Ambitious Slovenia titillates wine world with unique harvests

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Slovenians have been making wine long before the French, but the industry hit a wall during the communist era. Now Slovenia is sending its wines around the world, offering fresh fruity flavours at reasonable prices.

Ambitious Slovenia titillates wine world with unique harvests

Ambitious Slovenia titillates wine world with unique harvests

/ Ormoz (Slovenia) – 10 August 2015 19:37 – AFP

From New York to Sao Paulo, epicureans have been revelling in a new generation of exciting wines from one of the least expected places — Slovenia, a vintner’s paradise in full renaissance.

The small nation has in fact a flourishing viticultural tradition stretching back some 2,400 years to the Celtic era, long before the Romans introduced winemaking to France and Germany.

Wedged between Italy, Hungary, Austria and the Balkans, Slovenia benefits from mineral-rich soils and a continental climate, making it particularly ideal for producing white wines.

The reason they have remained a secret until recently is largely because of Slovenia’s history as a former part of communist Yugoslavia.

Under the rule of dictator Josip Broz Tito, the country’s wine industry was nationalised and vineyards were turned into state-run cooperatives.

For decades, not a drop was exported and even today, most of the wine is still consumed locally, with each of the two million inhabitants drinking an average of 39 litres per year.

“We come from a country no-one knows, we have a wine no-one knows and we have grapes no-one knows, so we have to be better than the rest,” said Tatjana Puklavec who runs the “Puklavec and Friends” (P&F) winery in the northeastern Ormoz region, known as the “Tuscany of the East”.

The P&F label has become a symbol of Slovenia’s ambitions to carve out a niche in the global wine market.

Debuted at a fair in Amsterdam in 2010, the brand’s white wines proved an instant hit with international crowds and are now selling all over the world.

“Buyers said, ‘finally something new from the old world’,” Puklavec told AFP in a recent interview.

The secret lies in combining well-known grapes with the local Sipon sort (or Furmint), known for its high acidity and herbal yet fruity-fresh taste, she added.

This intriguing mix, coupled with the soil, gives Slovenian wines a unique taste that has puzzled wine experts all over the world.

“They say, ‘I cannot even think about what this reminds me of because it’s so unique’,” Puklavec smiled.

— Decline and rebirth —

P&F makes its wines in a seven-storey cellar dug by Puklavec’s grandfather and other regional winegrowers in 1956 on the border with Croatia.

Across more than 1,100 hectares (2,720 acres), the winery grows Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Welschriesling, Traminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Sipon.

At the hilltop stand sophisticated presses with inner gas systems to preserve the aromas.

The grape juice is transported through pipes to storage rooms below and, as you walk downstairs into the cellar, you can see barrels and dusty bottles marked with the year of the harvest and the type of grapes.

The most precious drops are found in the archive cellar, which stores 270,000 bottles of the finest wine produced by the winery, including two dozen bottles of 1956 Sauvignon.

Although winemaking is a family tradition, it looked at one point as though the business had completely faltered, Puklavec recalled.

In the 1950s, her grandfather — a small winemaker with “an entrepreneurial vision” — joined forces with 40 other growers to create a cooperative in Ormoz, then still an underdeveloped region.

But his early death in 1969 left the company drifting with little success. His son, Vladimir, had moved to Germany and started another business.

Then, seven years ago, “(my father) got a call from an old school friend who told him that the Ormoz wine cellar was for sale,” Puklavec recalled.

Despite being wine novices, she and her father decided to buy the business in 2009, bringing on board promising winemaker Mitja Herga.

“We agreed that we would like to produce fresh, fruity and mineral white wines,” Puklavec said.

The move paid off: P&F wines now make up nine percent of the national production. In 2014, the company was voted Slovenia’s Winery of the Year, beating more than 170 other producers.

But for now, P&F remains part of only a handful of Slovenian wineries large and successful enough to sell overseas.

A majority of producers own less than one hectare of land, and the country still only exports around 10 percent of its wines.

There is still plenty of room to grow, confirmed Puklavec.

“It is our mission to continue what my granddad started: to make the best possible wine and share it with the world.”


Tags : Harvests, unique, with, wine, Titillates, Slovenia, Ambitious

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