Outside the comfort zone – A successful wine story from the Croatian town of Imotski

On the slope of the Podi hill above the town of Imotski in Dalmatia, the ‘Đuzel winery’ have found its place. Members of the Đuzel family used their many years of winemaking experience, their profession, but also their experience of working for other companies, to turn their dream into bottles of their own quality wine

This is the highest vineyard in Croatia located at about 700 meters above sea level, and the owner Stipe Đuzel proudly points out that with the good climate of the Imota region as well as the tireless work of his family, recognizable drops of wine, from autochthonous grape varieties, arrive in the glasses. Agronomy engineer and oenologist Stipe also put a tourist stamp on the wine menu, so in addition to the final product, he offers presentation and wine tasting also serving food in a decorated wine tasting room.

Although the vineyard existed twenty years ago, the Đuzel family started work with the winery in 2014. “I worked in other wineries and dairies, and later in a foreign corporation, where the conditions were very good, in spite of that I decided to invest all the money in my own winery. A few years ago, we started with the first wines in smaller quantities, about 5-6 thousand litres. Although we have grown several times, and this year we will have over 20,000 litres of wine, we are still in the category of a small winery. We work as a craft, and we started the whole story on about 3.5 to 5 hectares of vineyards”, says Stipe, who spends whole days working.

Photo: Winery Đuzel

In the last few years, kujundžuša, a local autochthonous variety of the Imota region, has been popular, and along with it, Đuzel winery is proud of chardonnay, rosé and trnjak. The trnjak variety produces a superb black modern wine that is becoming a hit among winemakers, so Stipe tried his luck and was one of the first to bottle it.

All the work is done by the family. Only Stipe is self-employed, while his son will soon graduate in winemaking, so the whole story will be complete. He admits that at the beginning he did not know if any result would come at all. It was not easy to leave a secure job, but he was drawn to doing what he loves and knows how to do, so the decision to open the family business came naturally.

Photo: Winery Đuzel

“Winemaking is a very expensive activity, from the production process to branding, which comes through quality. When I look at the photos we took at the beginning I remember how it all looked disorganized. Now we are already on the market, we have a well-known name and regular customers… Now it’s up to us to keep it working. Although everything has become more expensive this year, we try to keep the same prices. We do not intend to have megalomaniacal projects, we want to stay within the limits of what the family can do with their own hands”, says Stipe and adds that the period of the emergence of the coronavirus was difficult because then they invested everything they had, with very low income. But with continuous work came success, so this year was already great for winemakers because the tourist season in Croatia was successful.

Photo: Winery Đuzel

Through the wine tasting room, this family company completed the process from production to service, that is, from the vineyard to the table, and Stipe believes that this is the only real and profitable path to success for small family farms. Also, winery Đuzel is at the level of the world trend, they make wines in a modern way with less alcohol, which is popular now, and the market is looking for and recognizing quality. The boom of tourism in the town of Imotski was just an addition to the puzzle for a successful entrepreneurial story. “Everything works out even though a lot of work and effort was invested,” says Stipe with satisfaction.

Starting from scratch and without credit is an unenviable position for most, and the banks are merciless. European and state funds and even local incentives are important for small entrepreneurs and their start-ups. It is important that there is a way to move forward in business. In addition, Stipe says that the state should better control the import of wine and give more space to domestic producers.

Photo: Winery Đuzel

“Anyone thinking of doing this kind of work should consider it seriously and understand it as a real job, not a personal whim. There are advantages of private business, but a huge amount of work comes with it. From experience, I would say that the recipe for success is to have a final product, not just raw materials, because the market is increasingly demanding today. Personally, I would never go back to fixed working hours and corporative conditions. I work for myself and I know what I’m working for”, claims Stipe.

In addition to quality and recognizable wines, which have brought success and awards at festivals and competitions, the Đuzel family is also the owner of the unique Iris garden in Dalmatia region and beyond. Here is more than 200 varieties of beautiful irises, as well as the Croatian national flower – Iris Croatica, which blooms at the end of May. And for those who come to taste the wines and sweeten their palates, the largest drill in the world, which is also listed in the Guinness Book of Records, will catch their eye. The exhibit weighing more than 4 tons is part of the collection of the collector Petar Mustapić, and is located in the yard of the Đuzel winery.

Photo: Winery Điuzel

“With this exhibit, the premises of the winery we nurture, together with our story have gained an additional attraction, but our wines will certainly speak for themselves, so come and taste it!” concludes Stipe.

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