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article imageCroatian wine, culture in Rome: Interview with cultural attache Special

By Paul Bradbury     Nov 4, 2014 in Lifestyle
Rome - Promoting foreign wine and culture in Rome is no easy task, but steady progress is being made in one quarter. Digital Journal meets the Croatian Cultural Attache.
Being a cultural attache of a foreign embassy in a cultural heartland such as Rome is quite a challenge, and Digital Journal interviewed Ines Sprem, the Cultural Attache of the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, on November 3, 2014, to find out what efforts are being made to promote the culture of the EU's newest member in one of its most established countries.
One of the major success stories coming out Croatia in recent months has been the international acclaim being attributed to its wines, and Croatia's winemakers are now exporting wine as far away as China and California, with the first seeds of an export market in Italy also now appearing.
Effective promotion of the country's wine and culture is of course an integral part of success, and Sprem explained at length the efforts being made in Italy, a country with a strong and proud domestic wine tradition.
There was a Croatian wine presentation recently in Rome. Tell us more about the event and how it came to happen?
The Croatian Embassy in Rome organised the event in partnership with the Italian Sommelier‘s Foundation, one of the leading sommelier associations in Italy, which is very respected also for publishing the glamorous and reputable magazine Bibenda.
Presenting the wines of Croatia in Rome in October. Croatian Ambassador Damir Grubisa  Franco Ricci ...
Presenting the wines of Croatia in Rome in October. Croatian Ambassador Damir Grubisa, Franco Ricci, President of Bibenda, Paolo Lauciani and Alessandro Scorcone, the official sommelier of Palazzo Chigi.
Ines Sprem
The event was organised in the fabulous Rome Cavalieri Hotel (ex Hilton), one of only three Michelin-star restaurants in Rome, La Pergola. It was supported by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, who sent Zeljko Suhadolnik, an authority on Croatian wines, editor of the historic magazine Svijet u Casi and Zeljko Brocilovic Carlos, a Croatian sommelier. This fact was very important for the success of the event because they knew the wines, stories and the producers. Even more important and welcome was the presence of some wine producers: Clai, Cattunar, Stjepan Djurinski and Trapan.
The seminar was moderated by Paolo Lauciani, a docent who I appreciate very much, apart from his impressive knowledge, because of his approach to wine, almost exclusively as a cultural product and a historical testimony for a territory. This naturally does not exclude the fact that a good sommelier has to be passionate about the taste of a good wine. The Italian public knows him because he is a regular guest on some shows dedicated to enogastronomy on Italian television.
The event showed that the presence of producers helps a lot in the creation of a wine image. Wine communication is very important because you show the wine as a cultural product and a means to communicate the territory and, on the other hand, it has a very practical and concrete role to play in justifying the price. There is no wine that could objectively be more expensive than 30 Euros, if you consider just the production costs. That means when we buy a more expensive bottle of wine, we surely pay for the tradition and terroir, but we also pay something that is often not so easy to explain. And in the end, something that not all the people are not even able to appreciate for various reasons. The most important and obvious fact is that we are not all born with a good palate. The triumph of good wine communication is when it succeeds in convincing people who do not honestly appreciate a particular wine with an “important” price, to buy it. Tasting, practising and studying help to improve our innate capacity to distinguish good from bad wine, like it happens when we practise and working on any other talent.
We decided to organise the Croatian wine presentation in Rome because when we talked with Italian wine experts we realised that they, unfortunately, do not know Croatian wines at all, or have at best a limited knowledge. There is some kind of taboo in Croatia regarding Italy and the Italian market so that is probably an explanation why we have not tried to be more present with our wines in the past. This is surely a compliment for the Italian wines, but obviously not for the Croatian ones.
The wine presentation took place on one of Rome s most exclusive restaurants.
The wine presentation took place on one of Rome's most exclusive restaurants.
Ines Sprem
I am very happy to report that our wines surprised the Italian wine experts in a very positive way, and that fact has to make us more courageous and determined to continue our wine communication in Italy. This is the first step for a future presence in the Italian market.
Italy has of course a very strong domestic wine industry. How hard is it for Croatian winemakers to make an impression on Italian consumers. What do they have to offer and what success have they had so far?
It is hard, but of course, not impossible to enter in the Italian market. Making an impression is surely easier and we could see it as a result of the Rome’s presentation. The average Italian person is often traditional and prefers to eat and drink Italian, but despite this there are many people who like to eat and drink new products: for instance, there are many ethnic restaurants in Italy that work well. That proves that Italians recognise and appreciate different when it represents quality. Food and wine are almost a cult in Italy, and there are many impassioned Italians who are curious and enthusiastic and who are eager to get to know the new enogastronomical realities.
A few days ago I had the opportunity to meet Marco Reitano (the sommelier of the famous La Pergola restaurant, who is one of the best Italian sommeliers) who showed a really big interest in Croatian wines. At the end of the conversation we managed to choose some interesting Croatian wines to insert in his prestigious restaurant's wine list; this is obviously very important for the image and territory branding! We will also continue to organise some target presentations in strategic locations in Italy. Next year with our General Consulate in Milan, we are planning to organise a wine presentation in Milan, for the obvious reason that EXPO 2015 is taking place, then Venice and Rome again, but in a bit different way. As far as I know, the only really active local Croatian association in Italy is the Hvar Wine Association. Next year they will organise presentations in Molise and in Apulia. President Ivana Krstulovic Caric has infectious enthusiasm, and she is putting a lot of effort into promotion which is already yielding results.
Hvar Wine Association president Ivana Krstlovic Caric has been a driving force behind the early prom...
Hvar Wine Association president Ivana Krstlovic Caric has been a driving force behind the early promotion of Croatian wine in Italy.
Dusan Jelic
I am very positive about the success of some middle-high quality Croatian wines in the Italian market, because they have an honest price and are also interesting and adequate for the Italian taste. When it comes to white wines, in Italy they appreciate mineral and fresh wines, and when it comes to red wines, they like less oaky or unoaked. An argument of the “Croatian wine pessimist” is that in an Italian supermarket you can buy a decent wine for 3 Euros: that is surely not true, because apart from not having a decent taste, their composition and method of production is debatable. The average Italian consumer likes to save money in a different way, and not by buying a cheap wine of “suspicious” origin. And I totally agree with him!
Eiswein, in my opinion, could be also interesting for the Italian market because it is produced just in a very small part of Italy and we have the potential to produce a good Eiswein, as Zagorje’s wine producer Bodren has proved.
Diocletian s Palace as it looks today  Split s most popular tourist attraction.
Diocletian's Palace as it looks today, Split's most popular tourist attraction.
Split Tourist Board
We have some Croatian wine producers who are present in the Italian market, but we are talking about individual producers who are present thanks to their personal enthusiasm or often because they have some private links and connections (like Clai, Cattunar, Caric, Coronica…). What we need in Italy is an organised presence and presentation of Croatian wines because it is the only way to create a brand. In fact, if you do not have the terroir you can have just some cheap wines, because nobody knows you and nobody will spend money for your “unknown” wines. Producers in Croatia probably have to learn to be more united and cohesive. That is something we should learn from the French. It is very well known that the French wine producers always talk positively about the other producers from their Region, because in that way they create a regional brand. From the Italians we should learn wine communication. There are hundreds and hundreds of Italian books who tell the stories of the important Italian wine producers and their tradition and families. We do not have also to forget that the Italians made a boom with their wines in the last 40 years.
Italy and Croatia are close neighbours. What would you say are the main associations Italians have with Croatia?
Croatia is famous in Italy first of all as a beautiful country with a stunning sea. Although it sounds like a cliché, I am convinced that we can be very proud because of the fact that we are seen in this way in the eyes of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Last summer, the vineyard landscape of Piedmont:” Langhe-Roero and Monferrato” was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is the 50th Italian World Heritage Site (what an impressive number!) and the first Italian vineyard cultural landscape. That also proves the attention that is given in Italy to wine communication. Lately, I have also heard also many compliments about our food, mostly tasted by the Italians on our coast when on vacation; actually it is very similar to Italian food, with both making up a part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Tell us a little more about the embassy's work promoting Croatian culture in a land famous for its cultural heritage.
Italy is a land of culture and it is a big challenge to represent Croatian culture in Culture’s Caput Mundi. It is not easy in Italy to deal with the paradox of “almost too much culture” (in the sense that the maintenance of some historic monuments is becoming quite a problem in Italy), but the advantage is that Italians are used to living with, and living for, culture; that is why they really appreciate interesting cultural events. The present moment is difficult financially, and our Embassy is dealing with the problem of organising higher level events with a very limited budget. One solution that we are practising is covering the majority of the costs using sponsors: that necessarily means putting much more time and effort in the organisation. In a time of crisis like this, the contacts and cooperation with Italian organisations, both public and private, are necessary and fundamental. In the last year we have organised in the fantastic location of Palazzo di Venezia an exhibition of the historic Croatian photographer Djuro Janekovic dedicated to Zagreb.
Ines Sprem  Cultural Attache at the Croatian Embassy in Rome.
Ines Sprem, Cultural Attache at the Croatian Embassy in Rome.
Ines Sprem
We hosted the Croatian National Theater from Rijeka that had some Italian drama shows on two prestigious places in two different periods. One show was organised in cooperation with the Hungarian Academy here in Rome. We also organized a concert of the “Zagreb Guitarist Quartet” and together with our Embassy to the Vatican and the French Embassy to the Vatican a concert of a Croatian-French troupe “Dialoges” that was partially financed by the “Hrvatska kuća-Croatia House” Foundation, a common project of the Croatian Ministry of Foreign an European Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, founded with the goal to improve the quality of the promotion of Croatian culture abroad.
We are planning to organise a few Christmas concerts and the “Croatian Most Beautiful Landscapes” exhibition of photographer Mario Romulic.
Romulic and Stojcic have an outstanding photo exhibition of panorama views of the island of Hvar.
Romulic and Stojcic have an outstanding photo exhibition of panorama views of the island of Hvar.
Romulic & Stojcic
In Italy, food and wine are considered a very important part of the culture, and I am very proud that our Embassy respects the famous proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so that is why I have the pleasure to deal quite a lot with enogastronomy. In July we organised in partnership with the University of Tor Vergata a conference about the Mediterranean diet, entitled “Eat Mediterranean, make a Difference”. On that occasion, we produced and filmed a documentary, named “Taste Keepers” about grandmothers preparing ancient Croatian recipes. You can watch it on this link. This documentary also presents some very nice places on the Croatian coast. The idea was taken from an European Union-funded project presented by the University of Tor Vergata named “Grandma’s Recipe Collection”. Our documentary is more tourist-oriented, that is why we got a support of some local tourist boards to realise it. The journalist Ivana Oresic made the interviews and it was filmed by Toni Koscina. Considering that is a very low budget project, I am personally very satisfied with the result. We are planning to promote it at a few festivals.
Talking about enogastronomy, it is also an interesting fact that despite many magnificent monuments, the second most-visited place in Rome (after the Colosseum, obviously) in the last few years, immediately after the opening, became the gastro shop Eataly. The curiosity is that in New York it is the third most-visited place. This is a high level supermarket, very intelligently conceived, packaged and presented, but still a supermarket. This shows and proves what a benefit for tourism good food and wine communication can bring.
Next year we are also planning to organise some important Croatian painting exhibitions.
Culture has many methods of expression and without doubt, all of them are important for the creation of a country's image abroad, but culture is also a perfect means of achieving almost any other concrete goal in the most charming and elegant way.
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