DRAŽAN DENNIS ŠUNJIĆ: “WSET, the foremost international body in the field of wines and spirits education, is to open in Croatia.”

DRAŽAN DENNIS ŠUNJIĆ: “WSET, the foremost international body in the field of wines and spirits education, is to open in Croatia.”

One of the main objectives of Dalmatia Wine Expo is to point out how necessary continued education is, and to make global experiences and new industry trends closer to the catering sector in an interesting way. This part of education is lead by Dražan Dennis Šunjić.

In an interview with our web portal, this Mostar born AIWS and WSET Certified Educator from Great Britain told us how he went to London at only 16 years old, grew up overnight and fell in love with wine. His life motto “learn, learn and just learn” has lead him to the position of sommelier in numerous top London restaurants that are the proud holders of Michelin stars, where he worked for 12 years. Coe Vintners, one of the leading wine distributors in the world, recognized his passion for wine and for the past several years he has been working there as a Wine Sales Manager. Thanks to him, numerous Croatian wines have found their way to the tables of top London restaurants.

You have been involved in Dalmatia Wine Expo from the start and you have participated in the educational part of the festival each year. Has DWE met your expectations in these four years?

I have to say that huge changes are visible in all aspects and the festival is headed in the right direction. I’ve been a part of it from year one and it was this first year that was crucial for all of us, people didn’t know if the festival will hold up. I must admit that Milan Ožić Mike was the only one who believed the festival will grow and the second year will be even better. To be honest, he was the reason I kept coming back to Makarska. He instilled in me a strong belief that we should work even harder, educate ourselves and move forward. From its first, so-called skeptical year I believe Dalmatia Wine Expo has become a must for all winemakers, as anyone who wants to mean something on the market must be a part of it. The festival has definitely been leaping forward.  

You are in charge of the education of caterers and their staff. How interested are they in learning?   

I think it’s not what we would like it to be. I start each of my lectures by saying:  “Dalmatia is not aware of what it has and the meaning its sea and nature holds for it, as I am convinced that tourist would not be coming back for its gastronomy as they do for its sea and nature.” Gastronomy is something that must be further developed, although one can see the changes. Maybe just one percent has changed but it is still visible. I think people still lean too much on the three months of summer and the guaranteed visits to their restaurants in that period.

You have been in London for a long time now and you are the right person to estimate how far Croatian wines are from the Great Britain market offer?

I don’t think we’re far from European quality. There are winemakers that stand out and they show it by winning gold medals in various world festivals. Four years ago, there were no Croatian wines on the London market. My company, Coe Vintners started with Krauthaker, which yielded incredible results. London is saturated by Italian, French and Spanish wines and is always in search of something new. Croatia was given a chance in the past several years and there are more and more of our wines in many London restaurants, from the established Fat Duck, a restaurant that holds three Michelin stars, to another 20 restaurants that are also proud holders of Michelin stars. Krauthaker wine was the first to find its way to the wine list of such restaurants. After Krauthaker, slowly came Matošević, Bolfan, Kozlović, Saint Hills, and in the past four years several wineries have deservedly won their place on the rich London market.  

Many foresee that once we join the European Union Croatian wines will be swept aside by better quality, but cheaper, imported wines on the domestic market. Do you agree with this?  

I am also afraid the worst might happen, which is people seeking value for money. This is now happening in the world and one can get quality wine for some 50 kuna. That wine gives better value for money and is more cost-effective. However, we must turn to our indigenous varieties, certain appellations that we must highlight and gradually raise quality from year to year. Croatia is still a young state and it must turn to quality, as the world has only recently started recognizing Croatian wines. We must clean out “our garden” as there are still many poor quality wines, and that is something I am most afraid of. The guests still have plenty of opportunities to taste bad wines, in Dalmatia in particular, wines that have oxidized, have not been stored properly and so on. 

You are also a WSET Educator, which is a valuable title in the wine world. WSET Academy is active in more than 50 countries and soon, thanks to you, we will have it in Croatia as well.  Can you tell us more about this project?  

WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust), is the foremost international body in the field of wines and spirits education and I must say we are finally starting the courses in Croatia. More than 40,000 students complete courses at this prestigious institution every year. WSET was founded in London in 1969 and it is known as a prerequisite for achieving the title of “Master of Wine”, which is the highest possible title in the world of wine. Majority of Masters of Wine in the world completed courses at WSET before acquiring the title. The program starts next month. It’s something like a soft opening, but in the fall we expect much higher number of students. I’m always for learning, learning and just learning, and I think Croatia truly needs quality wine education. We can all force certain brands and varieties, but we must admit that in comparison to the rest of the wine world we lack in knowledge and this must change. WSET in Croatia is a big step in that direction. 

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