Saturday, July 18, 2009

Story of a modern wine cellar

In the idyllic landscape covered with vineyards and old vineyard cottages of the Škalce vineyard estate, spreading over 100 hectares of hills surrounding Slovenske Konjice, we spoke to Mr. Janez Lešnik, Director of Zlati grič d.o.o., who says he rarely goes on holiday. He combines his rest, relaxation, passion and professional mission in his "chest of experience” - as he likes to call Zlati grič.

This year, he concluded a large, bold and advanced investment – the construction of a complete wine cellar with 3,477 m2 of modern facilities, which are mostly located underground. This investment of over 5 million euros (partially financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development) is an important step in the development of the wine industry in Slovenia and specifically in the Štajerska region. At the same time, the wine cellar importantly adds to the tourist offer of the region.

Who is Janez Lešnik?
At first contact, he immediately emanates immense spirit, a desire to create and act positively, and a love towards the local environment. The conversation was underlined by his concern for the social wellbeing of the people around him, awareness of the great significance of the company in the local environment, understanding of the importance of flexibility and the ability to change, and his great love for his work.

View on the new wine cellar

VB: What led you to the decision to make this investment?
JL: Continued existence of the company. We were almost forced to start this project as we found ourselves in an unfavourable situation and we had to make a choice – either to make a step forward or to gradually go under.
After Slovenia's declaration of independence we lost many assets, including a part of the wine cellar through denationalisation claims. At the same time, we were gradually becoming the worst equipped wine cellar with completely outdated technology. We underwent a painful separation from the cooperative and operated as a limited liability company with no property of our own until 2002. If you don’t own something, you do not invest in it. However, we did have a development vision we had adopted as early as 1993 and now, after sixteen years we are implementing it successfully.

VB: What sort of value does Zlati grič create for its customers?
JL: Zlati grič is not merely a wine production enterprise. We invest a great amount of effort in marketing the destination itself with a strategic goal of selling 30% of wine on-site, at the Škalce estate in the next 3 to 5 years.
As I said, we are not merely wine growers. We are building a complete tourist offer – one based on experiencing the destination. The Škalce estate with its 100 hectares offers its guests a golf course amidst the idyllic vineyards, and just above them, catering at the Grič restaurant in a renovated vineyard cottage. We also offer accommodation in three (highest standard) apartments in the 15th century vineyard mansion.
Since our guests are mostly very demanding we also started producing high quality sparkling wines, which for example found their way to official protocol events during the Slovenian presidency of the EU.
Our aim is to make use of technological and natural opportunities and nurture wines for the most demanding connoisseurs of fine wines at home and abroad. Simultaneously, we endeavour to include the cultural heritage of the Dravinja valley and environmentally friendly food production. Thus, our offer includes dessert apples, natural apple juice, the characteristic blueberry liqueur and the natural traditionally produced apple vinegar, marketed under our trademark “Sadno”. Even winegrowers, cellar owners and fruit producers can find something for themselves in our agro-technical store.

Violeta Bulc and Janez Lešnik

- 74 hectares of vineyards
- White wines: Konjičan, Laški rizling, Renski rizling, Sivi pinot Beli pinot, Traminec, Chardonnay-izbor, Renski rizling-pozna trgatev
- Red wines: modra frankinja, Rose Modra frankinja
- 30,000 bottles of white and rose sparkling wine per year
- Capacity of the basement: 1.3 million liters
- 27 ha orchards
- 800 tonnes / year in dessert apples (Elstar, Zlati delišes, Idared, Jonagold, Gloster)
- 15 ha golf course (9 holes)
- 6 vineyard cottages (of which 3 apartments)
- 5.2 million € investment in the wine cellar with the most modern equipment, that announces a new styles of wine
- 1.13 € of EU funding
- In 1994, with the 1st Knights wine, Slovenske Konjice were nemed as the town of wine

VB: What sort of people do you surround yourself with to be able to develop this success story?
JL: I am working within a marvellous team without which all such projects would be destined to fail. Initially, there were some doubts and uncertainties, even unsuitable attitude towards our products and the environment, but through encouragement of development of individuals things started to go in the right direction. We would, for example, board a bus on Friday morning and go on a two-day excursion to, say, Alsace to tour successfully managed land and cellars and learn from examples of best practices. Thus, our workers could personally experience the importance of good management of land and what a successful cellar should feel like. Today, I can say without doubt that the whole collective strongly supports the efforts invested in Zlati grič.

VB: How do you plan to ensure sustainable innovation? What is your vision of tomorrow?
JL: We intend to upgrade the destination with additional accommodation facilities (40 to 50 beds) and invest more effort in meeting the needs of individual guest and their complete experience of the Dravinja valley. As an organisation, we want to maintain good communication with the local environment and continue to nurture the sense of social well-being.

The diversity of offer, the carefully monitored steps of the production process, the meeting of the needs of customers, the modern architecture interwoven with over 800 years of tradition and the confident steps towards the future with social responsibility always in mind – this is innovation in the form of a destination that can be experienced at Zlati grič. We hope their originality and courage will result in benefits for the company and the local environment. Best wishes!

An interview done by Mojca Štepic and Violeta Bulc on 30th of June 2009.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Slovenian cardiologists follow global trends

Technology frequently expands the borders of what is possible even in the services sector. Medicine is one of the fields where technology has helped move the boundaries of what is possible in the recent years.

Below, we introduce Matjaž Bunc, a cardiologist from the Department of Cardiology at the University Medical Centre Ljubljana (UMC) who a few days ago conducted a procedure regarded as one of the highest achievements in contemporary cardiology.

An internist specialised in cardiology. Working at the UMC in Ljubljana. Further specialised in interventional cardiology. Participant in the programme of treatment of progressive heart failure.

He holds double professorship at the Faculty of Medicine: he is an associate professor of Pathophysiology and Internal Medicine. He is respected by his students for his ability to deliver his subjects in a clear and concise manner and the ability of interconnecting and understanding the interdependence of various fields.

He is an excellent diagnostician and practitioner. Researcher, sportsman and father, he is a man with a view of the future and a heart in the service of people. At 40 years of age, he is the protagonist of the implementation of a new procedure for treatment of aortic valve stenosis.

More about Dr. Bunc’s professional career …

Dr. Bunc
Source: personal archive

VB: What is your primary personal focus?
MB: I am interested in the mechanisms of problems and the logic of treating them: medicamental therapy, reviewing insufficiently explored mechanisms of treating illnesses, new approaches to treatment of illnesses that have been familiar for a long time, e.g. aortic valve stenosis, etc. I believe in a comprehensive, holistic approach in medicine, therefore I do not limit myself to cardiology in my research work. I cooperate with other specialists, both in planning of the research and in assessment of the results.

VB: Please describe the importance of the achievement of a few days ago at the Clinical Department of Cardiology at the UMC.
MB: We implemented the first percutaneous implantation of an aortic valve. This means that patients with aortic valve stenosis who cannot be subjected to the classical surgical procedure now have the possibility of implantation of aortic valve prosthesis.

VB: This is one of the key achievements in modern cardiology. How did you achieve this important breakthrough?
MB: After the first successful implantation procedure performed in 2002 in France and the official presentation of the first five patients in 2004, we started to follow the development of the method systematically. Initially, it was tested in selected research centres around the world and in January 2007 the method was first transferred to commercial centres around Europe which had to satisfy very strict criteria. Out of 100 interested European centres we were selected as one of the first six commercial centres to implement what had previously been only a study method. This was followed by a period of fulfilling formal requirements in the local environment (approvals by the ethical committee, various expert groups and the UMC’s Expert Council). Simultaneously, we performed the appropriate training and prepared the logistics for commencement of the programme. The team at the UMC was prepared for the first implantation in August 2008, but commencement of the project was postponed until 2009 due to procedural reasons.

Dr. Bunc during the procedure
Source: personal archive

VB: How did you transmit the information to the interested patients?
MB: Earlier this year, we started informing various medical institutions about the process of implementing the method. Simultaneously, we performed a selection of suitable patients according to very strict criteria. The conditions of some of the patients did not allow waiting for the foreseen implantation; therefore we revived the method of treating the aortic valve with balloon dilatation. According to years of experience, this method provides a temporary improvement which is in most cases sufficient for the patients to wait for the suitable more effective treatment.

VB: Was the selection of patients left to you or are there other, external controls?
MB: In these initial stages of implementing the method we are cooperating with the manufacturer of the valve in selecting the patients, primarily to ensure their safety but also to allow ourselves the time to build up the necessary confidence. The manufacturer performs the final assessment of the suitability of the method for the proposed patients. They also perform additional control in the procedure implementation phase through the presence an instructor (proctor) who supervises the entire process during the first few implantations.
Implantation of the valve prosthesis with the simplified procedure of inserting it through the blood vessel has already been performed on 6000 patients across the globe. Based on the positive results, the procedure is increasingly being implemented in the daily cardiologic practice.
Matjaž Bunc and Violeta Bulc during the interview
Source: Vibacom archive

VB: Your case is an example of implementing an important innovation into the surgical practice. Who is it for?
MB: At the current levels of technology and treatment techniques the method is intended for patients with aortic valve stenosis who are not suitable for the surgical procedure. Primarily, these are older patients.

VB: What is the value of your procedure for the patients?
MB: Many of them can enjoy the improved quality of life with less frequent occurrences of fainting, dizziness, suffocation and other symptoms of heart failure. They regain greater independence from their social environments. In other words, they can live full and independent lives. The procedure is also less traumatic (than surgery) for the patient as it does not involve opening the chest, which is necessary with the classical surgical procedure. Rehabilitation is shorter and they regain independence more quickly.

VB: What are the effects on the business models of hospitals?
MB: This procedure is significant for health insurance providers and hospital management. Patients entering this process of treatment formerly used to return to clinical wards due to recurrence of symptoms mentioned earlier. The procedure will make their treatment more effective, their rehabilitation shorter and enable them quicker return to their social environments.

VB: Who are the members of your team?
MB: The primary method covers both interventional cardiology and heart surgery. Thus, the preparation and implementation of such procedures requires a high degree of cooperation, exchange of knowledge and coordination between various specialists. This is one of the qualities of our team. After some initial problems we managed to find a common goal and successfully implemented the procedure in Slovenia.

Edvards-Sapien biologic valve manufactured from bovine pericardium
Source: personal archive

VB: The valve prosthesis and the procedure of implantation are an example of innovation in medicine. How do they influence the professional field today and how will they influence the future?
MB: This is an excellent example of integration of two fields. The result is a process of developing hybrid approaches to treatment of cardiovascular illnesses. The relevant method also requires new technical solutions leading to a hybrid operating room. Simultaneously with the technological development, indications for hybrid surgical procedures are being implemented with the aim of achieving the best medical results with the least traumatic procedures. In short, this innovation has and will significantly influence the development of our expert field.

VB: Which way forward?
MB: The development of technology is directed towards developing miniature technical solutions, appropriate for a wider range of patients and ensuring minimisation of complications due to surgical procedures. The technical development also enables the development of procedures performed through blood vessels, which means we can avoid surgical procedures and reduce the need for anaesthesia and shorten the time needed for rehabilitation.

VB: And what is the future focus of Dr. Matjaž Bunc?
MB: To seek solutions which help the patient and the health care system by providing more efficient and more patient-friendly treatment. I hope this will not be the last new method my colleagues and I implement in Slovenia. We are also investing great efforts in the development of procedures, thus expanding the global knowledge and experience base in the field of medicine, in my case – in cardiology.

Medicine is one of the fields where the boundaries of the possible are constantly expanded and where the comprehensive approach to patients opens up new procedures and solutions. The strict borders between the different specialist fields are disappearing and procedures and approaches are being adjusted and upgraded. Doctors increasingly cooperate with patients, use new technologies, and by effectively merging needs, possibilities and opportunities create innovations where they are most needed – in effective solutions for patients. Slovenia is at the global forefront, both in the development of these procedures and in their implementation. We are hoping for more similar stories.

The interview was conducted by Violeta Bulc at the beginning of July 2009.

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