(Note: I first visited the Dalmatia Wine Expo in Split, Croatia two years ago in 2014. You can read my 2014 “Three Things I Learned” post HERE.)
Drinking wine could be compared to reading a book. Some books, like some wines, serve as mere entertainment, devoid of depth and enjoyed in a moment. Quickly they fade into the past without commemoration or recall.
Great books, though, capture and captivate your imagination. Glued to the page, each word enthralls…every sentence propels you deeper into the folds, eager to know what comes next…how the plot develops…what happens to the characters. The best among them may even influence and affect your life’s journey.
As wepreviously announced here, the third Vina Croatia Grand Tasting 2015 of the Wines of Croatia will be held on February 24, 2015 at Astor Center in New York City. This is a TRADE ONLY event.
Twenty-five (25) Croatian wineries will be present for the walk around tasting, each with a minimum of two staff members – including winemakers from most wineries– on hand to explain the wines and answer questions.
Sensory overload. That is how I would describe any one of my whirlwind visits to Croatia.
I mean it in a positive way. The country is simply brimming with vinous, culinary and natural delights. Gnarly old grapevines improbably clinging to sun baked seaside slopes. Nearly 1,200 islands sprinkled like seashells on the impossibly blue Adriatic. Countless villages and hamlets of seminal charm nestled in coves and on mountainsides. Fresh caught seafood and farm-to-table produce so succulent and cooked to perfection. The warm faces of family, old friends and new acquaintances (and an occasional donkey). Swoon-worthy views and secret spots where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature that – to this New York City boy – are so intimate, pure and wonderful.
And then there is the wine. Indigenous grapes, local producers. Most of it delicious and distinct. So this is what all this beauty… this land…this Croatia tastes like, you may be inspired to declare.
From March 27-29, 2011, the wine world was focused on Düsseldorf, Germany, site of one of Europe’s most important wine festivals: ProWein.
According to the organizers of the festival, ProWein 2011 was attended by over 3,600 exhibitors from some 50 countries. Attendance reached 38,000 – a 5% increase over 2010.
The organizers also noted an increase in the number of international guests, primarily from Great Britain, Scandinavia, the USA and Canada, as well as Eastern Europe – especially Russia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. The festival also saw an increase in the number of visitors from Asia – most notably China, Thailand and Hong Kong. Festival organizers reported that over 80% of visitors were individuals who are directly involved in purchasing decisions (Source: Visitor Survey at ProWein 2011.)
For the 5th consecutive year, Croatian winemakers were among the international exhibitors, with 25 of the most important wineries in Croatia participating, collectively representing more than 150 wines.
Croatia’s participation in this year’s ProWein fair was sponsored by the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK), in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development (MPRRR).
With total space of 95 square meters, the Wines of Croatia booth was the focus of much attention, as trade professionals stopped by to investigate and taste the wines of Agrokor-Vina, Arman, Badel 1862, Capo, Cattunar, De Georgiis, Feravino, Jako Vino, Kabola, Kalazić, Korta Katherina, Krauthaker, Kutjevački Podrum, Lagradi, OPG Božo Bačić, OPG Šime Škaulj, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Vinski Vrh, Vinoplod, and the University of Zadar.
“This fair is of great importance to Croatian wineries, because it is an opportunity to present the wines of Croatia to an international audience”, said Rajko Ružička, Assistant to the Director of the Office Agriculture, Food and Forestry at the HGK.
“We hope that our presence at the fair will help to increase exports of Croatian wines, especially in regard to Germany, which at 600,000 liters annually makes it the second largest foreign market, after Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is why the HGK and MPRRR support Croatian wineries at international festivals like this, because it is critical to effectively present and position Croatian wines in potentially interested foreign markets.”
Due to the large volume of business conducted during the festival and shear number of journalists present, ProWein is an opportunity that under no circumstances should be missed, said Saša Špiranec, Chairman of the Association of Croatian Wineries Festival Committee at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK).
“ProWein is the starting point of marketing activities of our new association, whose primary mission is to raise awareness among the wine consuming public about the wines of Croatia. The task of branding Croatian wine includes many promotional tools – including specialized fairs like ProWein”, said Špiranec.
Đuro Horvat, president of the Association of Croatian Wineries at HGK, added that Croatian winemakers regard the creation of a strong Croatian wine brand – one that showcases the excellent quality and originality of the wines – as crucial for the export market.
“Export trends from year to year indicate movement towards high quality wines from premium categories. That is why this festival is important as an opportunity to establish business contacts and ultimately increase wine exports through new sales,” said Horvat.
“Croatian wines are growing more and more interesting to international consumers and markets, who are increasingly seeking out wines of origin produced from indigenous grapes. This is especially true in more developed markets, such as Germany and Great Britain, where the rate of wine consumption is growing and the market is saturated with the most popular international varieties,” added Horvat.
Across six pavilions, visitors to ProWein were treated to a comprehensive snapshot of the world wine market and a selection of thousands of wines to taste. ProWein is an important bellwether of emerging trends and a showcase for new products and services, as well as an ideal venue for networking between visitors, producers, exhibitors, distributors and the media.
Summing up the positive results of ProWein 2011, Hans Werner Reinhard, Deputy Managing Director at Messe Düsseldorf, said: “We are delighted with an extremely successful event! Our positive expectations were even exceeded. ProWein 2011 went splendidly. ProWein was impressively able to underline its status as the leading international fair measured by all key performance indicators. It brings the supply and demand sides of the wine and spirits market together at an international level in a uniquely professional atmosphere and it is the perfect meeting point for the sector to showcase trends and innovations, to discover and discuss.”
Next year’s ProWein event is scheduled for March 4-6, 2012 in Düsseldorf.
[Sources: Nacional.hr article(in Croatian), published on March 28, 2011; ProWein press release, published March 29, 2011]
[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]
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…..
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.
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 Catavinoand 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”.
[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.
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.
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).
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!