“The landscape was peachy: the sea was turquoise; the air was scented with myrtles and thyme; and a series of amazing islands lay stretched before us like a school of green-backed whales,” are the very words of an Englishman a few years ago. He was talking about the Peljesac peninsular and Elaphite islands, and his name might ring a bell with you, Boris Johnson.
I have just come back from a day-trip to one of those green whales, the one that is crammed with grapes at this time of year. It wouldn’t be surprised if Peljesac sunk a few inches under the weight of those juicy grapes. Every square metre of soil, every valley and every slope, is covered with vines, rich with shining bunches.
I was once told that Croatia produces around 69 million litres of wine annually, and the Peljesac alone contributes 6 million. Every mile we drove we passed a plethora of signs – vino – wine – wein. And I couldn’t help thinking who actually stopped and indulged in a wine tasting this summer. Are there cellars still full?
I worked in the wine industry for ten years whilst living in London. Unfortunately, more at the business end and not the tasting side. I remember once coming home and finding my wife pouring a 1971 vintage Château Margaux into a goulash. “I couldn’t find anything open, so I opened this, it smells nice,” she said with a smile on her face whilst splashing more of the 4,000 Kuna a bottle French red into the saucepan. I have to be honest it was a great goulash.
The tourism tentacles have their suckers on everything, including wine sales. 50 percent less tourists = 50 percent fewer bottles of Dingač and Pošip sold. One vineyard owner once bragged that “Everything I produce I sell in restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops.” Genuinely a nice business model. Until the tourists dry up. Selling everything in your own backyard it much more profitable than dealing with shops and exporters.
Croatian wine was in the same boat as real estate, high demand and relatively low supply.
However, the tide, thanks to the pandemic has turned. I then saw the news that the first wine from Konavle was going on sale in America. A light-bulb lit over my head. During the lockdown the streets of Zagreb were empty, well not quite empty as the bicycles and vehicles of Wolt and Glovo were doing a roaring trade. Amazon shares have gone through the roof in the pandemic. Why couldn’t the wines of Peljesac follow the obvious route and go online?
Its wine season on Peljesac - Photo Shutterstock
True packing six bottles of wine and then forking out a small fortune to send them to a foreign destination is a pain in the arse. But where there is a will, there is a way. Is it time to move Peljesac wines into the digital age?
I explored and of course was met with Croatian bureaucracy at step one. I would have been more surprised if I would have been easy and straight-forward and well, business friendly. There isn’t one, but six, yes six, laws and regulations that cover starting a web shop. War and Peace has less pages than these laws! One law has, and I am not joking, 1165 articles. It was becoming clear why our wine makers were looking to the US to sell their wines.
Curiosity got the better of me and I researched opening an online store in the US. It was so easy that in under an hour I not only understood everything, but I also opened a web store! In the time it took me to read just one of the Croatian laws on trade and starting web shops I was the new owner of a web shop in the US. I had an online payment scheme set up, a working website, companies offering me products to sell, digital gurus advising me on the best marketing approaches, several delivery options and a tax advisor on the best way to control my income. I had all this in an hour, or somewhere near article 978! I had everything up and running, and all legal, without having absolutely anything to sell. It all cost me around $200 as an annual fee.
The owner of Amazon and the richest man on the planet, Jeff Bezos, once said “yesterday I was driving the packages to the post office myself, and hoping one day we could afford a forklift.” If he were born Jeff Bezić he would still be hoping for that forklift.