Serbian wine story with Gvozden Radenković
In this interview session of EuroTribe, I am pleased to have the opportunity to interview Gvozden Radenković, who is the Head of the Vineyard-Growers and Wine Producers` Association of Serbia. Before you start reading this interview on Serbian wine, be sure to check their official website too.
1. What is a typical “Day in the life” of a Serbian winemaker?
It’s a hard working day. There is only one month in a year when growers and winemakers have no work in the wine cellar or in the vineyard, and it is January. Pruning of the vineyard starts in February, and we have many operations to undertake until the September harvest. The work does not end there. Until year’s end we devote ourselves to creating a new wine.
2. What is the biggest hurdle for the wine business today in Serbia?
The obstacles are numerous. Our country went through 20 years of terrible political turmoil and economic shock, which led to the devastation of vineyards and destruction of large industrial wineries. The gaping hole in the market has slowly been filled with the emergence of small boutique wineries. The problem is that the State institutions offer hardly any help to this branch. The signing of various international agreements opened our market to uncontrolled import of wines from all over the world, from countries with national strategies regarding wine that is being hyper-produced with extremely low production costs. Our own product has thus become uncompetitive even in the domestic market, let alone abroad. Having said this, you can only imagine the situation with the export.
3. What are the challenges that wine makers are facing? Is it finding right people and training them, logistic issues or something else?
In the first place, wine makers and growers are dependent on atmospheric conditions. It is, as we say, a kind of industrial plant under the open sky. It may be that some years bring a poorer quality of grapes, some years bring better, and some years can pass without even a harvest. All these other problems you listed are present because this branch of industry has not been taken care of for years. Besides the present lack of staff, there are many other problems, such as difficult collection of receivables. However, it is the problem we face in our market in all segments of the economy.
4. Nowadays, consumers are more aware of prices, so how can wine be a competitor to other types of alcohol?
It is a very tough struggle. Producers of spirits and beer, because of its massive sales have large marketing budgets, and even the strong global wine brands have difficulties to cope with such a strong campaign. In our country, it is even more difficult because small wine producers have almost no marketing budgets and the low purchasing power of the market dictates higher consumption of cheaper products.
5. You’ve mentioned that only 50% of the Serbian wines can be found in restaurants. What is the key for this solution? Should we as the citizens opt for a Serbian wine next time we go to a restaurant or is it up to the owners of these objects to include more domestic wines?
I’m afraid you have misunderstood me. I said it the Ministry of Commerce should adopt a law that would make sure that wine lists in restaurants feature at least 50% of domestic brands. We had this law a long time ago and this is nothing new. Moreover, similar practice is present in the neighboring countries that produce wine and thus protect their product.
6. What has been the greatest achievement of the association so far?
Our association has existed for only five years. But we are proud to have participated in the adoption of the new wine law. We are also the organizers of a major international fair, held in Belgrade, as well as of several local wine events. We actively try to introduce Serbian winemakers to various international institutions, as well as to gather and organize easier export to foreign markets.
7. Which markets will you be focusing in the future?
As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately, now we are not competitive in the markets of Western Europe. The reason for this is not the quality of our wine, as there are prestigious awards won by our manufacturers on world competitions in recent years to prove that we have an excellent product. The reason for this lies only in the high production costs in Serbia, due to the absence of any government support and subsidies. For this reason we are forced to turn to the markets of the former Soviet Union and China. They are interested in our wines and they can accept our prices, but in these markets we have a problem with large quantities they need, and that we don’t have.
8. How do you see the ideal collaboration with the Ministry of Economy?
In the past five years, the Ministry of Economy has helped us a lot in mapping wine routes in Serbia and installing proper traffic signals. This has helped increase interest of consumers for wine tourism and cellar tours, which in turn directly influenced the increase in sales at the site. I hope that in the upcoming period, the ministry will continue with the same and greater efforts to promote wine tourism.
9. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Only a bottle of an excellent Serbian wine
Gvozden, thank you so much for giving us some of your time to take part in this interview!