Primož Stayer and his wife Urška opened the Dapper shop in the centre of Ljubljana, offering a beautiful collection of foreign and local sustainably produced wines and their own brand of clothing. evio .
Before the May Day holidays, probably the most famous Slovenian promoter of so-called natural wines , Primož Stayer , opened a Dapper shop in Igriška Street in the centre of Ljubljana. In it, he has combined his two (business) loves – wine and denim clothing, which the ignorant would call jeans.
“Jeans is actually an English term for denim trousers. These were the clothes for the dockers who worked in Genoa. When we say a denim jacket, it’s actually pure nonsense. But it has caught on and that’s how we communicate for the most part,” laughs Stayer, who also reveals why the shop is called Dapper: “It’s an old English term for a man who is neat and tidy.”
The shop is therefore home to Evio own-brand clothing on the one hand, natural wines, spirits, even biosing salami from Dolenjska, and exclusive ŠtokWenzel furniture and accessories for wine lovers on the other. “Before, we had a space in Škofja Loka that was more of a ‘show room’ than a shop. Of course, you could also buy something, but we mostly sold wine online, as well as clothes. Now we finally have a shop in a good location where the customer can drive up and load a carton of wine. We’ll also have a tasting room in the gallery above the shop, and an expanded wine shop in the basement,” Stayer reveals his short-term plans as he pours a glass of Keltis.
Let’s start with a joke rather than a joke, you are also known as a wine terrorist on social media for your involvement in the promotion of so-called natural wines.
That’s because of my name on Instagram, where my pseudonym is primus wine terroirist. Wine connoisseur Tomaž Sršen has tweaked it a little. He turned terror into terror (laughs).
Let us be clear right now. The greatest paradox of the term “natural wines” is surely that it itself suggests a question in the opposite direction, i.e. are all other wines produced with less intervention in the cellar and vineyard unnatural?
Of course, other wines are not unnatural. We call them conventional wines, although even that description is a bit black and white. Of course, there is no such thing as a natural wine that comes into the bottle from nature itself, without human intervention. The basis for natural wine is sustainable vineyard work: it can be organic, it can be biodynamic, and I am absolutely in favour of certification, which is not necessary. We know of great wines with minimal intervention that are not certified. I am thinking here in particular of our foreigners, such as Vodopivec, Radikon … Fermentation is very important. It must be spontaneous, with indigenous yeasts. If this is not the case, we cannot even talk about natural wines.
So what is the definition of natural wine?
All the squabbling about this is a storm in a teacup. There is no official certification for natural wines. If I had to define, natural wine is wine that has nothing taken away from it and nothing added to it. To be very strict, natural wine can only be wine that has not even had sulphur added to it. But I must stress that I am not against the use of sulphur. I even believe that the addition of sulphur in difficult vintages is unavoidable, but of course as modest as possible. But some winemakers do not and make vinegar instead of wine. So, if I had to differentiate between organic, biodynamic and natural wines in my shop, I would count among the natural wines those that have no added sulphur. They must be different in some ways.
What about the trend towards so-called natural wines? Where are we going? Has it crystallised who is and who is not a real producer of this type of wine?
Many things have crystallised in recent years. There are far fewer wines with distinct defects. In particular, it is important to stress that we associate natural wines too much with macerated white or orange wines. Maceration is just a process, a technique of production that gives style to the wine and is not necessarily linked to natural wines. Orange wines represent only a small percentage of the total natural wine segment, which is easy to observe if you go to natural wine festivals in Europe. But it is true that Slovenians are very strong in the category of macerated wines, so we link the two. As said, it is essential for natural wines that no pesticides, herbicides or similar poisons are used in the vineyards and that the natural processes in the cellar are interfered with as little as possible. Whether the white wine is immediately pressed or macerated plays no role. The same is true for red or sparkling wines. In fact, I would like to see more of our natural-oriented winemakers producing some classic white wines.
Doesn’t it make sense that macerated wines should also be natural?
That’s true. The link is understandable, logical.
OK, I will ask the question the other way round. Can macerated white wines also be conventional?
Of course, and there are not a few of them. And some of them are excellent. Of course, there is a problem: if grapes are macerated where systemics, herbicides, pesticides and so on are used in the vineyards, then I find it hard to believe that fermentation can be spontaneous, but on the other hand, maceration is an amplifier – as Joško Gravner once said – of both good and bad. And if you macerate grapes that have been sprayed with all living things, some of these poisons are bound to end up in the wine. But, on the other hand, what about red grapes, which are macerated in any case? No one is questioning this. Any conventionally produced grape that is macerated is inherently controversial.
You mentioned earlier that there are fewer and fewer mistakes in so-called natural wines. Which errors do you think are still acceptable and to what extent?
I would argue that in western Slovenia, volatile acids in wine are even welcome. Moderate, of course. Primorska wines have relatively high alcohols and lower acids, especially in Brda and Istria. As a result, the wines sometimes lack freshness for my taste, so they are too heavy. Volatile acids lift this freshness. But it is true that it is a walk on the edge. The winemaker must be very skilled in the cellar to keep all this under control. But it is impossible to illustrate this with numbers. We usually say that below one gram of volatile acids we can still talk about the acceptability of wine, but above one gram it is difficult. But I have drunk wines that had 0.8 grams of volatile acids in a litre of wine, and they were inedible. On the other hand, I drank a wine with 1.2 grams of volatile acids and I could barely detect them. How the volatile acids are incorporated into a wine is important. I understand that at the Faculty of Biotechnics and other institutions everything is subordinated to numbers, but after talking to various winemakers, I also realise that the official criteria will also have to be changed slowly. I find it unacceptable that a winemaker does not get a decision because the wine is the ‘wrong’ colour.
Volatile acids are one of the common defects in so-called natural wines, but what about the others?
Oxidation is similar to volatile acids. In moderation, it can even elevate the wine. Brett is also a common mistake. It is a strain of Brettanomyces yeasts that can become dominant in the cellar, leading to wines with aromas that are most reminiscent of those in the barn. If this smell is predominant in the wine, we are definitely talking about a fault. But there are cases where the aforementioned notes are somewhere in the background, adding complexity to the wine and acting like a pinch of pepper on a steak. I am not in favour of sweeping away bad work in the vineyard or in the cellar under the guise of natural wines. Mussel disease is another example, which is solely due to hygiene deficiencies in the cellar. There is no debate here. Why is everything being fixed over the years? Because drinkers of this type of wine are educated and drink different wines. For example, when they tasted 50 natural wines, they found that there were differences between them. The wine-lover focuses on what he likes. This is just to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Which winemakers do you work with?
At the moment we represent the wineries Atimo, Keltis, Gordia, Ducal, Jure Štekar, JNK and Blažič from Slovenian winemakers. Now that we also have a physical store, we intend to increase the number. But for me, it’s not enough for a winemaker to have an organic or biodynamic certificate, I need to get to know the winemaker. A certificate does not in itself guarantee that a wine is of good quality and character. The same applies to foreign winemakers. I made my selection through personal contacts. Today, we offer around 40 of them. We will not increase the number of foreign winemakers, but there will be some replacements over time. We also have a fine selection of Georgian wines and a Slovenian-Georgian Brendi, or wine bar, behind which is the former basketball ace Vladimer Boisa.
How did you get into wine sales in the first place?
About 15 years ago, I went to Sicily for the first time. In Syracuse, in a concept store, I saw a puro from Movie in the window. That’s what attracted me to enter. I saw a few more wines, including a Munjebel from the winemaker Frank Cornelissen, a Belgian living in Sicily. In 2000, he moved to Etna. Until then, I just enjoyed wine, good food was very important to me, but I didn’t work professionally with wine. I called Frank and came to visit him. The cellar is about 700 metres above sea level, on the northern slope of Mount Etna. Vineyards go up to 900 metres above sea level. It was a very small cellar at that time, and I was completely fascinated by it. But because we were on a plane, I could only take a few bottles with me. Then I ordered about 300 bottles of it from home. Of course, you don’t order that many bottles just for yourself, so I started selling his wine to friends and acquaintances. Then Frank invited me to the Vin Nature festival near Vicenza. Seeing all these winemakers made me feel like I was in paradise. I knew our winemakers of this kind, Mlečnik, Klinec, Čotar and others, but not the foreign ones! That’s when a new world opened up and drew me in. The next was Elisabetta Foradori, Queen of the Teroldega, from Trentino. And so on.
The Label Grand Karakterre festival followed.
This was at a time when I was just starting to sell wine. I was invited to the Slovenian Wine Festival, which was held at the Grand Hotel Union. I represented some foreign winemakers there. At the festival I met Marko Kovac and Niko Đukan from Zagreb, who a week later organised the first Label Grand Karakterre festival in Zagreb. They invited me to bring these wines to their festival. And I went. The following year, we organised a festival together at Ljubljana Castle and in Zagreb. In the fourth year we moved to Vienna and changed our name to Karakterre. We have organised it every year leading up to the epidemic, and this year it took place in Burgenland. It is my great wish to organise a natural wine festival in Ljubljana again, as the festival at the Ljubljana Castle left a very good impression on the winemakers and visitors alike.
This article was published on About wine by Vanja Alič