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! 



Presentation by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia, on Friday, April 30, 2010 at Vinistra in Poreč, Croatia.  (Note: this is the complete presentation, presented here for posterity. Not everything in the presentation was articulated at the round table due to technical issues with the slide projector.)

photo courtesy of Jutarnji List

INTRODUCTION – the Time is Now

Anyone who ever has surfed the waves knows: timing is everything. If you don’t catch the wave at the right moment, it passes you and is gone.

The time is now. The wave has arrived. It is time for Croatia to commit to branding its wines for the international market through a well-funded and professional strategy of promotion, education and branding.

A general rule to keep in mind:

Good Timing + Quality Product + Successful Marketing = Sales $$$$ (helps Croatian economy & sustains wineries)


>USA now #3 in wine consumption (hectoliters); wine consumption growing every year.  

>Wine Consumption per capita in USA:

  • 1999: 2.02 gallons (7.65 liters)
  • 2009: 2.50 gallons (9.46 liters)

>10 year growth of 24%.

>Imports account for 31% of total U.S. wine sales.

>Wine sales in U.S. have surpassed beer in total sales $$$.  

>Wine awareness among Americans is growing:

  • Many new wine schools & wine education programs.
  • Many new, young sommeliers.      
  • New sommeliers are thirsty for discovery – wines that are off the beaten path and non-traditional. 
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                >Fastest growing market segment is the 70 million people that make up the “Millennial” generation (Gen X) (age 23 to 30)

    >This group:

    • Is plugged into social networking (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.)
    • They want to interact with what they are interested in.
    • They seek AUTHENTICITY.
    • They want an excellent quality to price ratio.

    >Gary Vaynerchuck of Wine Library has built on Empire by marketing wine to this group.

    Wine Library TV – Episode #798: Tasting the Wines of Croatia



    1. Croatia is an unknown entity. Most people don’t know where Croatia is or that the country produces wine.  Its native grape varieties and names of producers are hard for non-Croatian speakers to pronounce.

    2. U.S. importers of Croatian wines are small and have limited resources for promotion. Wines are “hand sold” door-to-door without any advertising or marketing budgets. 



    1. Expand current promotional activities, implement a marketing strategy, and create a public-private source of funding for promotional activities conducted by Wines of Croatia, Vinistra, Fine Wine Croatia, and others.
    2. Tell Croatia’s wine story. The STORY MUST BE TOLD in a simple, attractive and professional way!


    A. Good Story = Brand Interest

    B. Excellent Quality to Price Ratio  =  Positive Consumer Experience

    A + B = Brand Loyalty

    American market is very democratic; Americans are very brand loyal consumers. Americans appreciate AUTHENTICITY. But they are FICKLE: they know if the product fails them, there are thousands of other choices.

    U.S. consumer expectations:

    1. A Good Story (AUTHENTICITY)

    2. Consistency of Quality

    3. Value (excellent Price to Quality Ratio)

    Important note: “Value” does not have to mean “cheap”; but the wine should have a “WOW factor” – it should be BETTER or MORE INTERESTING for the price than other international wines at the same price.

     **You can have best story in the world, but if product does not deliver positive experience at a VALUE PRICE, then you lose the consumer.


    1. Croatia has a Wine Heritage & Tradition, which = Authenticity.
    2. Croatia has specific & unique “Terroir”. 
    3. Croatia has Unique Grape Varieties that grow nowhere else in the world.
    4. Croatia has the “Zinfandel Story”.

    A good story should provide details or facts that relate to something the consumer can understand (e.g., the “Zinfandel Story”).

    The STORY must answer the question: Why should I care?

    Then the PRODUCT must deliver the answer to: “Why should I buy this again?”

    A good story must also successfully balance: Romance + IntrigueFacts & Useful Information



    Old saying: “A rolling stone gathers no moss”.  

    New saying: “A wine bottle with a great marketing campaign gathers no dust”.

    Wines that have a strategic marketing plan and a well-told story sell better than wines without a support from a wine marketing board. 



    Ideally, any wine marketing board should be a public-private partnership; meaning, partially government (public) funds and partially private (wineries, other vested interests) funds. 

    The model exists; it is not new! Many major wine-producing countries have state-sponsored wine marketing boards:

    Argentina: http://www.winesofargentina.org/en 

    Austria: http://www.austrian.wine.co.at/eindex.html 

    Chile: http://www.winesofchile.org/ 

    Germany: http://www.germanwineusa.com/ 

    Greece: http://www.allaboutgreekwine.com/ 

    Hungary: http://www.winesofhungary.com/ 

    Spain: http://www.winesfromspainusa.com/WFSUSA/WFSUSA.htm

    Even Macedonia! http://www.winemk.com/


    The Wines of Croatia (www.winesofcroatia.com) and Fine Wine Croatia (www.finewinecroatia.com) projects have made some progress, but it is not enough. We need support from the government and wineries to launch a large-scale, professional and well-funded marketing campaign that utilizes various channels of communication, such as:

    >Social Networking/Websites

    >Written and Video Blogs

    >Advertisements in Wine Journals & Websites

    >Organized Tasting Events

    >Sponsored Trips to Croatian Wine Regions for International Sommeliers, Journalists & High-Profile Members of the Trade.  


    Should be:  Smart. Professional. Sustainable.

    Smart: Answers questions; Relates to consumer; Interactive

    Professional: High quality production/publications; Articulate; Attractive

    Sustainable: Seizes the momentum (“catch the wave”); Builds new momentum; Has long-term commitment & strategy.

    It will be hard work, but together we can make it happen. The time is now!