Where's the Wine?
In ancient Greece wine was considered a gift from the Gods, and many ancient cultures had there own specific Gods of wine and drinking. Well I have never needed a theological or spiritual excuse to drink alcohol myself but have long enjoyed a good glass of wine (or two, or three...). Anyway while I am no connoisseur of the grape, one of the first surprises I had when I came to Slovenia was discovering how great some of this country's wines were. Like many I have routinely shared this 'secret' with my family and friends back home with well-chosen gifts of particular bottles on every return visit to the Mother country. While appreciation of good wine may be a universally shared experience, like most Brits my early encounters with wine left a lot to desire. While we may now be one of the largest consumers of wine in the European Union, the choice and range of wines has only been as broad and varied as it is now for just over a decade. Like countless numbers of my generation my early memories of wine were of shockingly awful, low-quality, German reisling that accompanied 'special occasions' such as Christmas Dinner, birthday celebrations and so forth. For years in the 1970s and early 1980s 'Liebfraumilch' was the family choice. This was supplanted in the mid 1980s by a staggeringly ordinary ros' wine from Portugal that came in a very unusually shaped bottle (that would later serve as an impromptu candleholder). Thankfully all this changed as the 1980s brought with it the Yuppie generation, and with them a proliferation of wine bars that eventually brought decent wine to the masses. Today almost every British supermarket (regardless of how small or large) will have a pretty impressive range of affordable wines from across the world: Argentina, Australia, California, France, Hungary, Italy, South Africa and so on... but search high and low and there is a surprising absence of Slovenian wines? Long a mystery to me I decided to find out why? Well firstly the overwhelming majority of Slovene wine is produced for domestic consumption, with the majority of this produced for personal consumption. Consequently while the country produces a little less than 100 million litres of wine each year, only 12 million litres is exported. Since under communism everybody was permitted to own up to 10ha (25 acres) of land, many people produced their own wine -- a trend that continues to this day. Of the wine that is exported about half goes to other EU countries, with the rest mainly going to Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia due to traditional ties, connections and the established recognition of various labels. Clearly Slovenia is too small to compete against the mass produced wines of both the 'Old World' (France, Italy etc) and the 'New' (Australia, Chile, South Africa). However as a string of successes at international wine competitions shows, Slovene producers can carve an interesting niche for themselves in the quality wine market, especially as the country's geographical diversity and varied climatic conditions make for such a wide choice of wine. So if this is the case, why are we not seeing an expansion of quality wine production and export? Well its not that simple! You see membership of the European Union also acts as an obstacle to Slovenian wine production. Under EU rules the planting of new vines is actually banned until 2010 (except in very special cases). Ostensibly this policy was designed to prevent the over-production of wine that producer subsidies had encouraged during the 1970s and 1980s, and which led to the infamous EU 'wine-lakes'. It was also designed to 'preserve' the quality of European wine, by encouraging producers to invest in new equipment and new farming methods to allow them to secure higher market prices. Critics however argue that the rules are really designed to protect the established European producers, such as France and Italy, from newer ones. Already suffering from the impact of competitors in the 'New World', the argument goes that the 'Gauloises-smoking' wine lobby in France pressed hard to ensure that the production of wine in the then accession states would be limited once they joined the EU. So whether Slovenes 'keep the best wine to themselves', 'do not produce enough for export', or whether its the fault of Brussels bureaucrats and the Common Agricultural Policy, the fact remains that for the immediate future I will still have to continue to take my favourite Slovene wines back to England for my friends to enjoy. Cheers!