Ξ October 26th, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Interviews, Wine & Politics, Wine History |
A great intellectual pleasure of a nomadic wine writer is doubtless the people met around the next bend. For this traveller it was the turn I took to the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in beautiful Vienna, Austria where, among the many folks attending was one Maciej Gontarz, a young, knowledgeable wine blogger from Poland. Fast friends, with many ideas in common, he and I spent much time together during the conference discussing everything from Mondovino, the preservation of indigenous grape varieties, to the social responsibilities of the wine blogger.
We also share an interest in Portugal, an interest I like to think I played a small part in cultivating. And though his understanding of Portugal’s fascinating complexities, the depths of her historical wine culture, may now be lacking, I bring readers the good news that Maciej (pronounced Ma-Chek) will be going to Portugal this December through the generosity of ViniPortugal, a conference attendee and last year’s principle EWBC host. ViniPortugal brought along a number of well-received wines and a contest. Place your business card in a box, and if it is blindly drawn you will go the 1st Wines of Portugal International Conference from December 9th to the 11th in Oporto. Maciej’s card was drawn.
A final note: Language proved a small barrier, and so the interview to follow is marked by modest, yet real ambiguities that I hope to resolve in the coming days. (Corrections have been added since posting.)
Admin Here we are at the Schönbrunn, just outside the Orangerie, the base of operations for the European Wine Bloggers Conference. So, who are you, and what is it you do?
Maciej Gontarz I’m Marciej Gontarz. I am the owner of the site Viniculture_pl, a wine blog devoted to wine lovers in Poland.
Do you enjoy a wide readership?
MG It depends on the market. We can’t compare it to the states because you have a much bigger population of wine drinkers, but I can say that it enjoys around 3,000 unique users per month, something around this figure. But the amount of users is not, I think, that important. To me much more important is the average time spent on the website, which for mine is around 3 minutes. This is more important because even if I could have 10,000 users, if the average time spent there is 20 seconds then its clear they found nothing interesting on the website, and they’re going elsewhere. Therefore time spent on the site is more important than the total amount of users per month.
Are there many Polish wine bloggers?
MG I think the number of active bloggers, those who treat wine more seriously, is about 10. It’s a tiny market, so not many wine bloggers.
About the Polish wine growing regions, are they spread throughout the country?
MG Actually, we have three main wine growing regions: The first one is Lubuskie which is close to the German border; the second one is Przelom Wisly near the city of Krakow; the third one is Podkarpackie. And I think these guys have the greatest heritage. Of course, wineries exist in many different parts of Poland. (I think it is worth mentioning that one of Polish winemaker – Piotr Stopczynski – used to work at Diamond Oaks in California.) But they are very tiny producers. The biggest one is just several hectares. But they are trying to develop their business. Even here I met one guy from the cork industry who recently had a trip around Poland and met Polish producers. He said that he is really impressed by the rapidly growing industry; but to me wine making in Poland it is much more like a hobby. This is true, I think, for the majority of them: It’s like a hobby.
Of course, there are certain obstacles to Polish wineries…
MG Yes, yes, mainly because, I think, we are not really mature in terms of even a wine drinking culture. So, the government, generally speaking, sees no reason to develop opportunities for our wineries. There are a lot of politics, of course, as it is in all countries. But here it’s really hard for them, the wineries, to have their own laboratories, for example. And the taxes to pay! At the end of the day, the price for the wine is too high. It doesn’t make any sense to buy wines from Poland. If you need to pay around €12 per bottle of Polish wine, it is completely not comparable with other wines for the same price from different parts of the world. This is a hard thing to overcome in our market.
So it’s essentially the tax burden?
MG Yes. Taxes and the costs of laboratory work.
The lab tests, are these just the routine tests required to sell in a market?
MG I am not sure. I think this obstacle has to do with needing laboratories to produce more research and to improve quality, the mark of a maturing wine culture; and this comes when you finally have larger volumes of wine to work with. Generally, they need to have a laboratory. And right now, as far as I know, some cooperatives share a wine laboratory. But I am not even sure whether this laboratory is in Poland or in Germany. The producers will most often use external resources. The simply do not have the money to build a proper laboratory; the equipment is probably too expensive.
Are there Enology and Viticulture departments in Polish universities?
MG Actually, yes. There is one winery that is part of Krakow University, it is going pretty well. But it’s not really for teaching. They have their own winery.
Where do they get their technical expertise?
MG That is a good question. I don’t know.
So it could come from France or Germany…
MG Yes. Maybe even from Hungary; it is not so far away, especially for those guys who are from the southwest of Poland. I think they might exchange their knowledge with people there.
So, given the tax burden and other obstacles Polish wineries face, what kinds of topics do you write about?
MG Well, we are an immature market, so I don’t think its really important for wine lovers in Poland to know about all the issues related to the problems of Polish wineries. Writing about such things does not give them knowledge about the world of wine. My goal is to create content for people who want to learn about wine, even basics; to know what the wine regions of the world are. It is important in Poland to teach people about wine generally speaking. Your talk today, for example, about freedoms and responsibilities of wine writers, this is the key issue: The educational aspect.
If you teach people in Poland how to drink wine, that it is something more than alcohol, they would start to drink less! Because they would start buying and trying even more expensive wines. They would try to discover what are the differences between wines that cost €8 and €50. They would discover that there is a difference, and that it is worth it to pay more and drink less. So this is the whole issue about responsibilities. Unlike the European Commissioner at your talk, he doesn’t need to show pictures of traffic accidents; there is no point to have such a discussion in terms of the wine industry. Especially in Poland with such an immature market.
Of course, in Poland we have a huge problem with alcoholism, mainly because of our history of communism. We had and have a huge vodka consumption; it was and still is very inexpensive. This is a real problem, especially in the suburbs and small villages. But we can’t merge data about wine with the data about vodka and beer. This is the key point.
What percentage, as far as you know, of the total alcohol consumed is wine? And what of hard liquor and beer? Are those the three major drinks?
MG Honestly, I don’t know. Right now, I’ve just received from friends some hard data which I will write an article about for Palate Press. They asked me to provide some research on the Polish industry for the last 20 years, to look into the differences and trends. But I will not have all the data until sometime in the future; I think in one month I will be ready.
Do you think the Polish government has such data? Or will you have to look elsewhere?
MG You know, I work in the advertisement industry, and in our industry we have a lot of research for marketing purposes. So I use that to understand the cycles of what they drink in Poland. There is research on consumer brands and preferences, for example, the type of alcohol. I would have this kind of data. And the total amount of all types of alcohols consumed, I am not sure our government would really have such data. I’m not sure.
Well, thank you, Maciej.
MG Thank you very much, Ken.
—–I encourage readers to visit Viniculture_pl. With the help of a google translator, among other translating aides, his site makes for delightful reading.
For further reading see this and this, and the Poland Wine Institute site.