Wine cellar’s ID
To my query about the family tradition and the beginnings Zdenko Šember replies with a smile: It all started a very long time ago. My granddad and parents have always been into wine, and then in 1991 we put our first label on the market. At the beginning they did just still wines, and then in 1997 started producing sparkling wines with the classic champagne method. The first recipe was given me by Franjo Jambrović, who was then boss of the Mladina cellar. He actually gave the first recipes to everyone in this area. You couldn’t learn anything from anyone else then and at that time we weren’t able to travel. We started with some three hundred bottles. I learned from my mistakes. When you go wrong one year, the next you put it right. It’s a long process. Sparkling wine needs several years before it can get out onto the market. Today I know the direction I am heading and what kind of wines I want to produce. With his wife Ivanka in the last few years he has travelled a lot and gone around winemaking regions and learn from it. The Champagne region is what he likes best. I know and have kept up with the Šember Winery quite well, but my visit to the cellar, talk with the winemaker and several hours of tasting from the 2002 vintage on were a real surprise. Zdenko revealed in our conversation that his winemaking model is his friend and neighbour, Tomislav Tomac. He says he is an excellent man and a first-rate winemaker, that his wines are fantastic. I believe that in his philosophy and wines, Šember is closing the gap very fast. His sparkling rosé of 2008 left me wordless with how lovely it was.
Vineyards and assortment
The family vineyards are planted on the sunny slopes of Plešivica. At the beginning they were mixed vineyards of old varieties, and then we started ploughing in and renewing the plantations. We planted Rhine Riesling, Chardonny, Pinot Noir. Some of the vineyard was kept under the old varieties (Yellow Plavec and others). We had about 40,000 vines, for the rows were planted closer together before. Today we have fewer, about thirty thousand. That’s about five and a half hectares. The yields for still wines are low, for sparkling a bit higher, and so it’s really essential to prune properly and smartly. We do the pruning ourselves, for every mistake takes a long time to make up for. For white macerated wines the yields are still lower. All depends on the year. Last year we planned more sparkling, but it was complicated year, and a difficult one, and the quantities are much smaller. Most of the jobs in the vineyard are done by my parents, Ružica and Stjepan, and when needed by other members of the family as well.
Cellar, technology, wines
The family cellar is in Donji Pavlovčani by Jastrebarsko. Zdenko runs the whole of the production. They have a combination of stainless steel and big oak barrels. At the beginning they produced more still wines, but each year there is more sparkling. Last year we had a considerably smaller year. Pinot noir we didn’t do at all as a still wine, it all went into the sparkling. They put on the market about 30,000 bottles a year of still wines (Rhine Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir) and about 17,000 bottles of sparkling wine (Šember Brut and Šember Rosé). They produce the sparkling wines by the classical method. After the first fermentation in stainless steel, it has to age in big oak barrels, after which come bottling and second fermentation. They are sent to market after 2 to three years aging in the bottles. Sparkling wine needs wood, because if it stays in stainless alone it keeps too much of the aromatics, and I don’t like that. Last year we bottled sparkling wine that will be put on the market only in four years time. There is a lot of work with sparkling wine, for it’s all done by hand, and every bottle is handled several times. In the rich archives they keep wines and sparkling wines from different years, and in 2011 they buried their first amphora in the yard and produced wine that will come onto the market this year in a limited batch of 500 bottles.
What’s wine to me? From the beginning of my work, my philosophy of wine has changed. At the beginning I wanted the wines to be good, as good as possible. I studied and researched. With the knowledge I have gained, today I look differently at the cellar and the vineyard. Wine is not about oenology. I try to get my wines in as natural a way as I can. Interaction with nature is of the essence. Since 2002 we have done trials with white macerated wines, and from 2011 we are doing wine in amphorae. I like this kind of wine, and I want my wines in the future to be maximally natural, maximally special. Too great perfection is not a good thing in wine. It has to have its own style and finish, and for that to happen, the job in the vineyard has to be done perfectly. For sparkling wines it’s important to hit the time for picking and make a good basis, and then it has to age long enough. It is incredible how much wine changes in the bottle and how much more complexity you get with aging.
In the Šember estate, everything is kept within the family framework. As well as Zdenko, his most active son, Nikola, a third year student in the Agriculture Faculty and a big lover of wine, also works in the cellar. His daughters Klara and Lucija help when there is a need. Ivanka is a very communicative and likeable person, most active in presenting the family’s wines at fairs. There’s a tasting room in the cellar that you can visit if you give advance notice.
It’s Zdenko’s big wish to expand the vineyards and increase the production of sparkling wine. I would like to plant at least 2 ha of vineyard with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Not more than that. It’s my wish to produce up to 40,000 bottles of sparkling and about 25,000 bottles of still wines a year. With this amount, everything can still be kept in the framework of family production. If we increased the vineyards, then we would have to increase cellar capacity as well. You need a lot of space to produce sparkling wine, if you want to keep it two to three years before sending it to the market. We are buying new equipment and machines. I want to make extremely good white wines that can age, and get the sparkling wines closer in style to champagne. Pinot Noir is another big challenge. If you have never worked with this variety, you don’t know how different and demanding it is. I want us and the winemakers of this region to get together somehow and work in concert more. To set up certain quality standards below which one should not go. I believe that as region we have a big potential.