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P&F steps up Slovenian wine ambitions

Slovenia’s biggest winemaker is building a reputation on the international stage despite being from “a country that no one knows, with regions no one knows and brands no one knows”, according to its managing director.

The Puklavec family, who own P&F Wineries

Because of this its winemakers “have to be better than the rest”, said Tatiana Puklavec, managing director of P&F wineries speaking to the drinks business at the World Bulk Wine Exhibition in Amsterdam this week. “This is how we are conquering markets. We are telling the story and supporting the wines by having good promotional materials”, she said of the winery’s success.

The family’s methods seem to be making an impression. Since shares in the company were bought back by the Puklavec family in 2009, P&F Wineries, based in north eastern Slovenian region of Podravje, has gone from exporting to two markets to 20. Today its wines are stocked in UK supermarkets including Tesco and Waitrose, and at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, among others. The family currently produces 6.5 million litres of wine each year, making it the largest exporter of wines in Slovenia.

However while the family has a rich history in winemaking, the winery first founded by oenologist Martin Puklavec in the 1930s, the father of its current head Vladimir Puklavec, Tatjana Puklavec admits she knew “very little” about wine after her family took back control of the winery in 2009.

Puklavec studied economics at university and had worked for more than a decade in marketing before joining P&F, which she believes has impacted on the way she operates within the wine trade.

“I was coming from a totally different background”, she said. “We are very modern, not traditional. When we started we didn’t know anything about wine. We went to conferences and it was all grey men in grey suits and we thought this is not our target market. All our friends love to drink wine so we thought we should do what we do best – producing fresh, fruity, accessible wines – not too difficult to understand but good quality. People say that it’s nice we didn’t grow up in vineyards because we understand sales. We try to understand what the markets want and see if we have a wine to fit.”

The winery currently produces six different ranges featuring grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as more local varieties such as Janzek and Furmint. This year the winery will launch a Sauvignon Blanc Traminer blend, which Puklavec describes as a “consumer wine”, sweet in style but very aromatic.

While Slovenia remains on the edges of the international wine trade, its popularity is growing, helped by the increasing quality of its wines and the fact it is still relatively undiscovered, making its wines something of a curiosity. Referring to her marketing strategy, Puklavec firmly believes that wines should be “as accessible as possible”, highlighting social media a key focus to increasing sales through consumer engagement.

“This is why the the New World became popular so quickly”, she said. “They are not wines from appellations that no one understands. I think it should not be so much about the country, but looking at having a market oriented approach.”

As Slovenia does not benefit from government funding or country-wide marketing initiatives that countries such as “Argentina, Chile or South Africa” do, Puklavec believes social media is key to generating further interest in the country.

“We have to think about how to go social”, she added. “There’s no winery that’s doing it properly. Everywhere around the world is drinking our wines so why as wineries are we not capable of making a bit more of a commitment to the consumer? Fashion brands engage much more an we just hope that somebody will buy our wines. It needs to become a bit more accessible, but it is getting better.”

Highlighting its long history, the winery also maintains an online archive of some 247,000 wines dating back to 1959, giving consumers the chance to purchase Slovenian wines dating back more than 60 years. “The wines are old but they are still vibrant and fresh”, says Puklavec.

Among its “top 10” Archive Wines is a 1959 Pinot Blanc, 1963 Sauvignon Blanc and 1964 Gewûrztraminer.

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