Give Croatian Wines a D.O.!
At the end of 2012’s summer, the tubes of the internet will be flush with brand new “Croatian wine” articles which is a cycle that has been repeating itself since social media fired up around 2006. In the ebb and flow of this digital tide, these articles wash up, are seen for a little bit and then wash away.
Part of the reason you see so many articles is that in general, many wine regions in Europe have really been pushing and investing in creating buzz (although you could easily call it noise) around them. Part of this is to try and attract tourists, although wading through the mass of everything that is online to plan your holidays is beyond anyone’s abilities anymore. Another part of it is to try and gain international attention for a region like Croatia where domestic demand has fallen, upwards of 40%.
There are a multitude of problems with this approach, but the primary aspect to it is that Croatia needs a large, unified, most likely, governmental wine and food body to handle the promotion, direction and (sane) regulation of their domestic agriculture products. This is in lieu of the various, fragmented, private endeavors, that have taken place to date–the most problematic of which are by those who don’t even live in Croatia.
But is it official?
You see, Croatia doesn’t have an AOC or DO body like France, Italy, Portugal and Spain do. Yes, there’s the “Department of Viticulture and Enology” at the “Croatian Center for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs” (or “Hrvatski centar za poljoprivredu, hranu i selo”). But, in addition to DVECCAFRA (or HCPHS) not having a terribly nice ring to it, it also doesn’t function in the way that a Denomination of Origin body does which is to work closely with small regions in the countries to regulate and promote their wines, as well as foods.
Many, many winemakers and importers I know curse and outright despise the Croatian Tourism Board. They don’t find them promoting enotourism or other forms of tourism beyond that of laying on a beach, soaking in the sun of Croatia’s 1,200+ islands. It’s a worthwhile complaint and while I’m not their biggest fan either, I side with the tourism board. Their job is not to promote the wine industry per se as that would be where the currently non-existent DO regulatory body comes in to play.
As cheesy as it is, the DO of La Mancha in Spain has branded itself around the image of Don Quixote. Those in Empordà are promoting themselves as a group around their “wines from the wind” allusion to the Tramuntana that binds them together. When you mention Dalmatian wines (just one region of Croatian wines) to most people they’ll probably think of either the spotted dogs or, if they’re really knowledgeable, the Civil War in the early 1990’s. Mention Istria, Slavonia, or any of the other regions and you’ll get a blank face as there is no wine narrative being developed in Croatian by a central regulatory body.
Yes, this is happening at a private, fragmented level (especially with social media and but also with random conferences), but this is solely due to this gap in official, unified support vs. private enterprise. These third party private endeavors are problematic as the expectations rise greatly between them and the winemakers. Those making the wine think a few bottles handed out will promote their wines internationally and they’ll profit by getting placed in these markets, especially the US.
But, it doesn’t work like this. Private people don’t have the budget of something like a DO body nor do they have the regulatory power that such an organization has, especially if they’re at odds with one another and competing for the same, limited eyeballs. For instance, examples of campaigns I came up with while writing this could be “Istria: Undiscovered Italy” or “Dalmatia: The Adriatic’s Wines”. On no level would I ever propose for anyone to make these campaigns, but at the same time, the amount of resources needed to brand, design, and promote them are beyond the means of any individual and you need some over-arching civic body to take this on unless of course you’re a millionaire and just feel like spending money on it.
In the current arrangement, everything ends up being frustrating for all parties involved when things don’t turn out as all had hoped and there is this scattered narrative about Croatian products across old, new, and social media. Also, it puts a private individual in the position of being the “official” person for all sorts of information that they have to chase down from winemakers. In the official version, the winemaker would be required to have all that on file with a governmental agency if one were to exist. For instance if I want to know all the wines produced within the DO Empordà in Catalonia, Spain (or any Spanish region for that matter), I can go to their office and have them compile it for me, albeit with a bit of a grumbling probably. I don’t have to go to all 50 wineries in the region individually to get the same information.
Even more important is that I can ask the history of say, Grenache or other grapes in the region. No one ever seems to get small facts correct about Croatian wines like Plavac Mali being the resulting cross of Crljenak and Dobričić.
Reading your own press
Sure, Bourdain’s visit to Croatia last year gave an injection of attention to the wine and gastronomy and stood out from the vast dump of information that’s online, but again it was a private venture and there was no official voice thus making it more about entertainment than being factual. If you watch this video, you’ll see a much more true summary of what Bourdain experienced that was naturally left out of the broadcast on the Travel Channel.
There are a handful of smaller, domestic groups trying to say what needs say, but if all the noise that currently surrounds Croatian wine isn’t tamed and channeled from some concerted, unified source, they’ll get drowned out and the same cliché articles about the same 10 wineries (who have privately sought out their own PR) are going to keep banging around the social media echo chamber.