Slovenia backs EU plans to drain wine lake

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wine European union

As French, Italian and Spanish winemakers debate life without wine
lakes, producers in one of Europe's smallest wine nations say they
should not foot the bill for others' mistakes.

Slovenia only makes 100m litres of wine every year, a drop in the wine ocean compared to France's 5.5bn-litre yield last year.

Still, Slovenian wine producers are concerned about the European Commission's plan for "deep-rooted reform"​ of the wine sector, particularly its proposal to rip out 400,000 hectares of vines to drain the EU's 1.5bn-litre wine lake.

"Slovenia does not contribute to the wine surplus, we do not use distillation funds, so we do not expect to lose any acres of vineyard,"​ said Dusan Brejc, managing director of the Commercial Union for Viticulture and Wine of Slovenia. "We want to keep our vines and our heritage,"​ he added.

Slovenia's situation contrasts starkly with that of the big European wine nations, such as France, Spain and Italy, who regularly use up nearly half the EU's €1.2bn annual wine budget to dispose of wine that won't sell.

The French government last week rejected Commission proposals to abolish the distillation system, despite admitting more must be done to market wine from the EU to combat growing competition from the New World.

Brejc, however, agreed with the Commission that major changes were necessary.

"A more pro-active approach is necessary. Measures like distillation obviously do not bring any solution to the EU wine industry. The only way to go on and upward is to be consumer-driven."

On wine heritage terms, Slovenia is up there with Europe's best. The Romans planted vines there more than 2,000 years ago, easily matching the first plantings in France.

Yet, with Slovenian wine only just emerging on the international scene, the industry's approach bears more relation to the New World countries rather than the latent conservatism in many Old World wine regions.

Brejc said Slovenia had spent the last three years modernising vineyards and improving its winemaking practices. Producers have worked with Cellarworld International, a UK company, along with winemakers from New Zealand and Australia to change the style of their wine.

This, he said, had led to "fresh, fruity and more balanced wines" appropriate for growing markets in the UK and Germany. "We are not losing the identity of our wines, we are just making them a little bit more interesting for our markets."

Slovenia still only exports five per cent of its wine production, but there is a plan to increase this to 15-20 per cent over the next five years.

The UK wine market, currently one of the fastest growing in the world, has shown particular promise, helped on by the increase in tourists to Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana.

A lucrative retail contract is expected to put Slovenian wine on the shelves of a "serious, medium-sized retailer"​ in the UK in the near future, priced at around £5 per bottle, according to Brejc. A number of UK wine importers, including Berkman Wine Cellars and Waterloo Imports, already have Slovenian wine on their books.

Increasing exports may help Slovenia to combat the arrival of New World brands on its own territory; a threat just as big to Slovenia's wine heritage as EU reform.

Most wine producers in Slovenia operate on only a few hundred square metres of vines, although there is a minority with larger businesses.

"The Chileans, the Australians, [California's] Gallo are all coming onto the Slovenian market. It would be unrealistic to think that some Slovenian producers will not go out of business,"​ said Brejc.

But, he added, "we have hundreds of very interesting, serious producers, and we have the varieties people are looking for"​.

Slovenia's main wine-producing regions are Podravje, Primorje and Posavje, with the total area of vineyards covering 21,500 hectares - roughly similar to that of the French Bordeaux region.

Slovenia already produces its own Merlot, mainly in the Koper area, and Sauvignon in the Podravje and Primorje regions. Brejc and his colleagues have also been working on a new Slovenian wine brand to market internationally.

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