Vlado Borošić set up the first private enoteka in former Yugoslavia in 1990. Today he has two stores in the Croatian capital, providing Zagreb's best-stocked and most knowledgeable resource for oenophiles. Here he reflects on two decades in the business.
How was the wine business when you started?
Slovenia and Croatia always had a much higher standard than the other republics but for mass production, Serbia and Macedonia were always in front. The most serious wine product from former Yugoslavia was Dingač with the funny red label and donkey. Even then we were recognised as the prospective wine-producing republic, even though our production was quite small. And at that time you couldn’t buy any foreign wine. We started to open the market in around 1989. Since then we have made fast progress.
Where has this progress been?
In Istria most of all. It has the terroir (unique red and white soil) and tradition. It also has local, native varieties of grape planted there. It has the support of local government, and locals have the right mentality. There it’s the norm that young educated people take over the business from their parents – that’s not the case in the rest of Croatia. In Istria 95 per cent of serious winemakers are young and educated, with parents already in the wine business... they invest in new technology and marketing, and all the things that matter in the wine business.
In Istria we have a young generation ready to fight for the new reputation of Croatian wines. In Dalmatia, this happens in Pelješac and Hvar but nowhere else – they followed the Istrian example. On Brač, you only have one serious winemaker.
And in the northern continental region?
There you also have serious winemakers... but the main problem is they are planting mostly international varieties. Very high quality but the world market is looking for something local. That can’t be found in continental Croatia. So tourists are looking for something unique and typical Croatian. And you can only find them in Dalmatia and Istria. Plavac, Pošip, Malvasia and Teran are types you will find only in Croatia.
How has Croatian wine changed in the last 20 years?
That change was a drastic one... The restoration started from Istria and has by now included all Croatian regions and wine-growing districts. By way of evidence, look at the prizes won by Croatian winemakers in the last few years. One of them is Boris Drenški, the owner of the Bodren wine cellar. He won Decanter’s gold medal for his Chardonnay, Riesling and Grey Pinot. There’s also Krauthaker, who triumphed with his selected harvest of Riesling. Especially interesting is the rise of the winemakers from the northern part of the country nearest Zagreb, from Slavonia and Baranja, whose red wines are ever more competitive to Dalmatian ones.
What is something about Croatian wine that people should know?
Croatia doesn’t produce great quantities of wine to establish itself on the European and global markets – but it does have some great wines. You should try three domestic varieties that represent three main Croatian regions: Riesling from northern, continental Croatia, Malmsey from Istria and Plavac Mali, related to Zinfandel, in Dalmatia.
What are the main problems of wine industry here?
We produce a very small quantity of high-quality wines. Our only chance is with more expensive quality wines. If we count all we produce in Dalmatia, several 100,000 bottles of Dingač for instance, it’s only enough for local market. And no one wants to buy low-quality Croatian wines if they can buy cheaper Bulgarian wines. The main strategic point is to produce excellent wines as a support for our tourism. And that is what we are doing now – to become a country where wine and good food are reasons for tourists to come.
How is wine consumption in Zagreb compared with the rest of Croatia?
You can’t change tradition in all the little places within Croatia in just 20 years. So, everything is in Zagreb, and nowadays we have an enormous range of everything in Croatia. You can buy good cheap wines, some of which is better than the wine produced nearby, and that is bad for local winemakers.
The local wine market is good from a tourist’s perspective because in Zagreb you have a great wine culture, where 90 per cent of the high-quality local and foreign wines are consumed. Here in Zagreb they have money and an appreciation of good wine.
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