Croatia Wins Big at the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards

Croatia’s wineries garner a total 63 medals, with Veralda winery from Istria taking a coveted Platinum – Best in Show medal. 

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London, June 14, 2016: Decanter magazine, one of the world’s most respected wine publications, today announced the winners of the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards. The competition, held each year in London, received over 16,000 entries from around the world. You can scroll through the lists of all winners here.

With the judging completed, we are so happy and proud to announce that Veralda winery, located in Brtonigla in the Istria wine region, was awarded the coveted Platinum – Best in Show medal for its 2015 “Istrian” red – a wine produced from Teran (which Decanter refers to as Refosco) – in the Best Single Varietal red category. With 95 out of 100 points, Veranda “Istrian” was one of only 31 wines to receive the top tier Platinum – Best in Show prize!

veris

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Reflections on the 2012 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend – Part I

By Cliff Rames © 2012

Once there was a Big Bang. The resulting release of energy and matter went hurling out into the dark undeveloped universe, where it swirled around aimlessly for a while. Eventually these building blocks organized themselves into neat systems where Life could take root. Order was created. Man was born. Grapevines grew. The hand of Man eventually discovered how to make wine from grapes. An industry arose and prospered. Festivals and expositions unveiled the many ways Man could pay homage to and revel in the magic of wine. Glasses were raised in salute (or is that “salut”?) and song.

In the living yet still nascent system of Croatian wine festivals, three entities eventually emerged as the reigning forces for vinous celebration. Call them the Big Three: Vinistra; the Dalmatia Wine Expo; and the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend.

Founded in 1994 as a platform to showcase the wines from the Istria region of northern coastal Croatia (particularly malvasia istriana), Vinistra is by far the most mature, successful and important wine festival in Croatia. Each year it attracts even greater numbers of international visitors and hundreds of producers (not just from Istria). This year Vinistra will be held May 11-13, 2012 in Porec, Croatia.

The youngest and self-proclaimed “most charming” festival is the Dalmatia Wine Expo. Having just concluded its second annual presentation, the DWE is the only significant wine festival in the Dalmatia region of coastal Croatia, held each April in the lovely seaside town of Makarska. While showcasing a series of seminars, workshops and over 150 producers of wine, olive oil and other delicacies, DWE is (for now) the least “international” of the three events, seemingly more focused on regional participation and raising the standard of quality wine awareness among domestic consumers and home-grown hospitality professionals (which is actually a very good thing, but that’s another subject for another time).

Throughout Croatia a smattering of other smaller, regional wine festivals – such as PosaVina and the Festival Graševine – are equally passionate about presenting their local wines and culinary specialties but none have yet to wield any influence or gain international attraction.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Only four years old, the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend is quickly and forcefully establishing itself as a primary contender for the most “international” and perhaps most important wine festival in Croatia. Not a regional presentation, ZWGW has smartly positioned itself to be the Place where Croatian wines from all wine-producing regions of Croatia can be showcased and put in context alongside quality wines from neighboring countries and better-known regions such as Bordeaux and Napa Valley. The organizers also take great care to invite international journalists, bloggers, and VIP wine professionals from important foreign markets.

(photo by Cliff Rames)
(photo by Cliff Rames)

This year’s Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend was held April 13-15, 2012 and featured over 130 producers of wine, olive oil and other delicacies representing over 200 premium brands. Croatian wineries of course formed the majority of exhibitors, with nearly 70 producers on hand and every Croatian winemaking region represented. Most were pouring their new vintages, although treats could be found on occasion as some winemakers discreetly offered older vintages. Frano Miloš, a poet winemaker from the Pelješac peninsula, made me quiver when he poured me a taste of his 1994 Stagnum Plavac Mali, a wine that beautifully debunked some theories that Plavac Mali is incapable of long-term aging.

Frano Miloš (left)

Interspersed throughout the tasting halls was an impressive assortment of other regional and international wine producers from countries such as Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Italy, Austria, France and South Africa. A half dozen or so distributors were also present.

Let the tasting begin! (photo by Cliff Rames)
(photo by Cliff Rames)

The Organizers

While the brains and brut behind ZWGW is the dynamic team comprised of Dražen Lazić, Festival Director; Tomislav Ricov, Vice President of the Organizing Committee, Ingrid Badurina Danielsson, who was last year’s ZWGW director and has now taken on the role of Director of International Relations, and Irina Ban, International Public Relations Manager.

Official responsibility for the organization went to Digitel Group, a Zagreb-based marketing and communications firm. You can read more about the ZWGW organizers and official partners in this press release.

This year’s event was obviously a massive undertaking and logistical nightmare, and an event of this magnitude is bound to suffer from hiccups and oversights. But in general I give Digitel and their team high marks for a pretty enjoyable festival that was marked by just a few glitches. Most complaints that I heard were – like last year – related to the venue.

Glyptotheque building (photo courtesy of ZWGW)

The Venue

The Glyptotheque building of the Academy of Arts and Sciences was an interesting and okay (I think) venue. It is a sprawling old ivy-covered brick building in the upper reaches of the old town in Zagreb, about a 15-minute walk from the city center and Trg bana Josipa Jelačića square. Inside there were many different room on a number of different floors accessible by lots of stairs. At first it was a bit confusing, and I have to admit that I missed some events and tasting rooms because of wrong turns and distractions along the way. But eventually the layout made sense, although I feel that too much time and energy was spent figuring out where to go.

Masterclass with Ivo Jeramaz of Grgich Hills (photo by Cliff Rames)

What made things more confusing was that key seminars and workshops were located in an annexed space at an adjacent shopping mall, the Centar Kaptol. As perplexing as it seems, it is true: discussions of terroir and other high-brow wine topics were occurring in shopping mall conference rooms and a movie theater. To get to these events, one had to navigate escalators filled with shoppers, meander past Fossil and other luxury goods outlets, dodge the lady who was enthusiastically spraying passersby with perfume samples, and resist the café bar with the alluring aroma of fresh brewed expresso.

It was a surreal experience. But I eventually accepted it all and took it as a challenge: Find the seminar. Don’t get lost. See what is behind this door, up those stairs, around that corner….I felt like I was on a treasure hunt, and indeed there were many treasures to be found once I learned to navigate the various levels and locations.  🙂

For what it is worth, my only advice for the organizers would be this: If you decide to hold the 2013 ZWGW at this venue (which is a good idea for the sake of consistency and proximity to the city center and hotels), everyone should receive a more detailed map as part of the welcome package. While this year’s packet did include a color-coded map, it was small and didn’t really give me a good sense of the relationship between the different spaces in terms of distances, direction, and importance. For example, it was not until nearly the end of the festival that I found the hall where the specialty food vendors were located (and by then I was already half-starved). And judging by the low attendance at the panel discussions and seminars held in the movie theater, it seems likely many people either could not find them or didn’t know where they were, being so far removed from the tasting room halls.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Overall I liked the Glyptotheque venue. It allowed for good flow of the crowds and a diversity of programming (such as a series of wine-related films in the Centar Kaptol movie theaters). Better maps and directions would help to save critical time and hopefully improve attendance at some of the more off-site events.

Food

Maybe it was me. Perhaps I was too busy, too distracted, a little too overly saturated with wine. But I could not find anything to eat at this so-called “wine gourmet” festival. Yes, there were vendors selling fig cakes and hand-made chocolates and rustic cured meats and sea salt. All great stuff! But I needed some wholesome and hearty sustenance. A burger. Soup. Some fried calamari perhaps. Something to ward off the encroaching effects of too much wine.

This week I attended the Wine Spectator magazine “Grand Tour 2012” gala tasting in New York City, where over 200 of the world’s finest wines were flowing. At the back of the main tasting hall was a large area full with buffet tables: cheeses, prosciutto, braised short ribs, grilled vegetables, gnocchi in a tomato cream truffle sauce, Asian dumplings….You get the picture. Where there is much wine, there must also be much food.

Chocolate!

Perhaps hot food vendors should be allowed to set up stands and sell their products at the next ZWGW? Just an idea to consider…. I know I would have happily stopped in between tastings and seminars to pay a few Kunas for a quick bite of something substantive to eat.

You?

(to be continued…)

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Ensemble Vacations® Magazine Calls the Wines of Croatia “Worldly Delights”

In its Winter 2011 issue, Ensemble Vacations® Magazine features the wines of Croatia under the headline, “Worldly Delights”. The author, Alison Kent, goes on to describe Croatia as a “vibrant viticultural region” and a “country steadily gaining international recognition”.

Ensemble Vacations is a member-sponsored travel organization that “brings you a world of opportunity, presenting…experiences to spark your imagination and whet your appetite”.

To read a PDF copy of the article, please click the link below. Enjoy the article and feel free to leave your comments.

Link to article:  Winter11Vacations_Croatia

A Report from the 2011 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival – Part 2

Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff RamesIn Part I of this 3-part report, we offered some insights into the story behind the festival’s organization, shared details about the yummy opening Gala Dinner, and revealed who was the winner of the Wine of the Year. In Part 2, we go inside the festival to explore the venue, meet the VIP guests, and hear about the round table workshop….Enjoy!

 [Note: The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners]

The Venue 

Okay, I know: It was too crowded. Too packed. Too small. Too hot and noisy. All those dead-end alleys stuffed with herds of winos, unable to move or escape. Winemakers unable to hear or speak with the guests; sometimes unable to access their stock of fresh bottles when faced with empties; unable to retreat to the bathroom…..

Photo by Siniša Škaberna

And yes, the coat room would completely filled-up by noon, forcing many guests to carry their heavy winter coats (it was cold in Zagreb!), scarves and bags around the tasting room floor.

And the last shuttle bus of the festival, in the cold night after a long day of tasting, apparently never showed up – forcing several guests (including me) to chase down taxis back to the hotel….

It’s all been said already.

Photo by Igor Franic

But let me add this nugget: The festival was a victim of its own success.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, where the festival was held, is a lovely facility that was barely adequate to accommodate the crowd that turned out to discover the wines within.  Interest was obviously high, and it seems likely that the organizers underestimated the potential number of attendees. While open to the public, tickets were not cheap (150 Kuna, or about $30 – a lot of money for many Croatians), thereby screening out many (although not all) individuals who might otherwise see the event as a great way to have a drinking party with pals and buddies. Nonetheless, hundreds of people paid the money in exchange for a chance to taste some awesome juice and meet the faces behind the labels.

A recommendation for next year: Reserve 2-3 hours in the morning exclusively for accredited members of the trade and media to walk through, taste, chat with winemakers, and network with like-minded peers without the throng of public attendees (who could be admitted afterwards). Many tastings and expos I have attended over the years are organized in this fashion. It seems to work well.

To their credit, the organizers DID on the first day try to offer a solution by scheduling a 3-hour “by invitation only workshop” for “foreign wine journalists and wine buyers”. I was invited but honestly forgot about it in the swirl of activity and meetings. I also wonder who attended it, since most of the action and winemakers were out on the public floor.

The Café Bar

A refuge from the sensory overload and crushing grind of the tasting hall was the museum’s little café bar, a quiet place where exhausted refugees huddled to recharge their palates by drinking coffee, sparkling water – and beer. The little café was also a popular spot to hold business meetings (I had about 6 of them there), as well as a reliable source of fast, cheap eats in the form of sandwiches at 15 Kuna each (more about the general food situation in Part 3).

The VIP Guests

Each year the ZWGF seems to become a little bit less insulated and more outward focused. And that’s a great thing, as Croatia is an exciting emerging winemaking country that should be blowing its trumpets and utilizing all its tools and resources to draw attention to its fabulous winemaking history and culture.

This year was especially exciting, as the guest list included many interesting and important VIPs from the international wine trade and media. Among the VIP guests were Sarah Kemp and Christelle Guibert, respectively the Publishing Editor and the Tasting Editor from Decanter magazine; Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, founders of Catavino and the European Wine Bloggers Conference; Peter Moser, Editor-in-Chief of Falstaff; Dr. Josef Schuller, Master of Wine; Lynne Sherriff, Master of Wine and Chairwoman of the Institute of Masters of Wine; and Nicolas Joly, legendary French winemaker and current godfather of the biodynamic movement, who conducted a fascinating seminar called “Biodynamics in Wine Growing”.     

Nicolas Joly

[One note for the record: Somewhere in the official ZWGF press materials and program booklet, I am listed as “Master Sommelier”. I am NOT a Master Sommelier but rather a “Certified Sommelier”. Out of reverent respect for the brilliant and hard-won achievements of real Master Sommeliers, my conscious demanded that I make this correction. I am, however, a master at consuming large amounts of wine; a master of procrastination; and master at a few other nasty habits. Yet a Master Sommelier I am not – but I hope to become one when I grow up.]

The Round Table Workshop

Another really interesting event at the festival was the Round Table Workshop, scheduled for the morning of Friday, February 25th. Unfortunately, the space for the workshop was again inadequate for the large number of people in attendance. It was also very noisy (one side wall was open and funneled all the noise from the main tasting hall into the workshop room). I found out afterwards that a number of people in the rear of the room could not hear the presenters, despite attempts to use a microphone, and left in frustration. 

From left: Ryan Opaz; Irina Ban; Duro Horvat; Sarah Kemp; Tony Hodges; Ivica Matošević; Saša Špiranec

That is a pity, because the subject of the round table – “Perspective and real Potential of Croatian Wine and Wine Tourism” – was very important and interesting. Presenters included an eclectic mix of trade professionals: Saša Špiranec, Croatian wine reviewer and writer, gave an overview of Croatia’s wine regions, annual production, and grape varieties; Sarah Kemp provided perspective on the world of wine and how Croatia could become a player on the international market; Mr. Tony Hodges, Chairman of the London-based P.R. firm, brandstory, spoke of the power of storytelling in marketing; Duro Horvat, Managing Director for Agrokor (one of Croatia’s largest wineries), and winemaker Ivica Matošević provided some perspective from the viewpoints of their respective large and small wineries; Mr. Matošević also spoke of his marketing success as president of the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria, Vinistra; and Ryan Opaz from Catavino spoke about the importance of social media in the wine trade.   

The subject of my piece of the round table presentation was entitled, “The Openness of the U.S. Market to New Wine Regions” – like Croatia. You can watch a video of my presentation here on YouTube.

The Exhibitors

According to the ZWGF website, the festival featured over 130 exhibitors and included “crème de la crème” among Croatian wine and culinary stars (the official ZWGF roster included 76 Croatian wineries).

Vesna Clai

Over 500 wines from eight Croatian wine-growing regions were presented, as well as a selection of wines from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, New Zealand, Slovenia, and South Africa.

In addition, about 16 vendors of food products and delicacies were among the exhibitors. From them I was able to secure a few slivers of prosciutto and salami when I was starving (which was always), washing them down with a cube or two of bread dipped in olive oil.  

Next: The wines….

End of Part 2. Part 3 will follow very soon. Stay tuned! 

 

A Warning to Croatian Winemakers: If We Don’t Export, We Don’t Exist

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Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia

Translated by Morana Zibar, www.Gastroprijevod.com

Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia

 

The Croatian wine market is exhausted. New vineyards are being planted, and the number of winemakers is rising. Yet no one is thinking about export. Without organized joint action we don’t stand a chance. 

Regardless of the serious economic crisis that has impacted the Croatian wine industry almost as much as the automotive sector, it will still be a successful year. I know it sounds harsh, but this crisis has come in handy.

For years our winemakers have all been drinking water from the same well. Even though their numbers are growing and there’s less and less water, they are not moving away. Even when they almost reached the bottom and the water became muddy, making them realize they have to go into the world to look for new springs, they didn’t do it. They preferred the muddy water to the uncertainty of the unknown. 

Now it is finally over; there is no more water. The well is empty. The race across the desert has begun. Will our thirsty friends reach a new spring before they lose their strength? Some of them will, especially the bigger ones who held advantageous positions at the well and managed to stock up reserves.

But some of them won’t make it; some will surely perish along the way. They will be mostly the small, the weak, and those who drank everything instead of building stockpiles.

 

Unfortunately, even those wineries who found their way to the new spring won’t stand much of a chance of long term survival. All around them will be waiting big lions and hungry hyenas that will not respond favorably to strangers drinking their water. Scattered in unorganized small groups, our poor winemakers won’t stand a chance against the hungry beasts.

But if they had set off like an organized army, when there were still good stocks of water, and proceeded to conquer spring after spring, then nothing could have stood in their way.  By securing more wells in advance, they would have prevented their own little well from drying up.

The “well” of course is the Croatian market, which has been sucked dry for years because Croatian winemakers practically don’t export at all. It’s impossible to understand the point of planting new vineyards, increasing the number of winemakers and wine brands if nobody is even thinking about exporting.

Newly planted vineyards in Dalmatia. Photo by Cliff Rames

The local market has been stagnant for years and the former number of winemakers was quite enough to satisfy its needs. The only discrepancy was between the amount of red and larger amount of white wines. If we had no intention to export, we shouldn’t have planted new vineyards. Instead we should have replaced a portion of white varieties in existing vineyards with red varieties.

Export statistics are poor, and the numbers heavily reflect our exports to neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Export to the rest of the world is still in its infancy. The efficiency of Croatia’s export strategy is so far best illustrated by the following figures, taken from the Handel Market Research report for Croatian wine.

Export of Croatian Wine

2004 = 52.802hl

2006 = 31.311 hl

2008 = 28.564 hl

Besides exporting a lousy 2,800,000 litres, especially devastating is the fact that export figures comprise only 4.5% of all Croatian wine distribution.

The culprit behind this failure is not far away: the lion’s share of the blame falls on the winemakers themselves because they don’t know how organize and approach the government with a united voice.

I’ve been following the conflicts in our winemaking scene for two decades. First it was about “big against the small”. Then it moved to the regional level, when one region belittles the other one and vice versa. Later it finally ended up at the local level, with one winemaker quietly wishing for his neighbor’s demise instead of his success.

Still it is important to remember that another country, a close regional neighbor – Austria, went through hardship greater than anything Croatia could imagine: during the 1980’s, Austria was hit by the so-called “Antifreeze Affair”, whereby a number of Austrian winemakers ended up in jail for adulterating wine with chemical additives (rather than doing the hard work in the vineyards to grow good grapes) to boost profits.

As the result the reputation of the Austrian wine industry was ruined. Nobody would buy Austrian wines after news of the scandal broke. Today’s wine crisis in Croatia is just a small baby compared to Austria’s consequences: several years of zero sales.

However, Austria today has re-emerged as one of the most progressive wine regions in Europe. Their wine marketing activities and branding strategies are some of the most positive, sophisticated and effective campaigns in the world. In twenty years they have risen from the ashes to become a star.

Lesson 1: Looking for shortcuts and fishing in troubled waters is not only a Croatian specialty. As we can see, it happens to advanced nations too.

Lesson 2: It is never too late to get your act together. When you are last, you have the least to lose and the greatest possibility for improvement.

Therefore the current crisis and Croatia’s nonexistence on the global wine market is not a problem. Let’s get together, put all our money in a pile, and jointly launch an organized world campaign. It is not a mission impossible.

Trends are indeed going our way. Consumers are getting tired of the usual grape varieties and they are looking for something new. Maybe Croatia is the very thing they want. What is more important, so far the reactions from wine critics and connoisseurs have been sympathetic – they like us.

 

With assistance from the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, Croatian winemakers recently participated in several important wine expos, including the World Wine Symposium in Lake Como, Italy, and the London International Wine Fair, which are annual gatherings of the world’s biggest wine experts, journalists and wine buyers.

 

These events were very successful and many in attendance highly rated the quality of our wines. And important questions were asked: Where can we find these wines? Why are they not more present on foreign markets?  

Steven Spurrier, the legendary 70-year-old British wine critic and editor or Decanter magazine, offered the same message. After 40 years of constant wine tasting all over the world, at the Lago di Como wine expo he said: “You know, this is the first time that I have tasted Croatian wine. I didn’t have a chance to try it before.”

 

Postscript from the editor: Mr. Spurrier tasted Croatian wines for the second time on May 25, 2010 at the London International Wine Fair, where he spent a significant amount of time at the Fine Wine Croatia grand tasting chatting with winemakers and sampling the selections. He reported that he was particularly impressed by Malvazija, Teran and Pošip. More impressive, he took a bottle of Saints Hills 2008 “Nevina” (a blend of Malvazija and Chardonnay from Istria) home with him.

Steven Spurrier at LIWF. Photo courtesy of Ernest Tolj

As the old adage goes, “Every journey begins with a single step”. We’ve started to move. Now it’s time to go and conquer some springs.    

www.winesofcroatia.com

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