Women Rule Croatia’s East

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At the end of last year, just ahead of the harvest, when the management of wine giant Belje decided their primary expert would be a woman, almost no one was surprised. Suzana Zovko (43) is practically a “child” of the winery, working there for 15 years, including being the right hand to Marijan Knežević, a man who defined the last decade of Belje. A woman in a typically man’s job did not trouble anyone especially, as it has become the norm in Croatia’s east for women to take over wine creations.

“I have never made a difference between men and women in any job, especially not in wine making, but I can say women are more subtle in a way, with the help of typically female tools such as intuition and emotional intelligence. When I was thrown into deep water ahead of the last harvest and became responsible for every good or bad bottle that came out of this winery, from all the work I didn’t have time to think about the challenge set before me. But, the very first silver medal, which we won for the young Graševina from that harvest at Mundus Vini Spring Tasting, is an indicator that I am on the right track and working well. As the first female expert in Belje I must adhere to the wine style which has been defined, but no one says I cannot select a certain quantity and produce it my own way. For that purpose we have mini tanks up to 1.000 litres where I can test anything I want. Any I enjoy that,” said Suzana Zovko.

Her colleague from the giant Ilok Cellars, where 10 million litres of wine is produced annually, Vera Zima (53), considers women more dedicated to the work than men, using the example of her winery where she has been the primary expert since 2005 to say “women stay in production, while men run off to politics!” She cites examples of her predecessors, Petar Čobanković, who became Agriculture Minister and Mladen Papak, who left to be Mayor of Ilok.

“In my job there can be no mistake, as the correction only comes with the next harvest! In wine making there is no delete button, so you can start over,” said Vera Zima standing in front of giant tank with up to a million litres of wine.

According to her words, wine making is all about working and constant learning.

“When you think you have gained some experience and learned something, then comes a year that surprises you, like a bad harvest in 2014, but we did make some exceptional wines from it. Then you realize there is no end to learning and that, in the end, you know nothing!”

Vera Zima can boast to be the creator of the most awarded Croatian wine of all times, the Principovac Traminer, ice harvest from 2007, but also be the author of the first great success of the huge winery, the election harvest of dried grapes in 2006.

“It is nice to win these awards, but they commit us to do even more, which sometimes is not possible. When you have good years, you can do everything, but when a year is bad, it’s hard to do something. I can only say for 2006 and 2011 to be fantastic harvests! From 2011 I have “secretly,” hiding a 5.000 litre barrel from others, created our last success, the Great Graševina Harvest, recently released to the market and talked of in superlatives,” said Vera Zima.

Although she shares her name and surname with a famous Croatian actress, the Vera Zima from Ilok says that telephone reservations of a hotel room anywhere in Croatia gets her only the best rooms, while encounters with police and customs are more troublesome.

“If I book a hotel and state my name, then I have no problems. But, if I am stopped by police or customs, I always have a problem, as they cannot match the name and the image!”

Paula Stipetić (41) came into the world of wines after the death of her father, legendary Ilok wine make Julius Stipetić. It has been three years since then and the awards and recognition she gained in that period show that she has made her father proud.

“All I learned was from helping my father. And my wines are all about being as God made them! It’s my job to make sure the grapes are healthy and that’s all the philosophy. Fine, some will say the wines I make have a female touch, that they are made with love, but to me it’s most important when someone says “father Julius must be looking down from above.” He is my engine and I cannot fail him,” said Paula.

Jasna Antunović is the only one who can boast of entering the world of wine through a greenfield investment.

“I bought the land, planted vineyards, built a winery, made a brand, all by myself! In the process I was free from loans in several years and began to export. Which is why I decided to put on my labels a new symbol which will connect a woman and vines as a plant that creates all of this – land, woman, vine, victory! And there is the appropriate slogan – “In the embrace of Danube, Sun and woman!”

When asked why as a woman she decided to go into wine making, she decidedly answers with a counter question: “Any why do so many men feel they are God-given to make wine?!

“Women cannot make a mistake and I stubbornly insisted on things that border on experiment. Maybe this ingenuity holds the secret to a fast expansion of my wines. I admit, I surprised myself with the results.”

War had completely devastated the Erdut wine region, while Jasna claims the most damage was to human resources. Her life story and vision that she followed, and created, can only be a guiding light to all that “all can be achieved, as long as you are not a megalomaniac.” Jasna Antunović managed to make every wine she produces a superior kind, which practically means everything she touched has turned into gold.

The last to step into the world of wine is Kristina Pinkert (31) from Suza in Baranja, also the youngest in the selected company of women wine makers in the east of Croatia.

“When I began working alongside my father I was completely lost, as I was still searching for myself and wasn’t sure if this is the job that I want. And I had to prove myself to my father who still saw me as the little daughter peeing in the sand.

Based on these several years of work in the cellar I can now say that through wine I have discovered myself and my qualities. I can now say that I am not a wine maker or accountant our cleaner or manager but – all this combined,” said Kristina Pinkert.

This young wine maker feels women can focus much better than men at several different jobs that have to be done at the same time, “and such is the job of wine makers!”

“I am proud to be a woman in this business, but I must say, I would never be that, especially not so successful, if the men around me didn’t allow me to be a woman,” concluded Kristina.

To this list we must add Ivana Nemet, chief enologist in PP Orahovica, sisters Kinga and Sibila, who are gradually taking over from the father in the Kolar winery, Suzana Jurišić, chief enologist of Daruvar winery, Martina Hora and Vera Soldo – Čamak from Kutjevo and Martina Krauthaker is doing more work in the winery of her legendary father… Enough to say that women are taking over the wine east of Croatia!

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


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