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 At the same time, we were gradually becoming the worst equipped wine cellar with completely outdated technology.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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