manage two large vineyards, one in Gianakochori, Naousa, for red wines, and the other in Amyntaio for white wines.
Boutaris noted that for centuries, characteristic of the economy in Greece and the Mediterranean, wine had been a staple – an inseparable fact – of daily life and nutritional habits. Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France, however, had the good fortune of not being situated within the Ottoman Empire. But Greece, as it suffered wars, crop blights and then more wars, became an anonymous wine supplier in the large consumer centers, bringing about a lack of self confidence in the Greek wine market. “The beginning of the 1970s, however, was a new era in which Greece began to promote its wines, not only as a main source for creating wealth, but also as a measure of its culture.”
Today, on the international level, said Boutaris, the countries that are traditionally considered to be wine-producing countries, where the relationship between winemaking and consumption evolved steadily, are experiencing changing lifestyles, resulting with a lessening of wine consumption.
However, the countries that traditionally consume but do not produce wine, such as northern Europe, there is an increase in the consumption of wine, and in the United States, Australia, South America, and South Africa, where wine has become a status symbol, and in these situations, Greece’s “less” is considered to be more.
“Our relationship with the environment, with earth, is beginning to take on other dimensions, said Boutaris, who was educated as a chemist enologue, “a child of technology”. “Nature leans towards self regulation, self reliance; the same is not the case in regard to technology. Technology does not recognize any principle of self restriction regarding size, consequently, it does not have the virtues of balancing and self reliance.”
However, he noted, realizing this concern, the developed countries are beginning to slowly set up rules regarding our conduct towards the environment as well as the natural resources. “Rules are made to prevent – and not to repair – a catastrophe. We begin to realize how even the concept of environment is changing. The first few years of concern we understood nature as a picturesque image of greenery. Things are dramatically different now.”
Progress cannot be turned back, stated Boutaris, “but we can use what we have learned in our years on earth with more thought and awareness.”