Just days after the Dalmatian villages of Kastela unveiled their wine tourism credentials as the birthplace of Zinfandel, the nearby wine island of Hvar is about to embark on a week-long wine and culture tour of Italy. Digital Journal interviewed energetic Hvar Wine Association president Ivana Krstulovic Caric on March 5, 2015, about Croatian wine and the work of her Hvar association.
Caric has been an enthusiastic promoter of Hvar wines and has enjoyed slow but steady success in spreading the wine message of Croatia’s premier island. While many thought the Italian market would be impossible to enter, Caric wines are now sold in Milan, and the considerable support of Croatia’s cultural attache to Rome, Ines Sprem, (who was interviewed by Digital Journal recently) has paved the way for a week-long tour of Italy, promoting the island’s wine, culture and tourism (full programme in Croatian here).
Croatia is becoming more established on the international wine scene. How have things changed with EU entry?
There is an increasing demand for Croatian wine on the international wine scene, due to the constant improvement of the quality of the wines, new marketing strategies of the wineries, such as direct communication to the consumers through Internet platforms, participation at the international competitions or focused presentations held abroad, but also due to the activities here in Croatia such as wine tourism development, well organised wine festivals (such as Dalmatia Wine Expo, Zagreb Vino.Com) and press trips that are introducing Croatian wine regions to the wine experts.
But to be known to consumers is one thing and maybe the easiest, but the other thing is to be available to the consumers that love your wine. This is the most important change that has happened by entering the EU! The wine trade has become easier and cheaper not just within the EU market but also if you export to other non-EU countries, as there is no longer a need to have special procedures for export. A few years ago it wasn’t profitable to export lower quantities, and this was a major obstacle for distributors to start with the new wineries, which are unknown in their country and for whom they need to examine the reactions of their market.
The other thing main positive is the harmonisation of laws, such as labelling rules that make easier communication to a wide range of the consumers.
On the negative side, we have encountered problems with some conflict of names, most notably Teran with Slovenia and Prosecco versus Prošek with Italy.
Hvar is famous as Croatia’s premier island, but its wines are also attracting greater attention. Tell us a little more about the Hvar Wine Association and its work?
Our Association has as its main goal the promotion of Hvar wines and our island as a wine region through different activities. An other important goal is to communicate between each other in order to identify the problems and to set the measures to “press” the local governments, tourist boards or other state institutions to be aware of our needs. Wine producers and other agricultural producers should be the backbone of the local economy, that will integrate all other agricultural activities in the enogastronomy offer of the island. Wine is the most important export product of the island and can bring interest in our island from all over the world.
2014 was a great year for Hvar wines, with exports to China and California and many other places as well. Are you satisfied with the progress made?
2014 was a year of expansion of the markets for the Hvar wines, not only within the EU, but also to other countries like China, USA and Canada. Wines of PZ Svirče and Plenković can be find in all countries that import Hvar wines, and other wineries have more focused markets.
Experts say that one of the most exciting aspects of Croatian wine is its rich selection of indigenous varieties. Tell us more about the grapes of Hvar.
Hvar is a small island but very interesting in the sense of winegrowing, because of it’s special geomorphology and diversity of varieties that are grown here. We are especially proud to be an island with 3 indigenous varieties; bogdanuša, prč and darnekuša, which are only grown on Hvar. The first two are white varieties that are showing interesting characteristics that are unusual for other Dalmatian varieties. Bogdanuša with it’s fresh and light aroma is very suitable as s summer wine ( Carić Bogdanjuša, PZ Svirče Bogdanša) and prč is a muscat kind of wine (Prč Vujnović, Parč Pinjata).
On Hvar we produce mono-varietal wines but these varieties are especially suitable to be blended together or with other white Dalmatian varietites, such as pošip and maraština. So you can find great blends (bogdanuša-prč named Kap sunca of Huljić winery, bogdanuša-pošip named Beleca of Tomić Winery, pošip-bogdanuša-maraština-prč named Cesarica of Carić winery).
Darnekuša is a red grape that is grown in smaller quantities and it is possible to find as mono-varietal but more as a blend with plavac. Its lower alcohol level can be an interesting characteristic in the growing trend for the lower alcohol level in wine. The most important grape of the island in the economical sense is of course plavac mali, a relative of zinfandel. An interesting thing about this grape is that we have here on the island a small vineyard owned by family Šurjak from Dol, that is considered the oldest living plavac mali vineyard in the world! Some legandary plavac mali wines come from Hvar, such as Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru, Plovac Ploški, Medvid, Ivan Dolac.
As we previously reported, there have been efforts to promote Hvar and Croatian wine in Italy, a difficult market to enter. How successful has this been?
Last year’s activities in Italy were really just the start, and they formed the basis for this year’s wider promotion. There was an important presentation of Croatian wines in Rome, organised by the Croatian Embassy in Rome, which led to a special wine tasting in the one of the best restaurants in Rome, La Pergola, where the sommelier of the restaurant Mr. Marco Reitano invited some of the best colleagues to judge about 20 wines from Croatia, with the purpose to have some on their wine list. Three of our wineries took a part of this special event: Carić, Tomić and Plenković.
The Hvar Association also participated in several tasting such as the Wine Fredane Festival in Avellino, ONAV’s tasting of the mono-varietal wines from Hvar in Milan, Presentation of Hvar wines and traditional products in the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi, which was organised together with the Hvar Town Tourist Board and Croatian General Consulate in Milan, as well as several comparison tastings of the three brothers Primitivo, Crljenak and Zinfandel held by ONAV.
And the activities go on, last weekend two of Hvar wineries were invited to an special tasting named “Primitivo and his brothers” , organised by AIS and held in Puglia at the luxury estate of Cortenova ricevimenti, Zlatan Crljenak as a crljenak and Plovac Ploški as a plavac mali representative. The tasting included only nine wines made of primitivo, crljenak, zinfandel, and their relatives vranac and plavac.
The major event for us this year in Italy will be our Hvar Island, Hvar culture and Hvar wine tour of 5 Italian regions starting in a few days. We start in Lazio with the Presentation in the Azienda Romana Mercati and an evening event at the Association “Vita Romana”, then we participate the next day at the Presentation of Hvar Island together with the Tourist Board of Jelsa at San Lorenzo in Lucina Square.
From there we go straight to Apulia, where the Town of Manduria will receive us, together with Consortium Primitivo. We will do a comparison between Plavac Mali and Primitivo, visiting some wineries. The next stop is Fasano , where will have a presentation at Masseria Maccarone, an olive oil meal with a centuries-old tradition, our partner their is AIS. Our tour will also include a visit to the Croatian Community in Molise, where we will share our culture and discover theirs. The event will also include the discovering of Molise wines. After that head to Calabria, where the focus will be on the food. Hvar winemaker and chef, Ivo Carić will prepare a typical Dalmatian dinner, and the waitresses will be attired in the traditional dresses of Hvar’s wine town of Jelsa. On our way home we had planned to say hello to the Wine Fredane Festival organisers in Avellino, but they insisted that we stay that day and present our wines to them too. So there is much interest in Hvar wines and I hope it will bring benefits not only to our producers, but also that this type of presentation can benefit the whole community.
Wine tourism is in its infancy in Croatia, but the potential to combine Hvar’s tourism with its wines is very intriguing. What is your vision for the island’s wine tourism?
There are some wine regions who are more developed in this kind of tourism, Hvar is unfortunately not known in the sense of the “wine tourism” although Hvar wines are famous. The major problem is a lack of tasting rooms, or perhaps services for wine tourism. This is not due to the will of winemakers, but mostly due to bureaucracy. It is not so easy to adapt your winery to be open for tourists. I can say from personal experience, for example, that for 7 years we have been working just to have the basic documentation to build a new winery that can have enough space for all our needs, and we still have a long way to go. So we decided to open a separate object, where we will have our tastings. The other problem is a lack of the network of public and private entities to work together to develop a serious offer of the enogastronomy of the island, based on local products. But things are changing slowly in the last few years, and we have now small but serious producers who can fulfil the needs of wine tourists, such as small family farms and cooperatives.
Your own winery, Vina Caric, has won many admirers (and new international customers) with its indigenous wines. Tell us a little about your philosophy and plans for 2015.
Our philosophy is to be a producer of authentic wines that can express the “terroir” of Hvar Island, and we have a range of indigenous wines, but we also experiment with some other varieties, so the wine Jubo’v is a blend of plavac mali and French varieties. It is good to explore the possibilities, but of course the main point is what we can offer to the world with our local varieties. In future we will definitely work to have the other two local varieties from Hvar (prč and darnekuša) as mono-varietals, and otherwise our focus will be to develop services in tourism and gastronomy. I already work as a tourist guide and my focus is to help to tourists to discover the wine story of the island. An island that offers so many interesting stories starting from ancient times!