Croatian Wine Producer Hrvoje Mežnarić: Although I’m Completely into Wine, I’m not Leaving my Hardware Store

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Hrvoje Mežnarić, a winemaker from Gornji Kneginec near Varaždin, has been known in the public for some time as a passionate cinephile. He doesn’t mind, in fact he placed his love of movies under everyone’s nose by the recent redesign of his wine packaging with excellent illustrations by a Sarajevo native living in Zagreb, Vedran Klemens. The super talented Vedran titled his drawing games “Wine-loving Management,” while on each of the six labels a poodle, frog, boar, deer, swan, owl or octopus attempts to hold a glass in their own way and enjoy good wine. The deer is dressed as a French courtier, the wild boar is doing gymnastics, the owl is a magician, the frog reminds of Charlie Chaplin, the swan is a ballerina, the poodle is taking a selfie…

Hrvoje admits that the super attractive advertisement could have easily gone in another direction.

“The creation of these labels has been underway for four years. First there were names, quotes and then in the end came this visual identity signed by Vedran Klemens. The 2015 harvest was excellent and we decided to have the labels match that level. When we began working on the new design, all the names we had created before were not in our minds. We wanted indigenous names in modernly designed garments. Then we realised all of our Zagorje adjectives are more or less of German origins, and there weren’t enough local expressions to be able to make a whole. Considering that, we decided to internationalise the story with English titles. All the names for wines we decided on had a connection, not random, going in a recognisable direction,” says Hrvoje Mežnarić.

So Chardonnay became Charm, Yellow Muscat became Precious, Pinot Noir became Marvel Noir, Sauvignon became Stellar Blanc, Green Silvanac became Savant and Rose – Rosy. On the back labels are appropriate quotes which, in Hrvoje’s words, best describe the character of the winemaker.

So Robert de Niro alias Sam Ace Rothstein from the movie Casino says with Charm: “There’s three ways to do things, the right way, the wrong way and the way that I do it…” A sentence by Chris McCandless from the movie “Into the Wild” – “Happiness is only real when shared…” is engraved on Precious, while Roger Sterling in the series Mad Men and on the label for Savant says: “My generation, we drink because it’s good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it.”

Tyrell (Joe Turkey) in Blade Runner and on the label for Stellar says: “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy,” and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) in Pulp Fiction and on the label for Rosy says: “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special when you can just shut the f**k up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.” The Joker, Heath Ledger in the movie Knight of Darkness and on the label for Marvel Noir says: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free…”

“All those movie quotes are – me! If I had to put something on the label to represent myself too, then it was most logical to reach into the cinematic world. I love music too, but have been consuming movies for decades, know something about them, know my way around them best. On the other hand, I didn’t mess with Vedran’s artistic expression at all, we agreed on several animals for the labels and gave each a name and what to emphasise on them. The only demand he had was to draw in the noir style.”

I remember reading in the Decanter that the celluloid world of wines, where there are excellent documentaries, but also romantic comedies and true dramas, is as complex as a good glass of Pinot Noir. The author, in counting the most successful movies, in the end concluded there are now more reasons beyond drinking to enjoy wine, you can now watch them too.

Naturally, most mortals can only look at wines such as Chateau Latour from 1945, which Mr. Creosote from the Meaning of My Life by Monty Python, played by Terry Jones, brings to an absurd situation ordering six bottles just with appetizers and a huge six-litre champagne…

Hrvoje Mežnarić, however, makes his wines accessible to anyone who is intrigued by his labels, and there are more every day.

“The reactions have been excellent and marketing is today the only thing that matters. Everyone sticks around the bottles and reads, even those who may not like it. It’s interesting, they spend up to 15 minutes reading the labels and remember what they saw!”

It is interesting that Hrvoje Mežnarić and the world of movies, besides passion, have no other connections. He never filmed a movie, never starred in one and I’m not sure if he ever met any of the film greats which would only cement movies as his permanent orientation, not just in his free time.

“I do have a business I live off, a hardware store, wine is not my primary thing. A winery is something that has been growing for years, only to culminate in the last couple of years. I am in love with wine! And that’s it! I will not leave the store for wine and the winery will always be something fun to enjoy. If it were to go in the direction of business, then it would be a job like any other.”

Hrvoje claims he started his wine story ten years ago. Up to then his father Franjo held the domestic wine production.

“My father was into it, we had a small cellar, 400-500 vines which gave around 1.000 litres of wine and it was great. Then father began to broaden the vineyard in the 1990s by buying neighbouring land. Now we have around 1 hectare of vineyards gained from 16 sections. The rest of the grapes for a production of 20.000 bottles we buy from other winegrowers. For those who don’t know this area, the winery is three kilometres from Varaždinske Toplice, between Jalžabet and Varaždinske Toplice, and that’s – Zagorje!”

After a slow entrance into the world of wine and construction of a new winery, he says “the wine took over me!” This engineer then decided, recommended by his friend Saša Špiranac, to hire a consultant enologist Leo Gracin. “If I have to hire someone, then it’s logical to take the best, not someone worse than me. It’s hard for me to believe, and sad too, that I as a semi-serious guy, become the crest of wine production in a county that annually produces 20 million litres of wine and in which there basically aren’t any other winemakers who bottle their wine! When I tell people these facts, they are astonished. Every hill or house here makes at least 1.000 litres of wine. And it is all spent, nothing sold!”

From the wide array of wines he loves to play with Chardonnay, while his best wines are Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

“My ultimate goal is to produce 30.000 bottles, the maximum capacity of the cellar. In that case the story would be complete and I could reach 0 financially, cover all costs and enjoy wine. Otherwise, the financial effect is non-existent. Her, in Zagorje and Međimurje, selling someone bottled wine is tougher than selling a fridge to an Eskimo – everyone has a 1.000 litres of bulk at home!”

For the original and more from Vinske Priče blog on wines, click here.


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