Kruševac's Rubin was a giant in the field of wine and alcoholic beverages, and now, when the whole world stumbles under the weight of the COVID and the looming economic crisis, it shows that it is far more resilient than anyone could have imagined.
Whether it is a brandy that is returning to the big door, a syringe and some new drinks from cans, or wines that win the most valuable medals on the shelf from the most affordable price category. After all, their Merlot 2017 took the name this year Best Buy in the annual selection of Vino.rs.
We are talking with the general director Zoran Bekric about everything that is happening in this large winery and immediate plans.
How do you see the current situation in Rubin ?
- Just as the most important part of a hybrid drive is the combination of engines that drive it, so Rubin managed to successfully pass the period of transition from the social to the private sector with the best combination of his own resources. In that combination, the most important part were the people, the staff who, with their knowledge and vision, recognized the path that Rubin should take. With the investments of the new owner and their own knowledge and experience, they have traced the path of success we have been following for the last fifteen years. This path implies constant monitoring of consumer requests and an attempt to respond to those requests as much as possible. In addition, the feeling and self-creation of the employees who create in Rubin offers end consumers to try something new and to judge it through market valorization.
Never before has Rubin, and probably no other Serbian winery, won so many internationally significant medals in just one year around the world. Why hasn't this happened before?
- This is one of the most fruitful years for us in terms of the number of medals at international competitions. There have been them before, I would mention one of the most significant, the Grand Gold at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2013 for Terra Lazarica Cabernet Sauvignon Barrique 2007. This year we won a large number of medals primarily because we took part in many competitions. And we brought medals from everyone. They are a reflection of serious work, especially in the vineyards that have been planted in the last ten years and which have given a new qualitative dimension to our wines. Technologists have the possibility of a large selection of grapes of various varieties and clones from different locations, and through their work they can make the best blends. Judging by the number of world medals, they obviously succeed, which I am very glad about.
The Wine with a Stamp line and the Best Buy title of Serbia for 2020 is proof of the possibility of returning top quality wine to the people…
- And that's where I would start from the base, from the vineyard. There is no quality without quantity, all social laws say. It is the same in the production of grapes and even wine. From the large base that Rubin has, there is a development in quality. In the orchards, we own over 150 hectares of merlot, 100 chardonnay, 50 prokuplje and so on. We get large quantities of grapes and wines, of which the best blends stand out for the line Wines with a seal . The desire for constant spread of wine culture, where Rubin has been active since the 90s of the last century, and the need to bring top wines closer to customers at a good price, led us during the price positioning of these wines. On the other hand, in some surveys conducted by independent companies, Rubin was the Best Buy laureate in the table wines segment, which is the general and strategic commitment of the company - to provide the customer with the most for each a product he buys from our portfolio. We see consumers as direct partners of the company, and in order for this relationship to function to the mutual satisfaction, both parties must be maximally satisfied. For this reason, we do our best to provide consumers with the best we can.> We see consumers as direct partners of the company.
Viewed in this way, are Serbian wines expensive?
- The end consumer wants to get the best possible quality for what he pays for, and for him the level of prices of domestic wines, compared to the prices of imported ones, is high. Manufacturers are trying to survive in the market in great competition. For that, it is necessary, first of all, to expand the raw material base, vineyards, modernize production and reduce costs so that they can sell wine at the most affordable price. I think that this necessity is recognized by the state, because this year we started with serious subsidies in the wine and viticulture sector, which will certainly give results in the competitiveness of our wineries in the future.
For many years, the wines from the Terra Lazarica series were the flagship of the winery, but now the Wines with the seal, and then the premium wines of Amante, have almost completely suppressed them?
- You are right regarding the statement regarding the Terra Lazarica brand. It has been present on the market for the last twenty years, it has been invested in the creation of the brand, but the market and the valorization on it are the basis for the survival of the product. Currently, other wines from Rubin are in the foreground, such as the Amante brand and the Wine with a seal. However, as market trends are quite cyclical, this does not mean that the Terra Lazarica brand will be in the shadows in the future.
Can Seal Wines squeeze out lower quality cheap wines from the market, especially imported ones?
- It depends on general social movements, raising the standards of the population, spreading wine culture and more. However, I believe that regardless of everything, these brands from the category of table wines will survive on the market, but through the growth of quality, the possibility for price positioning at a higher level will be provided.
As you pay more and more attention to sparkling wines, how do you see the future of that sector in Rubin?
- We have an extremely wide portfolio of products in which sparkling wines under the Vronski brand also take part. We started with this segment of production about ten years ago, following modern trends on the Serbian market. During that period, the number of producers who produce sparkling wines in Serbia increased, but not much has changed in the trend of consuming this product. Sparkling wine is still used only at celebrations, and very rarely as an aperitif with lighter food. I expect that there will be changes in this segment in Serbia and that it will take a more significant place in production for all producers, including Rubin. Consumers in Serbia should take into account the origin of the wines they consume, because we have a lot of quality producers attention.
Who was that visionary in Rubin who decided to plant the largest orchards of Prokupac and what are the further plans with that variety?
- It was not one man, but a team of people who dealt with this segment. At the beginning of the nineties, when the lack of raw materials appeared with the disintegration of the country, Rubin started raising vineyards. The planting of well-known international varieties started first, and in 2006 the first serious plantations of Prokupac were set up. It was a common opinion that the Prokupac cannot be grown in the classic way, but only with vines of dense planting with a low tree, but we started this way of growing the Prokupac. This was important for us, because by planting larger areas, manual work on land cultivation, fertilization and protection of vineyards can be replaced by machines. Due to the present lack of manpower, this leads to greater opportunities for timely performance of certain operations and measures in grape production. In the previous ten years, Rubin has raised over 700 hectares of vineyards and we continue with this trend. Especially since, unlike the previous period, when we did not have state aid in the form of subsidies, now it is recognized as a necessity within the viticultural strategy of Serbia. We have prepared the land for 60 new hectares of plantations, and with the planting of 90 hectares at the location Karađorđevo hill near Paraćin, where we already have vineyards, we will start in the spring of next year.
What is your personal taste when it comes to wine?
- I prefer Sauvignon Blanc. This grape variety is a real nightmare for technologists, because it can be a masterpiece created in the cellar, and also turn into a very simple and insignificant wine in an instant. I like to consume Sauvignon in both variants, as fresh from the tank, but also aged in barriques. Of the Sauvignon labels, other than Rubin's, I don't have one that I particularly prefer. I prefer to try it from different climates, since one of the characteristics of sauvignon is that it reflects the climate in which it originates. That is why there are so many different styles of this wine in the world today and it can rightly be said that it is a real terroire wine!
Late harvest is very poorly represented in Serbian wineries. Do you have any serious plans to do something about it?
- We already have a constant offer of late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. We also did late harvest cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Such wine is not easy to produce and there is no potential for its production every year, but when the opportunity arises, our winegrowers, together with technologists, set aside plots for those purposes in a suitable location. They used to produce wine with more or less success, and I remember the unsurpassed for now Sauvignon Blanc late harvest from 2003. At the same time, young technologists have the challenge of producing wine that will be better than this in the future.
How the crown affected the business of the Rubin? - Unlike most other local wineries, we have no problem with wine storage capacities. We processed and stored the entire quantity of grapes from our plantations and bought all the offered grapes from other producers. But in part of the placement, there is a problem because the quantities of wine that the market absorbs have been reduced. Rubin is equally active in retail sales in the HORECA segment, so that the decline in sales is smaller than in some other manufacturers related only to HORECA. We are trying to fight in various ways, including increasing placements in other markets. However, the pandemic is global and everyone in the world has a problem with surplus wine. Each country is trying in some way to protect domestic producers with various incentive measures, and to place surpluses on export markets. It is certain that two new wines from the Amante line will soon see the light of day.
Is there pressure from abroad for these cheap wines to enter large retail chains, and is anyone threatening to push you off the shelves in that sense?
- This is exactly what is currently happening in large sales systems in Serbia. Surplus wines are pushed onto the shelves of large chains through various PL labels, so for the first time we had a situation where the import quota for wines from the EU was filled for half a year. On the other hand, we also have wines from the region that are currently treated as domestic in Serbia, but which are not. I think that consumers in Serbia should take into account the origin of the wines they consume, because we have a lot of quality producers that deserve attention. In this context, we are actively involved in the actions that are carried out, which support domestic producers such as Čuvarkuća, Ćirilizacija..
Is there a claim that Serbia cannot produce as much wine as is required?
- Such a claim may be true when it comes to regular years, years without such events as the corona pandemic. But I hope that will change, above all in the light of the expansion of vineyards. Through subsidizing viticulture and winemaking, I expect that the areas under vineyards will increase more drastically, thus the quantity and quality of domestic wine produced.
It is said that with the quality of wine, the wine culture in Serbia is growing rapidly. What is the ideal wine for a Serbian wine lover?
- Growth of wine quality is necessary in all price segments. In that way, every wine lover, no matter how much he can pay, will get the highest quality for the price range he buys at any time. It is important for us to get regular consumers of wine through quality and thus increase the consumption of wine per capita, which is currently at a very low level compared to developed wine countries.
Wine tourism, partly thanks to the crown, finally shone a little in the economic sky of Serbia. Does Rubin have plans in that sector?
- Rubin has been present on the map of wine roads for a long time and we participate in the tourist offer of Serbia. Within the business group to which we belong, the catering and tourist company "Stari grad" Belgrade also operates, which has certain accommodation capacities. For now, our plans are related to cooperation with them and we have not started building our own accommodation capacities, which is not excluded in the future.
Are you preparing a new wine surprise?
- Our technologists in development and winemaking are constantly working on new products, both in the wine segment and in the part of strong drinks or RTD products. As for the wine, it is certain that two new wines from the Amante line will soon see the light of day. It will be a single-variety wine that spent 12 months in barrel barrels, after which another harmonization was made in stainless steel and bottled. I expect it to attract the attention of serious wine connoisseurs.
What Ruby wine do you drink with friends?
- As I mentioned, my favorite is sauvignon blanc, so I usually consume it with friends, and when it comes to red, then it is Merlot, which I warmly recommend to every true lover of good wine.
How do you see Rubin in five years?
- Changes in the modern environment are happening at a high speed. The challenges posed by new trends have become more demanding, so a clear and adequate business strategy is needed for the company's success. What Rubin has been doing for 65 years is the company's orientation towards consumers, which is the main precondition for successful business and adjustment. I hope that in the next five years, not only with new technologies and products, but also with the company's desire to create something that can hardly be imitated and taken over by the competition, we will continue to create recognizable brands. Thus, we provide a strong basis for establishing and developing long-term quality relationships with customers, which is also the basis for maintaining a leading position in the market.
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