The event “Grand Karakterre” taking place at the Ljubljana Castle is where my husband took us. It is also responsible for our first encounter with the Svetlik wines. There he promised Iva Svetlik that we will certainly come to visit them. We became friends at our first gathering. Edvard Svetlik is well known in the business world as a hardworking and successful entrepreneur. I – on the other hand – know him as someone who has a deep connection to his home, the vine and home-grown wisdoms. Despite the possibility of finding themselves lost in idleness by having achieved practically everything, they are out of pure joy and love for nature producing wine, which does not only satisfy everything around their home, but rather almost the entire world.
Let’s start at the beginning. You manage a highly successful company not just on the scale of Slovenia, but on the world scale. Where does your simplicity, work ethic and clear vision, which are the foundations of a success, originate? Has this been your virtue since your youth?
Every person receives various talents at birth. It would be unwise not to develop them. I received from my parents the will, openness and a desire for creativity. When I was 6 years old I earned my first money by picking and drying bark of mountain ash, which was used in the treatment of leather. I always felt the joy of what I’ve achieved when I wanted to make something new.
We built Hidria together with my co-workers and my family. This was achieved step by step. We took into account the science in the fields of technologies and leadership. However, we did not forget to use our common sense. The most important factor was that we respected foremost human feelings and potentials; both visible and hidden ones.
One would expect by looking at your achievements that you would eventually settle down and enjoy your life’s fruits. Oppositely you and your wife cultivate a vineyard daily. Additionally you manage the Kendov dvorec mansion which you saved from ruin and brought it to the Relais & Chateau level. Still you burst with energy. What made you choose this path? Was it on your mind when you were searching for a right land?
We cultivate 1,5 hectares of vineyard. The farm itself is 4,5 hectares big. The art of living is to find a balance in every part of your life. What is better than to grow vines, cultivate them, be with them from winter, when they rest till the spring when they start to wake up. Then our award comes in the form of a harvest and after that the Rebula wines.
We tell wine lovers who visit us that we started with the wine production because of us and our friends. This remains unchanged till this day.
The mission of the Kendov dvorec mansion is also to find a balance between modern technologies, tradition and culture. What we are today is the result of our history, our environment and the values which we received from our parents. A person or a nation that does not cherish and is not aware of what its ancestors accomplished, cannot create its present and its future.
Laymen often reproach you that you do not produce wine yourselves. Let’s make things clear once and for all.
We have started cultivating the vineyard and producing wine with love and passion. Our neighbour Milko, nee in 1917 and his son-in-law Izmet helped us out with advice and experiences at the beginning. We will forever be grateful to them. Later we met another neighbour Matjaž Lamut, with whom we started to collaborate. Matjaž brought in his knowledge and a big enough wine cellar; we brought our work, passion and love for nature. We have been producing the Rebula Svetlik since then. What is better than collaboration itself? One can only manage so much; together with others virtually everything.
We attended the first Vipavska Rebula event a year ago. You hold in your hand a document stating that this is an autochthonous variety, which was appreciated beyond our borders even as far as 500 years ago already. Yet one gets an impression that the winemakers from Vipava valley lack the self-confidence one could rightfully attribute to you. You somewhat remind me of the shy Styrians, who also do not appreciate themselves. However, what was the main benefit of the mentioned event? Through lectures we found out that historical facts and agricultural organisations represent a major support for you. How should you now move from this forward?
I received a document with an order by the emperor Maximilian I. He wanted to receive rebula, fruits and other delicacies from the Vipava valley. The fact that most surprised me was that out of all winegrowing lands he possessed – from Burgundy onwards – he chose Vipava valley. We are just starting to get to know her, yet emperor Maximilian knew her already 515 years ago.
The same emperor named a Slovenian native Jurij Slatkonja as the first residential bishop of Vienna. He was a cantor at the imperial court. He was appointed the singing master of the choir later known as the Vienna Boys’ Choir. His statue is located in the Vienna’s St. Stephen’s cathedral right beside the main altar. His name is written in the Slovene language. Interesting, yet the sad fact is that every Slovenian knows about Vienna Boys’ Choir, but practically nobody knows who Jurij Slatkonja was. Sadly we are not aware, that a nation, which does not respect its own history, will never be great.
Slovenia is too small for the Svetlik wines. Together with Iva you attended the first orange wines festival in Australia. Your wine is available in some prestige restaurants. You invest a lot of effort and love into each bottle. Would it be correct to say that your wine is a butique one? Those of us who know you, are just now getting the scale of energy needed to invest in this; nature frequently disrupts things with bad weather. Despite the obvious one can still find those who say that your wines are too expensive.
Sespite the fact that we are the biggest producers of macerated rebula in the Vipava valley our vineyard is a boutique one, of course. Boutique is being appreciated more and more these days. The best restaurants in the world want to have in their offer especially those wines that are produced in small vineyards and cellars.
Regarding Australia I would like to add that 50 producers of amber wines from all over the world were invited to the festival. We were the only ones from Slovenia. The famous Australian blogger Nick Stock wrote the following regarding our Rebula Svetlik 2009: “But my highlight of the day came from Slovenia.” One can only imagine the pride we felt. Don’t forget that this was our first Orange wines festival.
When Australia celebrated New Year’s Eve 2013, the best Australian restaurant Attica in Melbourne served a double magnum of Rebula Svetlik 2009. In you look at the wine list at a three Micheline star restaurant – St. Hubertus in San Cassiano or Alta Badia, you will find only one wine from Slovenia – Vipavska Rebula, Rebula Svetlik, 2011 vintage. When the two Micheline star restaurant Agli Amici in Udine, Italy celebrated 130 years of their family ownership of the restaurant, they served two macerated rebulas. One was from Joško Gravner and the other was ours. Then there’s a one Micheline star restaurant, the L’Argine AL Venco in Burgenlad, Austria. However, it is our biggest pride, that we are represented in the best Slovenian restaurants: Gostilna As, Maxim, JB, Vinoteka Movia, Gostilna na Gradu, Strelec, Cubo in Kralj Žara. In Primorska the following restaurants serve our wines: Hiša Franko, Žeja, Dam and Majerija. Off course, we must not forget the Kendov dvorec in Spodnja Idrija, where there is the biggest assortment of our wines available.
When there is a discussion about the changes in tax policies, which coalesced with the new government, some businessmen created a lot of unrest by stating that they will move their entire production abroad. Hidria, a company you helped to grow, never “threatens”. You develop constantly and turn to exports. What is your opinion regarding such statements?
It is the state’s responsibility to make such a business environment and positive atmosphere possible for people to be able to be creative. People create development and not the state. The latter has to be kind and respectful towards them. Let’s look at Idrija. It has together with Spodnja Idrija and the mercury mine a rich technological, cultural and culinary history. We were and still are very proud of it. When the mine closed, we were able to rely on our history. We are one of the most high technology environments in the world. At Kendov dvorec we always strive to nourish the traditional Idrian cuisine at the highest level. Hence, it is not strange that upon his visit to Slovenia, Japanese prince Fumihito and his wife, princess Kiko chose this place for lunch.
You are not often seen on the front pages. Yet, in the background you help to create a history and contribute to the economic and tourist development of the region you come from. The same goes for the Vipava valley, where you and your wife live for the past few years. What would you like to share with the youth?
First and foremost I would like to stress that what you do, do it with love and passion. Respect people, traditions and things others created. Off course, one has to have the joy for the good that surrounds us and what we have created. On the other hand, one has to have wishes and goals for the future. My friend John Beckett, a USA native and the Beckett Group CEO is a member of the Christian Managers Association, which employs 6 million people. He wrote a book entitled: Loving Monday. He wants to share a message of how one can succeed with hard work by not losing one’s soul. He also mentions the joy of Mondays, when one’s job starts. We are not here to complain about the things we do not have, but rather to be happy about the things we have.