Slovenian winemakers seek apostles to spread the word on best labels
Robert Gorjak of Dveri-Pax winery, a mid-size Slovenian winery that produces around 300,000 bottles a year from 75 hectares of land in northwestern Slovenia, was in Hong Kong recently to introduce his wines to Asia.
Gorjak explains that, in the Yugoslav era, the wine industry was hampered by a state-led drive for quantity over quality.
"The big explosion of private producers happened in the 1990s when we got independence. They were good times," he says. Nowadays, more producers are aiming for quality.
"Being a winemaker in Slovenia gives you a different perspective. There are many places in the world, especially outside Europe, where wine is pure business. It's like any other business. In Europe and Slovenia there is a lot of passion. So it is very often not a rational decision that leads people to become winemakers. It is often inherited.
"I am not surprised if people are surprised to find out about wine production in Slovenia," he says, but adds that many Slovenian wines have found their way onto the lists of two- and three-Michelin-star restaurants around the world.
"Regarding the quality, especially the white wines, some of them can match the top wines of the world. I will never say we are the best, but under certain circumstances we can match the top wines." Gorjak is backed up by the many awards the winery has received.
"We produce around 20 different wines, mainly varietals. Furmint, welschriesling, riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, muscat and pinot gris, and from the red we produce blaufränkisch, pinot noir and zweigelt.
"One would think from all these international names that we are just a copy of something, but the fact is that these grape varieties were introduced in 1823, which means all these grapes in our place have adapted to the area and the region. Our chardonnay is different from both ones from the new world and from the Burgundian one.
"There aren't that many native varieties in Slovenia. There are six listed in Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes. Croatia and Serbia have more. Most of them are obscure and aren't very popular, so rather than speaking about native varieties I prefer to speak about regional varieties, which are still not chardonnay, sauvignon, merlot or cabernet, but they are found in the region.
"In London - still the hub for the wine industry - or New York professionals would know about Slovenian wine, but people in places like Hong Kong won't. There is no red carpet." This is why his job is more difficult, but at the same time "a bit more exciting maybe".
"It's not going to be easy, but sometimes it goes swiftly and sometimes it takes years. We decided to come to Hong Kong and the mainland and try very seriously for three years."
Gorjak is looking for what he calls apostles for Slovenian wine - people who can lead the way in creating a brand out of Slovenia, something that doesn't yet exist.
"How do we create those people? We make friends. We invite you to the region. Once you have been there you will fall in love. A group of English people recently came and they were blown away. These people became apostles, going back home and talking about Slovenian wine. It is really one by one, by word of mouth. It is really the most sincere way of making fans of your wine."
Slovenian wines are available from Hong Kong Wine Vault