In the impressive setting of Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb, the 8th Vinocom wine fair
got underway on November 29, 2013, bringing together some of the region's best producers, wine experts and interested buyers.
One of the countries represented was Slovenia, a quality wine-producing nation that is still somewhat under the international radar. Digital Journal caught up with Staša Cafuta Trček from The Third Wine in Ljubljana.
1. This is an impressive gathering at Vinocom. How do you see the progress of the wines of South-East Europe on the international stage?
Wine making in this part of Europe has progressed tremendously in the last decade. The disintegration of former Yugoslavia had a major impact on the wine industry, which underwent restructuring as a result. Large wine cellars which had been in state ownership collapsed, and parts of them have been privatized. Thus a lot of new, privately-owned wine cellars have arisen, and they revived generational traditions of their ancestors.
On the one hand there has been a major shift from the concept of quantity to quality, which has as well been the result of technological renovation of the wine cellars and the rise of a generation of young oenologists, trained abroad, in USA, France, Italy, and Germany. 'Flying' oenologists have assisted in this as well. All in all the countries of former Yugoslavia are still ill-represented on the world wine map. For example the renowned wine school WSET does not include these regions in their curriculum, as if we did not exist. The only response to this is promotion, promotion and promotion in order to achieve progress on the international wine stage.
2. Croatian wines are attracting international attention. Which regions are the ones to look out for, and can you recommend a couple of bottles worthy of particular attention?
Honestly, I am impressed by all wine regions in Croatia! I am always open to tasting something new, to see the hands of winemakers and shake their hands, to listen to their stories and smell and taste their wines. I can see from their eyes that they are very dedicated to their work. It is normal, that some wine regions are developed more than others, but slowly they are all achieving visibility. I would like to commend progress both large and small producers. If I have to choose I would recommend Plavac mali from Bura winery, Malvazija from Kozlović, Dubrovačka Malvasija from Bratoš Winery from Konavle south of Dubrovnik (attention it is not related with Malvazija from Istria), Škrlet from Mikša Winery from Moslavina, then is here Graševina and Zelenac from Krauthaker Winery or Graševina from Adžić Winery. Or Iločki podrumi Winery with Traminer. And a lot of unknown indigenous varieties from Dalmatia such as Pošip from Čara Winery, Bogdanuša from Carić Winery on Hvar, Grk from Bire Winery, Crljenak from Stina Winery.
3. Slovenia is a relatively unknown wine region. Tell us more about it.
We are a tiny little country (20.273 km2, only 2 million people). But in this small area we have everything. We have the Alps, a hint of the Mediterranean, lakes, caves, the Adriatic Sea, the Pannonia basin, small hills, and we have vineyards too! With a long tradition dating back to the Celts and Romans. Slovenia is a relatively small wine-producing country, we have 20.000 ha of wine-growing areas which give us a small representation on the world wine market and at the same time an opportunity to penetrate in to this market with boutique wines from innovative and beautiful positions for wine growing. Officially we have 6 indigenous varieties: Ranina (Bouvier), Klarnica, Ranfol, Vitovska Grganja, Zelen and Žametovka – this Old Vine with an age of over 400 years is the oldest vine in the world, the oldest living specimen on our planet of a noble grape vine that still bears grapes! Its location is in Maribor.
Individual Slovenian winemakers have significantly contributed to the recognition of Slovenia as a wine country. The biggest contribution is from Aleš Kristančič MOVIA who has been ranked for 6 consecutive years among the top 100 wine producers in the world chosen by Wine & Spirits. This year Kabaj Winery took their place there. A week ago in Ljubljana the 16th Slovenian wine festival included a workshop “Cracking the UK market – some Slovenian success stories by Caroline Gilby MW. Verus, Tilia, Dveri Pax, Vinska klet Goriška Brda, Ščurek, Marjan Simčič, P&F Jeruzalem Ormož” – those are the wineries that have succeeded in the UK market.
We were told that now is an exciting time in the UK market for the wines from Central and Eastern Europe. Also other producers, such as for example the oldest wine cellar in Slovenia - Ptujska klet - can with its brand Pullus satisfy also the most demanding world wine tastes and with its quality compete on the international market. As already mentioned, we have the quality, the rich terroir and of course most importantly the tradition. Foreign buyers often describe that in wines from Slovenia you can taste Alpine freshness.
4. how do you think the region's wines should brand themselves, and where do you see their key markets?
The branding of wine regions should most importantly be holistic, by that I mean a successful combination of tourism, culinary and regions that promote experience. This has been proven to be a good recipe for the examples of all wine and culinary developed destinations. The consumer today appreciates the whole experience of a certain region and buys the wine based on his recognition and personal experience or based on the interest, generated by strong promotional campaigns.
Nevertheless these campaigns are not possible to economise only with the wine region, but with synergies – a good combination of tourism, culinary and other destination experiences. Our advantages are: a relatively undiscovered destination rich in history, unspoiled nature, and a hospitable people. People fall in love immediately when they see the scenery (terroir) and especially when they taste the wines. So ,these are the simple facts about the region in general. Our key markets would be wine lovers, tourist adventurers from all over the world who would want to taste and experience something different, something new from a wine country which is poorly represented on the world wine map, but can offer a rich experience.
5. Wine tourism is an obvious growth area in the region. What do Croatia and Slovenia have to offer in this respect?
I often catch the tourists in the middle of Ljubljana and when asking them about their feelings on this part of Europe their answer is always “Slovenia and Croatia are like a postcard. Everywhere we look – we have the feeling like watching postcards.” We have our own traditional dishes, and individual wines, World varieties and domesticated varieties, wines with an authentic taste; the service in general is also good. Actually I think that wine tourism is still developing. I feel like every winemaker has his individual performance.
Maybe it would be good, since the Croatia, Serbia, (Bosnia and) Herzegovina, Macedonia and Slovenia have up until now reached a high quality level in wines and in the tourist offer within the individual wineries, that they would need a common brand name for example Wines from the Balkans and through this act together, to connect and offer tour packages to target groups –wine lovers. If I talk about wine lovers – this is a huge potential. More and more people are interested in wines in addition to good food. Many of those individuals have already discovered this, and those individuals are spreading the good words about the wonderful scenery, exciting culture with home produced food, and original wines. I think that in the next decade wine tourism will experience a boom in the so-called Balkan area.
Staša Cafuta Trček is a Slovenian wine journalist, certified wine taster, wine lover and editor of The Third Wine.