In contrast to the previous generations, when arable farming and animal husbandry, viticulture and winemaking were activities all equally important, Eliđo Pilato, in the third generation of a farming family, turned in the nineties to grapes and wine alone. From his father Končeto he inherited the passion, the vineyards and the cellar, and gradually made his way into the market. At the beginning the wine could be bought only there in his cellar, but from the beginnings of the work of the Vinistra association, a considerable improvement of Istria as a wine region, with the establishment of new guidelines and the introduction of new technology in the production of Malvazia, and with additional wind in his sails, in 1995 he first bottled his wine. He thinks 2001 a turning point, for his Chardonnay was pronounced a Vinovita champion and made the name Pilato well known. He’s extremely interesting to talk to, saying that he’s constantly learning new things, and that every further step binds him more and more to wine. Because of the way things are today, he has no fears for the future, for the fourth generation of the family has set out on a well-marked pathway.
Vineyards and assortments
After he had taken control of the business, in time he expanded production, and today the family owns 13 hectares of vineyards planted mostly with Malvazia, then Chardonnay, White Pinot, Sauvignon, White Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Teran/Terrano. All the vineyards are on Istrian red soil and are in the immediate neighbourhood of the Vižinada cellar. This parsimonious area with plenty of stones in the ground requires a lot of attention and low yields. He is able to complete his production line from 4 more subcontracted hectares close to the sea and a few bought-in grapes from reliable viticulturists. Without proper vineyard management there can be no good wine. The traditional way of leaving high yields has long since gone. Apart from by pruning, we cut down the yields by rejecting some of the grapes when green. My father ran the vineyards until quite recently, but old age and sickness kept him away from production. All the same, every day I have to report to him, and very often take him down to the vineyards to show him that everything is still working.
Cellar, technology, wines
We do our best to make sure the grapes are harvested and delivered to the cellar in double quick time, which is no problem, because the vineyards are close. Some innovations were made this year in the making of whites with the use of stainless steel vats. Malvazia aging sure lie is an experiment that turned out very worthwhile. I am very pleased and think that 2009 Malvazia will be better than the previous, richer and more serious. I want to start off with the use of wood in Malvazia, but there are constraints of space here. We plan to expand the cellar, but the crisis has held us back. Though Malvazia is the most important variety in Istria, and in our cellar too, I want to work on high quality reds, and think that we can be just as good with them. They produced about 130,000 litres of wine a year, almost all sold on the Croatian market.
Up to last year, all the production went on literally in the family circle, and then when production expanded they took on one employee. Extra help is needed with major jobs and during picking time, and the proud father points out the younger generation is following in his footsteps. Daughter Karin and son Sanjin have opted for oenology as their calling, while Sanja has decided on hotel management and promised her father that she will make sure that in the future sales and promotion will function impeccably. If you don’t have someone to go on with your efforts and work, I think that in this business you haven’t really made it, and so I am very glad that my kids have got to love the family firm and set out on that path themselves. The tasting room that is a part of the cellar is a pleasant place and attracts lots of visitors.
I was born to the business and can’t imagine doing anything else. I love it when I can create something new and every year new again. It’s a challenge and I think that you can’t do this job if you don’t love it. Otherwise, there’s nothing. You are just wasting your time because you have to put something of yourself into the wine, it’s a reflection of your character. Eighty percent of the job is done in the vineyard, and if you are not ready to put in a lot of effort and work, you can’t be special, and I want my wines to be special and have their own identity. On the market there are a lot of good wines, the competition is stiff. There is no end in winemaking, no limit, you can’t say you have learned it all, because you are constantly learning, there are always new ideas coming in. It’s a passion that takes me on, and I can see the same thing in Sanjin. He likes the vineyard, the cellar, and I can say once more than it makes me very happy. With new knowledge we can only go on.
The objective is to bring the production to a peak at 20 hectares, and no more, because this would take it out of the scope of family production, and they don’t want that. Quality is the priority. It’s planned to expand the cellar and produce a few serious wines with a longer keeping capacity. We can feel the crisis and we have simply stopped some projects, but we hope that we shall soon set them off. When Croatia gets into the EU, low quality wine will feel the draught, because we are not capable of producing cheap good wine. The price of grapes in Croatia is high and only with very high quality wines can we meet the world competition. Every producer has to determine whether they want to make eau de cologne or perfume. My objective and vision are very clear. This year we made our first exports to Belgium and are working on selling our wines in other countries. A real product is always going to make its way to a real customer.