Swig Contributor Kristen Oliveri sat down with Michael Doerfler, National Sales Representative of the Laureate Imports Co. Inc., to talk about his latest passion: Slovenia Wine Country. Doerfler works closely with the Slovenian vineyard, Vinska Klet Goriska Brda, bordering Italy. After traveling to wine regions all over Europe, as well as Australia and South Africa, he joined Laureate Imports in 2013. Since then, he’s been focused on telling the story of the Slovenian vineyards, why its climate is so great for growing grapes and why it might be the best kept wine secret in all of Europe.
Q: Let’s get down to brass tacks here. Why choose Slovenia for wine?
A: The only reason we don’t know about Slovenian wine country is that during the time when Americans were discovering wine in the 1970s, Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. Americans simply didn’t have access to that information then. Our wine country is literally on the Italian border and couldn’t be any more similar to Italian wines.
Q: What’s your personal story? How did you get into the wine business?
A: I have a unique story. In 1997, Coca-Cola needed a way to get to Yugoslavia to sell their syrup. So they created a winery there and sold it in the US and generated money. Then they took that money back to the government. The central bank subsequently gave them that money to reinvest in American dollars. We call it ‘legal money laundering’—it’s simply a way for companies to have the resources to do this.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yugoslavia separated and Slovenia was the first country of that republic to go Sovereign. Coca-Cola didn’t need the project after all. So, in the mid-to-late 1990s, 450 farmers purchased the winery and the label AVIA and bought it back from Coca-Cola. Now it’s a co-op run by those 450 farmers.
The winery stands today in the Italian region of Collio, which is a designated wine region in Italy, but the border was moved in that region. Two-thirds of it is now in Slovenia Brda and both names translate to ‘hills.’
Q: Why would you say your soil is so appropriate for wine growing?
A: The ancestral history goes back as far as grapes have been known to grow. In 1121, they decided to build Venice on the water after the fall of the Roman Empire. In order to save them, they built out on the water where they discovered that the Slovenian oak from the hills of Collio was perfect. They planted the root structure first, then planted massive vines and it became a commercial grape producing region.
Q: Why is this particular soil producing top quality grapes?
A: The Slovenian hillsides are perfect because grapes love hillsides and the weather is perfect there. Warm air and sun comes up from Africa, over the Adriatic into our vineyards. We also have the Alps above us, so the air comes down and keeps everything dry. We’re in the world’s most perfect climate for that.
There are two types of ripening in all fruits. The first is sugar ripening, which is in direct relationship between heat and form, the chlorophyll reacts and the sugar ripens. Where that becomes a problem is in phenolic ripening, which takes 163 days to ripen. If people try to leave it on the vine longer the acidity drops, which is why people over oak things, and the fruit should not be that woody.
Q: What varietals do you produce?
A: Riboloa Giala (Rebula) is the indigenous grape we grow. For the US, we produce seven different trademark wines and we are the largest winemaker in Slovenia. We produce 450,000 9-liter cases in our production every year and we have two different winemakers.
Q: What’s your guilty pleasure drink?
A: Pina coladas, if I’m on the beach, without a doubt.