- First and foremost, why Croatia?
I’m a winemaker who’s made wine all over the world. Croatia has some unusual indigenous grape varieties and gorgeous countryside so when I wanted to start making my own wine I looked here to produce it. I first came to Croatia in 2003 on holiday and thought it one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And Hvar is one of the most beautiful islands. So in 2014 after I came to a big wine tasting in Split I had a look around Dalmatia and realised there were opportunities to buy good grapes I thought I’d take a chance to establish my own winery here. In the first year the Tomic family let me have some space in their garage and then for the next two years I rented space in Sveta Nedjelja. Last year I moved the winery to a larger space in Vrisnik.
(Photo credit Mirko Crncevic)
- Tell us about some of the differences of your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.
I’m not sure I had specific expectations. I came to explore and find some good vineyards to buy grapes from and I did just that. If I hadn’t found any good grapes I wouldn’t have come to set up the winery. The problems stem from those things I didn’t expect rather those that I did. It can be hard to find the things you need which in other countries are quite common place. For instance last vintage I had to go to every hardware store on the island just to find some G-clamps for the winery. It took about four days! Things can take a lot longer than they should and I’ve had people promise to do things for months and then turn round and say ‘sorry I cant’. On the other hand I’ve had people go out of their way to help me. The language is a lot harder than I expected. I speak four languages so I expected to be able to pick up Croatian much faster than I have. I also think I didn’t expect to feel so isolated moving here. I’d moved to a new country where I knew no one before when I went to Australia and it wasn’t a problem. There at first I was studying and then working for other people. However here I was working on my own so it was tough. There were times that I didn’t speak to a soul for a week at a time. But now I’ve met more people and I’ve got lovely mates to have a coffee or a glass of wine with. It can’t be all work else you go mad!
- What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)
It’s the bureaucracy that grinds you down. Both the irrationality of it and the slow pace. I’d advise to expect everything to take three times as long as it should. Get a good accountant.
- How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?
I’ve had amazing reviews in the wine press and from people at tastings which is wonderful. But some people at tastings have seemed upset that the wines are not completely Croatian in style which surprises me as why would I make totally Croatian wine? I studied and trained as a winemaker in Australia, as a Master of Wine studied wine all from over the world and as a winemaker for Marks and Spencer in the UK blended wine all over the world. So my wine style logically comes from all over the world.
But overall the response has been amazing. The wine industry here has been very welcoming.
- What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?
Most people ask ‘why Croatia?’but as soon as I show them the photos of the views they seem to understand….
- What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?
Bureaucracy and people not delivering. I’ve lost a whole season’s sales because someone failed to deliver labels. That was a disaster financially. Delays with paperwork have been a challenge. Sometimes because it takes so long, other times because the style of wine may not be understood and others because I failed to really grasp what I needed to do. The other challenges are based around moving to a new country where you know no one.
- If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?
Some days I think I wouldn’t and then some days I think I would. But when I open a bottle of my wine and get such wonderful responses it’s all worth it.
- What are 3 things you love about Croatia?
The aromas of the wild fennel and the rosemary in the vineyards, the moonlight reflecting of the perfectly calm waters of the Adriatic and all the wonderful friends I’ve met since coming here.
- What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?
Cut down the bureaucracy or at least make it not change every five minutes, stop treating small business like they are wanting to defraud the government while letting big business do just that and instilling a systematic approach to things.
- How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?
There is no such thing as ‘Croatians’ there’s just people. Some people are amazing and efficient and do what they say they’ll do and others are not.
- Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?
Be prepared that everything takes longer and things don’t work in the same way as elsewhere.
Want to learn more and taste Jo’s excellent wines next time on Hvar? Why not arrange a tasting at her winery in the village of Vrisnik? Follow her on the Ahearne Vino Facebook page.
(Photo credit Mirko Crncevic)
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