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article imageInterview with new Vinistra President Nikola Benvenuti in Croatia Special

By Paul Bradbury     Sep 1, 2014 in Food
Pula - The association of winemakers in Istria, Croatia has a new president. Digital Journal went to meet him in Pula to learn more of his plans.
Members of Vinistra, the association of winemakers in the Croatian region of Istria, appointed a new president last week, and Digital Journal caught up with Nikola Benventuti in Pula on August 29, 2014, to learn more of his vision and philosophy for this important wine region.
These are exciting times for the winemakers of Croatia, as the international wine community is slowly discovering the range of indigenous grapes of the country (Croatia has more than 130, including an older relative of the more internationally known Zinfandel), which has led to considerable praise and global awards for the winemakers of Croatia, with USA Today recently naming Croatia in its top 5 wine regions to visit, for example.
The winemakers of Istria have been well organised since the founding of Vinistra in 1994.
The winemakers of Istria have been well organised since the founding of Vinistra in 1994.
Benvenuti winery
The region of Istria, with its stunning hilltop towns and rolling vineyards, has enjoyed considerable success in promoting its indigenous varieties, such as Malvazija and Teran, and its winemakers has been well-organised for some 20 years now, under the umbrella of Vinistra, which every year hosts the most important wine fair in Croatia. Vinistra 2015 will take place next May.
The association was founded in 1994, with the aim of connecting its members to buyers, to nurture and preserve traditional wine-making customs, to present and promote wines, and to create the image of Istrian wines as high-quality and natural products. Respected Istrian winemaker Nikola Benvenuti was voted in as the new president last week, and Digital Journal went to meet him on the historic Forum square in Pula.
Vinistra is Croatia s most important wine fair each year.
Vinistra is Croatia's most important wine fair each year.
Benvenuti winery
1. Croatia joined the EU last year. Is this an opportunity or a threat for Croatia's winemakers?
I like to see it as an opportunity. For sure, we Istrian producers are small in European terms, and we cannot compete in size with the big producers of France, Italy and Spain, but those countries also have a sophisticated wine culture, and there are many wine drinkers there who are open to new things, and that is a great opportunity for Croatian wines.
2. How important are the indigenous varieties to Istria?
There are crucial, as this is what defines us as a region. The most important of them is Malvazija, as well as Teran and Muscat Momian. There are Chardonnays and Cabernets all over the world, but we are very proud of our high quality local varieties. My job at Vinistra is to work on the branding and marketing of these indigenous varieties. We have one concept, for example, called IQ - Istrian Quality.
Malvazija grapes  the pride of Istria.
Malvazija grapes, the pride of Istria.
Benvenuti winery
The potential with indigenous varieties is much bigger and offers the best results. We are offering something which is ours, is unique and can't be offered elsewhere. Our biggest problem is the branding of our territory and our wine varieties. We cannot simply sit at home and wait for tourists to come and buy; we need to seek out the opportunities to sell wine, attend trade fairs, cultivate relationships with wine journalists. Although we are new to this approach, we are an old, established region. We have the quality, our prices are attractive, and our job is to show that to the world.
Vinistra President Nikola Benvenuti (left) with Digital Journal.
Vinistra President Nikola Benvenuti (left) with Digital Journal.
Benvenuti winery
3. As the new president, what is your vision for Vinistra?
Firstly, I want to take stock of our existing position and then move forward. We are already preparing for the next Vinistra fair in May. I want to make it better and to bring in more people from the region. We need to work on branding Istria as a wine region. There is lots of room for improvement, and we have not hit the top level yet. We need to better explain where Istria is and what we have to offer.
The potential exists to further develop wine tourism in a region with a rich gastronomic history.
The potential exists to further develop wine tourism in a region with a rich gastronomic history.
Benvenuti winery
We have wine tourism, wine roads and catalogues with the tourist boards, but we are missing good organisation with tour agencies, so that we can better promote this important aspect of Istrian wine. We need more wine journalists to visit to transmit our message further afield.
4. Should the restaurants of Istria serve local wine, international wine, or a mixture of the two?
Our restaurants should recommend our wines. We have great quality, our prices are more than correct, and there is no reason to look for wines from another region. We need to have better cooperation with the regional hospitality industry, and that is something I will be working on.
The Benvenuti family winemakers - father and sons.
The Benvenuti family winemakers - father and sons.
Benvenuti winery
5. You are a distinguished winemaker yourself. Tell us a little about your own winery.
We are a family business, and I work with my brother and father, on vineyards of 15 hectares. Our focus is exclusively on the indigenous wines of the region, and we are proud of the many awards we have won. We have six labels, as well as three dessert wines, producing 60 - 70,000 bottles a year. About 70 percent of our production is within Croatia, with much of the rest to other countries in former Yugoslavia, and we are also exporting to Italy, UK and the United States.
The Benvenuti winery in Istria
The Benvenuti winery in Istria
Benvenuti winery
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