GO GROW & GROW du Monde

Sasa Spiranec about the GO GROW conference and the GROW du monde competition

In the pleasant atmosphere of the Osijek Hotel, we spoke with Sasa Spiranec about the international initiative to affirm Grasevina as one of the most esteemed varieties of wine worldwide. GROW, an acronym for Grasevina, Olaszrizling, and Welschriesling, began as a shared vision of Zoltán Győrffy from Hungary, Igor Luković from Serbia, and Sasa Spiranec from Croatia. Their passion for wine and desire to expand and promote Grasevina on the international market prompted the establishment of the GROW project. In collaboration with other wine experts, these visionaries decided to join forces to popularize Grasevina beyond the local framework and introduce it worldwide. Considering the importance of synergy and community contribution, the founders of the GROW project decided to connect with other events in Croatia. Through collaboration with existing projects such as GO Grasevina and the Grasevina Festival in Kutjevo, they created a unique event called GROW, which encompasses key events related to Grasevina. Grasevina is often overlooked outside the region where it is grown, so the founders believe it's time to change this perception.

 

To start with, how did the idea for combining the GROW de Monde wine rating – Grasevina, and the GO conference on Grasevina into the GO GROW event come about, and what motivated you to launch this initiative?

Well, to begin with, the GROW project is an international affirmation project for Grasevina. So, the word GROW itself is an acronym for Grasevina, Olaszrizling, and Welschriesling, as the three most common names for the same variety that we know as Grasevina here in Croatia. Later, in the extended name, all the other names used are listed, such as Laški Rizling, Vlaški Rizling, and so on. That's the idea behind GROW, to popularize Grasevina as a variety in collaboration with the other founders: Zoltán Győrffy from Hungary, Igor Lukovic from Serbia, and myself (Sasa Spiranec, author's note). The three of us have been working in the world of wine for many years, we know each other well, and each of us holds a respected position in our respective countries, so we decided to join forces and try to expand and promote Grasevina in the broader international market, rather than allowing it to remain a local variety. That's the case in every Grasevina-producing country. Everywhere, it's, in a way, a local variety.

As part of the aforementioned GROW project, we also organized the GROW du Monde evaluation. This evaluation is nomadic in nature. The idea is that every year we go to another producer country to promote the Grasevina variety in those countries and show people around the world what kinds of wines can be produced from this variety. This year, Croatia is the host, the first year it was Serbia, next will be Hungary, and we are currently in negotiations with the Czech Republic and Austria for the fourth year in a row.

Since this is only the second year of the GROW event, it made sense for us to connect with other events in Croatia, as we are looking for synergy, not personal gain or profit. Our goal is a project that will contribute to the community and the wine industry of the countries where the event is held. For this reason, we contacted existing projects, including the GO Graševina project, as well as winemakers from Kutjevo and their Grasevina Festival and Grasevina rating project. We proposed that this year we merge these events into one to achieve synergy. They agreed with this proposal, so we combined all the key events related to Grasevina into a joint project – GROW, the Grasevina Festival in Kutjevo, and GO GROW in Osijek.

 

You mentioned the goals of this event. Could you summarize what is the aim and task of such popularization of Grasevina?

Of course, results never come overnight, but with persistent and consistent work, we need to work on popularizing this variety, both domestically, as that is also very important, and abroad. At home, it's important because somehow we have forgotten that Grasevina was the most esteemed variety in history, but over time it lost its popularity due to changing trends. Despite that, it is still the most popular in terms of sales and representation. In each of the countries that produce Grasevina, we need to work on the domestic market, and when we bring in global authorities who taste, rate, and give their opinion about this wine, and if it is rated highly, this will help us achieve a better position for Graševina in the market and at home. Also, our goal is to acquaint the world with Grasevina. For the wider public, Grasevina is an anonymous variety that only wine experts know. People outside the wine scene are unfamiliar with this variety. Here's an example: a few years ago, I spoke with a large German supermarket chain that decided to import Grasevina and offer it for sale, expecting it to be in demand due to the large number of our people in Germany. However, the sales were poor, so they eventually gave up selling it and removed it from their range. This is precisely the main task of this project: to make Grasevina known to people outside the countries where it is grown. We want it to become recognizable and well-known to a wider circle of people. We can say that one goal is to stabilize its status at home, and the other goal is to make it known and recognizable worldwide.

 

We heard about the importance of popularizing Grasevina as a variety abroad. Can you tell us about its importance for Croatia, especially for the viticultural region of Slavonia and the Danube area?

Grasevina is extremely important both for the Slavonia and Danube region, where it is most produced, and for the whole of Croatia. Grasevina should be key to winemaking in Croatia, and all relevant factors, from politics to science, should recognize its potential and get involved in its popularization. It should be the driving force of the entire wine sector in Croatia. I understand that it may not be too interesting in Istria, Dalmatia, or hilly Croatia because these regions have their indigenous varieties. However, for Croatia to become recognized in the world, it is necessary for one wine to become seriously popular. Here's a parallel: Austria managed to establish Grüner Veltliner on the world market, and after that, all other Austrian wines started to sell – Sauvignon, Blaufränkisch, Chardonnay, etc. The same situation is with New Zealand, which became known for its Sauvignon Blanc, and now everything that comes from New Zealand is being purchased – Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay. So, Croatia needs a locomotive, and Grasevina is an ideal locomotive because it can offer the best price-quality ratio that will be attractive to the wider market. Malvasia wines are too expensive, especially the basic versions, and Pošip as well. All other white varieties are available in too small quantities to be relevantly placed on the wider market. Therefore, if Croatia managed to place and affirm Grasevina on the international scene, it would become a locomotive that would pull the entire Croatian winemaking and make Croatia a popular source of good and quality wines.

 

What makes Grasevina so significant that it could assume such a role in the world?

The price-quality ratio, along with the quantity, makes Grasevina exceptionally significant. Also, in the areas where it's produced, it has a quality that hardly any variety can achieve, or rather, a balance. Thirdly, Grasevina is a variety that can mature for a long time and develops beautifully over the years, becoming increasingly noble. Grasevina has a development curve that is extremely attractive when it's fresh. After it begins to lose its freshness in the second and third year, this attractiveness somewhat diminishes and many plan to consume it before this. However, from the fourth year onwards, Grasevina begins to grow and develop noble aromas. Honeyed aromas, pear aromas, and a rich spectrum of floral notes appear. In older, mature Grasevina, various transformations occur and a wide range of aromas are born, making it extremely attractive as a great gastronomic wine. So, Grasevina as a variety has a firm foothold in quality and price like few other varieties.

 

Grasevina is most commonly associated with spritzers and gemišt, less so as an ambitious wine. What are its, so to speak, hidden qualities? How do you enjoy it?

Grasevina has always been a type of wine that people who love wine enjoy drinking. Personally, when July comes and the heat starts, I can't find a refreshment more quality than a spritzer or gemišt. Beer only makes me thirstier, and juices are very filling. For me, gemišt, made with lower-alcohol wine, is the ideal refreshment during the summer and the hottest days. So, I don't drink spritzers and gemišt during other parts of the year, only in the summer, because that's the only thing that doesn't make me sweaty, yet refreshes me at the same time. So I love gemišt and spritzer as drinks and have nothing bad to say about Grasevina as a variety because it is most commonly consumed in this way. However, Grasevina as a more ambitious wine, which comes from mature and healthy grapes with good preparation, can be an outstanding wine that can measure up to any other white wine. What Graševina has, which few other varieties have except for perhaps Riesling, is the ability to provide beautiful wines in a late harvest. When you harvest a late sauvignon, the acids drop, and the wine becomes flat and unattractive. The same applies to Chardonnay and other white varieties - they have to be harvested at the right time when they are optimally ripe, taking care not to become overripe. This is not the case with Graševina. You can let it ripen and then it reveals its new face, and that is one of the qualities and characteristics of this variety. Riesling also has this, perhaps Furmint, but I don't know what other variety can play in this area of rich, creamy, beautifully colored wines with mature floral aromas. Grasevina is a very capable variety that has many arguments and can express itself as a fresh, light wine, but it can also provide all of the above, which only a few varieties can offer.

 

How were the participants of the wine evaluation selected, and how many samples were evaluated this year?

The wine judges for the GROW du Monde were primarily international. Only one judge was from Croatia. We also made an effort to have at least one, and at most two, judges from each wine-producing country. We had judges from Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, and of course, Croatia. Once we filled that quota, we selected judges from potential markets for Grasevina, such as the UK, the US, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland. We chose experts, some of them are Master Sommeliers, some with WSET diplomas, and some are long-standing journalists with proven abilities in quality wine assessment. In total, we gathered 20 very qualified judges from around the world, mostly from Europe and one from the US.

 

And finally, how do you see the future of Grasevina as a variety on both domestic and foreign markets and what are the challenges it faces?

There aren't many challenges. Theoretically, the biggest challenge could be the name of the variety. Each country has its own name, which differs quite a bit, making it harder to memorize and recognize worldwide. This is a real challenge and I assume that most likely what will happen is that one name will prevail over the other names which will become synonyms for that variety. For instance, Jancis Robinson chose "Grasevina" as the primary name, and all other names are becoming synonyms for this variety in her book "Wine Grapes". This is a good step because the name "Grasevina" doesn't suggest it has anything to do with Riesling, while all other versions of the name suggest it is some sort of Riesling or that it is related to Riesling, although it really isn't. Therefore, other names have some connotations that are not acceptable. So, I could say that the name is a challenge for the future of Grasevina. Another challenge would be persistent work on promotion, focusing on two or three markets in a ten-year plan, to avoid energy dissipation and focus on repeating activities on those markets until people accept Grasevina as an exceptionally high-quality variety.

Exhibitors listed in alphabetical order

Winery Antunovic

Winery Baza i Djurcic

Belward Pincészet

Belward Winery is a young winery from Hungary that has completed 15 years of operation. They emphasize that the winery's employees are also young people. Speaking of the terroir from which their Grasevina grows, they highlight that the soil gives Grasevina very fruity and citrus notes, with a refreshing character.

Belje Wines

Belje introduces us to an award-winning Grasevina which is in an affordable price range. Its uniqueness lies in a full taste and lightness, but at the same time it maintains freshness, making it an absolute favorite and giving it a touch of elegance. Although it's not a typical wine, it possesses a rounded image and can satisfy a wide range of palates that prefer fresh and fruity wines.

Winery Buhac

Buhac Winery presents a Grasevina that they describe as drinkable, light, and fresh. As for the terroir, it is somewhat different from what is specific to the Ilok region; their position has slightly acidic soil, while in Ilok, slightly alkaline soils prevail mostly. Thanks to this, their Grasevina is a bit fresher with slightly higher acidity.

Winery Consul

Consul Winery is a winery located in Vetovo, Kutjevo. The vineyards extend over 12 hectares in one piece, bordered by hills and a forest on the slopes of Krndija Mountain. This location nourishes them with moisture and a breeze, while simultaneously protecting them from storms. The vineyards are between 10 and 20 years old and are planted in parts of the Požega Valley, in an area where the Romans once cultivated their vineyards. Hence comes the name of the winery 'Consul,' and the slogan is 'Following the paths of Roman tradition.' Among the varieties, Grasevina and Zweigelt are the most represented, while Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are represented in smaller quantities.

Djakovo Wines

Erdut vineyards

Erdut Vineyards emphasize that their wines are unique for their aim to be fresh, fruity, and recognizable by the minerality and freshness that their terroir provides. They strive to ensure the vineyard provides the best conditions to yield the healthiest grapes. This is achieved by choosing the right moment for harvest and using technology that encompasses everything from pressing to controlled fermentation. Today, they present Grasevina from the 2022 harvest, as well as Traminer, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir, Blanc de Noir, and Chardonnay varieties.

Gáspár Pincészet

Winery Kalazic

The owner of Kalazic Wines from the Baranja wine region says that he would always recognize Baranja Grasevina, given the soil from which the vine grows and the taste it produces. In his opinion, it is the best Grasevina in the world, and since he is not from Baranja, he believes he has even more right to claim that. Grasevina reflects itself through exceptionally high complexity, with a wide organoleptic spectrum of aromas and scents. It's interesting how it changes from year to year. On the label of their "Silver" line, they put a chamomile flower, since in some years the wine has a fine, mild taste of chamomile. In some years, the scent of acacia flower can be felt, and each year brings its uniqueness. Sometimes it's a combination of scents. It is rich in taste and always with a relatively high percentage of alcohol, which means it's hard to get Grasevina with less than 13 percent alcohol.

Winery Kaptol

Kaptol Winery presents Grasevina from the Kutjevo wine region. The specificity of their Grasevina, considering the terroir, is reflected in a refined freshness and recognizable notes of linden flower, slightly mown grass, and green apple. This light breeziness makes their Grasevina recognizable.

Winery Kast

Kast Winery, whose name stems from a combination of the names of brother and sister, Katarina and Stjepan Kočalija, continues a tradition started by their grandfather, who is the oldest living winemaker. The year 2022 marked their first harvest.

Winery Kutjevo

The representative of Kutjevo winery presents Grasevina that, he says, has a special taste precisely because of the terroir of the Kutjevo area, since Kutjevo is the cradle of Grasevina. They offer a variety of Grasevina, from young wines, superior to premium wines, and even aged wines and blends with Grasevina. Overall, Grasevina represents about 90% of their production.

Winery Marcota

Marcota Winery comes from central Slavonia, through which the 45th parallel passes, from the area of Slavonian highlands in Kutjevo, Požega, and Pleternica, which represent a basin of world-renowned Grasevina. The soil is sandy loam, but rich in potassium, which results in a pronounced minerality of the wine. There are Grasevina wines from western Slavonia, Zagorje and Medjimurje, where the acids may be more pronounced, as well as Grasevina wines from Ilok and Baranja which may have lower acidity. Our wines, however, fall somewhere in between, making our Grasevina wines always balanced and harmonious. Therefore, our position is mainly characterized by Grasevina wines that are balanced, fine, and harmonious.

Winery Papak

The representative of Vina Papak Winery states that Ilok is known for the cultivation and production of Grasevina and she believes that over 50% of the cultivated varieties are indeed Grasevina. They present us with three types of Grasevina - a quality Grasevina Classic from 2022, Grasevina Radosh from the premium line Radosh from 2021, and the predicate Grasevina late harvest of dried berries from 2015. She emphasized that Grasevina has an exceptionally large potential, that it is a beautiful variety and that it really can be used in various ways. Grasevina is not always the one that is drunk by the liter and used for spritzers; it can be extremely pleasant to the palate in taste and aroma. She expressed satisfaction that they could come with precisely three types of Grasevina to show all the splendor that this variety can offer its tasters.

Winery Perak

Perak Winery from Kutjevo presents a Grasevina that comes from the Kutjevo region, which in itself is a specific terroir, according to their representative, and is the most suitable and favorable for the cultivation of Grasevina in Slavonia. Although every Grasevina in Slavonia has its characteristics, he believes that Grasevina in Kutjevo yields among the best results.

Winery Skoro

Skoro Winery notes that their soils are clayey, retaining moisture very well during the dry summer months. High temperatures can pose a problem, but despite this, the soil produces very good wines. The yields are smaller, but the wines are exceptionally good, aromatic, and harmonious.

Winery Sontacchi

The Sontacchi Winery is presenting Grasevina from the Kutjevo vineyard. The winery representative states that all Grasevina wines from Kutjevo are distinguished by a pronounced minerality and the aroma of white fruit. Their Grasevina wines are produced as completely dry, that is, they balance between alcohol and acidity. They produce one variant as fresh and another variant that is rarer.

Winery Siber

Siber Wines from Erdut is presenting their Grasevina which, considering the terroir, demonstrates typical characteristics of Grasevina. In the finish, a slightly bitter taste can be perceived, along with the aroma of green apple, pear, vineyard peach, and in the mouth, the minerality can be noticed which is a result of the presence of the Danube and chernozem.

Winery Suza Baranje

Kolar Cellars from Suza in Baranja emphasize that each type of soil carries certain qualities for specific varieties. They proudly stated that the soils in Baranja provide excellent conditions for the development of every variety, thus allowing them to achieve top results in wine production. The market dictates which types of wines they will produce. Their assortment covers everything, from dry and semi-dry to semi-sweet and sweet wines, such as the selected harvest of Grasevina. Last year was such that they were able to produce a wine that might not be possible to produce for the next five years. Grasevina is their main variety, but besides it, they also have other varieties that are also well represented, sell excellently, and are very pleasant for consumption.

Winery Tri medje i oblak

Winery Trivanovic

Winery Verkat

The Verkat Winery from Fruska Gora is owned by the Vrkatic sisters. Their annual production fluctuates between 15,000 and 20,000 liters of wine. They are unique in that they have the only plantation of Istrian Malvasia in Serbia and on Fruska Gora. Regarding the soil from which the Grasevina vine grows and how it reflects on its taste, they say that the terroir for Grasevina is fantastic because it produces exceptionally mineral wines with very good acids. When the year and climatic conditions are good and allow for quality grapes to be obtained, the result will also be a quality wine.

Winery Vincic

The representative of the Vinčić Winery from Molovine near Sid says that their Grasevina comes from a 52-year-old vineyard and grows on soil that is a mix of loam and impoverished chernozem. However, the roots of this plant penetrate much deeper into the depths of Fruska Gora, from where it takes its minerality. This characteristic gives their wines layering, strength, and sustainability.

Winery Vinum

Winery Zelna

Zelna Winery from Hungary is a family winery that cultivates 17 hectares of vineyards. They are focused on Grasevina (olaszrizling), which is their primary variety. Their vineyards are located near Lake Balaton, where the most fertile land in Hungary is found. It is claimed that a different type of soil could be found every hundred meters. Red soil with limestone and volcanic soil give the wine special notes, so they planned the vineyard planting according to the type of soil. They harvest the grapes separately and produce two or three different versions of wine from those plantings each year.