Vintage 2010

Promising wine exports

Dolenjska. Photo: STO

November 2010

In the past three years the volume of exports in Slovenia has grown sharply. This is something quite extraordinary, since we also suffered a beating from the international crisis. Nevertheless, in 2009 exports rose by 19% over the previous year, and for some wine types the average price even grew. Of course this was no random event. In 2003, with the help of “flying oenologists”, the major cellars significantly changed the style of their wines, rendering them internationally comparable. More than 85% of exports are generated by the three biggest cellars (Briška, Ormoška and Vipavska) in three target markets (Bosnia, Croatia and the USA). The rest is accounted for by a range of smaller but exceptional family winegrowers. Total exports are still modest, at just over 6% (or 6 million litres) of total production. Slovenian wines are offered in as may as 53 countries, to which this year we added Mexico, Brazil and Kosovo. The majority of wines are exported to third countries, while our imports, from a full 25 countries, are dominated by EU countries. We can say without any hesitation that Slovenia’s strong point is white wines, rather than reds. Around 70% of the country’s vineyards grow white varieties.

The international market

‘More important is the style thatpertains to a given market, and thisis defined by a distinctly pure varietalaroma, a full-bodied quality andfreshness, as well as a harmony offragrance and flavour, and all of thesetogether make up an attractive winethat merits international marketing. ’

A few ground rules need to be observed in successful international marketing. Consistent quality of the wine, almost regardless of the vintage, is essential in the middle price bracket. Quality alone no longer sells, and is becoming just a foot in the door towards being involved in any marketing presentation. More important is the style that pertains to a given market, and this is defined by a distinctly pure varietal aroma, a full-bodied quality and freshness, as well as a harmony of fragrance and flavour, and all of these together make up an attractive wine that merits international marketing. Meanwhile origin, variety and brand are the cornerstones. In recent years origin has related mainly to the country, unless it involves a universally known winegrowing region such as Champagne. Varieties are fashionable in terms of trends that last several years.  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are still the leading varieties, although others are showing higher growth rates. Slovenian Pinot Gris and Sauvignon have already won the attention of international buyers and Šipon is trading well in the UK, while Malvasia, Rebula and Laški Rizling are now just waiting their turn to be fashionable wines. Riding over all this in importance, however, is the brand, which can outweigh both the variety and origin, if it has a sufficiently convincing originality.

Are we leaders or followers?

Photo: UKOM archive

It would be naïve to think that selling wine in the international market is easier than at home. When Slovenia becomes a wine destination, meaning that it has made it onto the international map and calendar of notable wine events, the path will be open for steady sales. For the moment we can say with some certainty that we are virtually non-existent in the international market, and that we have neither a distinctly good nor bad standing. And this fact in itself is by no means bad. Many buyers would not even be able to tell you where our country is, let alone list off our wines. And given the diffuse nature of the exports, it is no wonder that they do not know us. So our primary task will be to focus on and create a corporate marketing strategy in the major markets. In the UK and Germany, the two biggest import markets in the world, we are already on the list of respected wine traders, assuring us professionally impeccable support and a long-term orientation. The agent is our ally and partner. Together we are trying to demonstrate our natural features and comparative advantages. May the best wine win!

Sustainable development and new wine categories

Despite the fact that after five years of research in the EU we have not been able to define organic wine, this still does not mean that awareness of the importance of nature- and people-friendly grape and wine growing has stalled. We could say, rather, that this is just a kind of time-out, a buying of time that will serve to clarify things further. Just under half of Slovenia’s vineyards are involved in integrated grape production, which means simply that the vine growers are aware of the importance of this subject. The organic and biodynamic production of a handful of certified growers also indicates that ecological awareness among vine cultivators is increasing. We are seeing the appearance of what are called macerated white wines, which make use of the old methods of production employed by our early ancestors. Even the production of wines in amphoras has new-found backing here in Slovenia. The desire for differentiation is relentlessly driving winegrowers to ever-new attempts to benefit the spoiled domestic and foreign markets, which expect continuous improvements in quality.

When we ask ourselves what it is that Slovenia should contribute to the treasury of European and world wines, there is no cause for doubt. A two-thousand-year tradition has defined our position. In addition to the native (Zelen, Pinela) and localised varieties (Laški Rizling, Šipon, Rebula, Malvasia and Refošk), which maintain an irreplaceable genome, our contribution will be seen in the constant efforts by vine cultivators and winegrowers, who are distinguished by their mission to find constant inspiration for new styles of wine in the incessantly reworked soil of Slovenia.

Text by Dušan Brejc, Sinfo, November 2010