Samo Kupljen is in my view a very special Slovenian winemaker. A very different guy than most of the winemakers in the region. He is a business man. A CEO of Bauhaus not only for Slovenia but also for a couple of neighbouring countries. But he is also a winemaker. Two years ago his father died unexpectedly and he had to decide what to do. We think he is taking his father’s legacy to a whole new level in a very short amount of time. Read this QUICKIE interview and be sure to taste Vino Kupljen wines asap.
Oh… and a QUICKIE is a series of short interviews with the winemakers. And YES … it’s also “a rapidly consumed alcoholic drink”.
And of course it’s also “a brief act of sexual intercourse” but that’s for another magazine 😉
Samo, a short time ago you had to make a big decision. In addition to the CEO’s chair at Bauhaus Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria… to take over the father’s legacy or not. What lead you to decide to take over the vineyards?
I’ve always been involved in our winemaking business. There were periods that were more or less intense. For example during the course of studies I was even able to help with harvesting the grapes and around the cellar. After I returned to Slovenia I was also involved more.
Father left us at the end of April 2015 and there was little doubt at all about what to do. Of course it would be much nicer if father would decide to hand me over the wine business and retire and to have him as a counsellor or consultant. On the other hand, I took this as an exceptional opportunity: all responsibility is on me, every decision. So I had to decide: scratch with the chicken or fly with the eagels. I have chosen the eagles, knowing that I can also end up like an ikar.
What are you particularly proud of in these two years?
I read all my father’s records, asked and listened to people who worked for decades with our terroir. I knew that I lacked experience and tips & tricks from father, grandfather etc. but I replaced that with science. I am very proud that I’m able to explain in detail all the processes and decisions I make. No fooling around. I know exactly what I’m doing and what the consequences will be. It’s great that you are able to balance what the terroir offers, with experience and science-based decisions. I used Davis and Geisenheim here.
For the wine lover the result should be more visible in the clear separation of my two lines of wines, especially in the line of Stars of Stiria, where I have greatly changed the work in our vineyards. And the story doesn’t end here: after a thorough data analysis of the soil at 0.5m, 1m, 3m, how much precipitation in different months and sunny hours per month I chose the best clone I bought in Burgundy for 12,000 new vines that we planted. This will give results in about 3 years but surely in 6 years.
As a son of a fairly large winemaker in Slovenia you were probably exposed to wine very early. Any memories?
I remember the first vineyard on Kog. At the time this was a very family like and folklore act. I recall the first red wines that we produced as they made them 200 years ago, the first cold fermentation, the first disgorging of the sparkling wine in mid-January at -15 C and the first vertical vineyards. All this because the father was always pushing. He always was the first in the region to introduce new things.
Did you always like to help in the vineyard?
I can be very grateful for my day job. Nevertheless, I have my own vegetable and herbal garden at my house in Piran and also in Jeruzalem. The cost of producing these vegetables on two locations is a complete luxury time-wise. So why am I doing it? Because it is my pleasure to work with plants. Thank God I have my Milan nowadays who takes care of our vineyards as we decide.
When did you finally “fall in” with the whole story that you are a winemaker?
I have found my peace when, after the assemblage of barriques, I drank my first “Sirius”. I was alone in the cellar with a full glass of this special wine. After the first sip I went out to the vineyard and said to myself:”Thank you God. Thank you father.”
Have you already agreed with your father that you will continue his legacy or was his departure so sudden that you were not been able to talk about it?
We talked a lot about it, but he always was so full of energy and will. But the old Slovenian saying proved to be true once again:”Človek obrača, Bog obrne”.
Which wines from your archive are you most proud of?
From dry wines: Chardonnay 1994, Pinot Noir 1992, Pinot Blanc 1983. From sweeter wines: Riesling 1990, Šipon 1977.
What about new wines, new vintages? Is your “hand” and changes already showing up in any of the vintages?
Now the wines from the “Stars of Stiria” line are slowly coming: these are the wines from the vines that literally had a load of up to 1kg of grapes on the vine (3 times selection: 1st after blossoming in June, 2nd at the end of August, 3rd on the day of the harvest in mid-October). All the wines were matured in small French oak barrels and for two years they were on the lees (sur-lie method).
They express all the potential and variety of our terroir: full, dense, mineral wines but because of cooler summer nights they still have nice floral notes. The wines are unfiltered and require a cold storage that rewards you if you are prepared to wait a while. But they are already great and enjoyable today.
But I think the biggest surprise for all will be a Skywalker: A Merlot-based blend. When I compared it with the wines from the right bank (vintage 2010) my always troubled soul calmed down. I felt a God’s hand like Maradonna at the 1986 World Cup 😉 – https://youtu.be/-ccNkksrfls
But let’s be honest: there is no economic calculation for these wines.
Which three of your new wines should we try?
Every occasion has its own wine. The taste must be democratic and open to all. But if I had to choose I would say: Sirius 2015, Loona 2016, Skywalker 2015.
What are the plans for the future?
Those who know me know about my obsession for a detail: I admire Jiro and his 70 year old stroll to the perfect sushi. (I completely dissolve when I look at the sculptures of Michelangelo or when after 2 hours of sharpening I make the first cut with my knives from Aogami.)
From the line of Stars of Stiria only Bellatrix is missing. My orange wine for which I’ve spent the whole week at the University of Tbilisi. But it’s not the time yet for Bellatrix to shine.
If I can however make a wish: I would want wine lovers to have more interest and to be more eager to try different vintages and not so much for new wines. In the long run, my story will go in the direction of my vineyard locations. As Riesling from Svetinje or Žerovinci or Mihalovci show a very different face. And this has to be revealed and respected!