The bright red liquid spills up to the edge of the glass. Swirl, sniff, rinse, taste – and spit it out again. Stellios Boutaris is tasting the latest blend from the Kir Yanni winery. “This’ll be something!” he declares, pleased with the resulting rosé champagne that he hopes will conquer Northern Europe. “Germany is a champagne country; we’ll find buyers there.”

An hour west of Thessaloniki, in the village of Yannakohori, the reasons for the optimism become apparent. A gentle winter sun hangs over the Kir Yanni winery. Above the weak green and grey of the slopes, snow still lies on the mountains.

The business model that Stellios Boutaris believes is the model for Greece is getting off the ground here: “To do what we can do and do it really well.” For example, a good wine. Retsina, the notorious throat-scratcher from the Greeks down the street – that was yesterday. Kir-Yanni is being poured at gourmet restaurants in Athens, Thessaloniki – and, increasingly, by foreign customers.

Kir-Yanni is becoming a brand. The new Greece is growing in this Macedonian village and in the streets of the district capital of Thessaloniki, and it’s being nurtured by those Greeks who no longer expect anything from the state. Perhaps that is why it is so hard to find in Athens, among the union bosses of yesterday and the corrupt politicians who blocked reforms to serve the interests of their clientele, and the deputies who stashed millions of euros abroad.

Up in Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris – the father of Stellios Boutaris – was at retirement age when he found himself in a warm office in the City Hall. Until a few years ago he had managed the winery, which he had founded in 1996, by himself. Then the now 69-year-old went into politics, and a year ago he was elected mayor of the second largest city in Greece. He got there on his reputation as a successful businessman, as one who lives off his own hard work, as an anti-politician.

Congress against the ossified capital

This city on the Aegean Sea was once the Manchester of Macedonia. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, though, the textile mills, leather, knitting, and wool-dyeing factories migrated north to ex-Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

Yannis Boutaris is popular with the townspeople and visitors from the EU, and that has something to do with his reforms. Boutaris brought a new broom to the city administration, cut the number of directorates, and for the first time had a job description drawn up for every city employee. That way, everyone knew who to go for for what. “This is my biggest challenge,” he says. Yannis Boutaris is expected to open up new horizons for Thessaloniki’s frustrated townspeople.

Public calls by German ministers for a Greek exit from the eurozone have helped a little there. The fact is that Thessaloniki would have nothing to offer when it comes to cheap mass-produced goods for export, so it must find something else.

So what kind of future is Greece’s second largest city planning for itself? “Small is beautiful,” Yannis Boutaris exclaims in English. Greeks should focus on the little things that they know well, he says, and then produce these at excellent quality. “We don’t sell ourselves and our products well enough,” he says, citing the example of Greek olive oil traded to Italy and rebottled as Italian olive oil. Greece, he suggests, ought to learn from the Italians how to maintain quality and brands.

Many agree. At a business conference not far from the Mayor's Office, entrepreneurs from northern Greece are gathering. Unlike in Athens, there is little whining here about the programmes of the EU and the International Monetary Fund. The meetings is a congress against the ossified capital, Athens, and the impotent central government. It’s a forum for liberal criticism of a bloated administration.

Freshen up blurry image of Thessaloniki abroad

“The state is our crisis,” says economics professor Moise Sidoropoulos. “We don’t want business people looking for handouts from the state,” calls out another. “We want entrepreneurs who go into the markets and fight.” That sounds truly scrappy. Where would the Greeks, then, find their markets?

Moise Sidoropoulos reads off a respectable list. The great fleets of Greek ship-owners must be brought back to Greece, by reducing taxes and levies on them. Alternative energy can be produced domestically: Greece has abundant wind and solar power, and a small but strong pharmaceutical industry that focuses on generic brands. Greek agriculture needs to export more quality products, and fish farms must replenish the over-fished Mediterranean. The most important industry, however, is tourism. Greece’s major resource is the beauty of the country.

That’s just how Yannis Boutaris sees it. As mayor, he has tried the freshen up the somewhat blurry image of Thessaloniki abroad, and has persuaded airlines to establish direct connections. Visitor numbers are going up fast. Trying now to bring in cruise ships, he recently visited Hamburg to learn from its successes with huge boats.

The Kir Yanni winery also figures in the mix of idyllic and modern. Stellios Boutaris no longer has anything in common with the gnarled Greek farmer of yore. Apart from growing the grapes and making the wine, he hunts for clients at wine fairs in Europe and America, and wants to sell to China too. E-shopping has long been part of his arsenal. At the click of a mouse, the Kir-Yanni wines can be delivered to your home.

This could be the look of the new Greece, if the plans works out.