Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Olaf Malver: "We need to produce good wine - no matter if in clay jar, a former communist cement tank, or a shiny Italian steel container". Exclusive interview of Hvino News with owner of Danieli Winery

Gio Babunidze and Olaf Malver.  Photo: Danieli.
30.03.2016. (Hvino News). "We need to produce good wine - no matter if in clay jar, a former communist cement tank, or a shiny Italian steel container", - says Olaf Malver.

Today Hvino News continues to publish its series of exclusive interviews with leaders of Georgia’s winemaking industry. Our guest today is Mr. Olaf Malver, owner of Danieli Winery. He kindly agreed to answer our questions.

We suggest starting the interview with a brief business outline. Can you tell us several facts about your company today?

Danieli Winery Ltd. is a new wine producer located in Western Kakheti, Eastern Georgia. We started 5 years ago and our first vintages are from 2013.

Our main focus is to grow and market our own varieties and we at this point only produce Georgian varietals using modern European fermentation methodology, i.e. process controlled stainless steel fermentation and maturation in oak. Our estate is about 30 hectares of old and new vineyards around the village of Argokhi  Map , and we produce wines from Kisi, Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, and Mtsvane varieties. Our pride is our Kisi vineyards - the Argokhi location is recognized to be the best terroir in Georgia for growing this upcoming white wine grape and we own 65% of all Kisi vineyards in that Kisi terroir.

So far, the quality of our wines has been very well received, both here and abroad. We already export to Scandinavia, the US and the Far East. Our aim is to grow slowly and sustainably - while keeping a superior quality and develop long lasting relationships with our staff, industry colleagues in Georgia and sales channels here and abroad. At this point, we make 30 - 40.000 bottles/year and we aim to grow to a production ceiling of 100.000 - 140.000 bottles/year.

What made you enter into the world of wine?

What made me enter the wonderful world of wines originally was my Danish father’s great wine collection - he was a great Bordeaux admirer.  We kids at home got the chance to sip a lot of the good stuff and hear the grown-ups speak about a red being “broad-shouldered” and white “a whispering angel”!

My own professional background as it relates to wine is being a former professor in organic chemistry and enzymology at the University of California in San Francisco and I also have a chemical engineering degree from the Copenhagen Technical University.  This academic background truly helps me having great wine development conversations with our fantastic local wine maker Gio Babunidze, a true wine wizard with a Master’s degree in winemaking and a wine exporter’s  background in Georgia. He is also educated in the German wine sector, which is good: in Germany you for sure learn to work cleanly!  I see that cleanliness and discipline in our own wine making every day.

Well, also having lived in the Bay Area in California for more than 20 years, you cannot help being stimulated by the success and enthusiasm in the local wine regions of Napa and Sonoma.  Furthermore, we had a private crush pad at our home in Berkeley.

So when we moved to Georgia (Eka, my wife, is from Tusheti) what was more natural than to make a serious investment and commitment in something we love?  I saw and still see an enormous potential not only for Danieli Winery but also for Georgia as a whole to become a serious player in producing excellent wines for the world’s discerning wine enthusiasts!

We are not interested in becoming the leader of the Georgian wine industry per se.  We are interested in being part of a growing Georgian high-end quality production sector.  We cannot do this alone - in the start we can be a small top quality garagiste producer (which are many in the world) and only with similar others build the Georgian Brand over the years.  This should be based on Georgia’s rich wine history and the great varietals that grow on Georgian soil.

Are you creator of your brand and beautiful logo?

The name Danieli came from my Georgian Orthodox priest’s desire to give me an appropriate baptismal name - so why not “The Guy from Denmark”!  It corresponds to my nationality and now is the name of our brand. Danieli is also a Georgian saint’s name - although that is not me!  And when you look at our heraldic log, you will see the Danish and Georgian flag crosses leaning close to each other on a bed of golden grape leaves. That depicts my wife and I joining forces in what we love to do.

By the way, Danieli is also that very high-end posh hotel in Venice. We love it and it imbues where we want Danieli Winery to be in 10 years - as a top quality wine producing wine brand, enjoyed by few discerning wine lovers!  We want to compete on quality and not price.

What’s your typical day like? What are your current priorities, concerns, worries?

A budding winery owner in Georgia does not have a “typical” day - the shots come from all directions and it is a multi-task job on all fronts.  But still a lot of fun!

Since we have from early on defined our company values in agreement with our staff, it is easier to make our day-to-day decisions. Our firmly rooted values are: excellence, profitability, and integrity.  We want to ultimately only produce excellent grapes and wines, hire only excellent staff and only seek excellent partners in our business conduct.  Profitability should be with a long-term perspective and our belief in integrity is rooted in all our processes - from the way our grapes are grown to how we conduct business and operations.  With those values firmly entrenched in all what we do we will be successful, I believe.

My biggest concern is that we as players in the Georgian wine sector do not pull in the same direction.  I have seen in the California wine sectors as enormous success, where producers, governmental sectors as well as academia are pulled together in the same direction.  We must do that too, always keeping the quality of the Georgian varietals as the main guiding beacon.

Unfortunately, now there is a division in Georgia of how we should present our wines to the world and become a serious wine exporter. And that is destructive for the future of a serious Georgian wine market penetration on the very competitive international markets. I am not alone in this belief - many serious wine experts agree with me. We are dividing our Georgian wine products up in how the wines are made (qvevri versus stainless steel, for instance). At this point of time when we are making such quality-dispersed wines, we should rather focus on improving our very special varietals, which is an expression of what Georgian soil is. This varietal improvement focus should be both in the vineyards and in the production.  We should not use the production methodology sales arguments in our Georgian wine promotion.

The outside markets ultimately want wine that tastes good according to their pallets and we need to produce such good wine.  Not because it is made in a clay jar, a former communist cement tank, or a shiny Italian stainless steel container.  Right now, Danieli Winery is not producing qvevri wines because we are not good at that right now.  Perhaps we will in the future but only if it will be of excellent quality.

An insight into future – what are your goals, strong points of your business, and possible threats to it?

I am an eternal optimist - and a long-term optimist at that.  For sure, in a business and socio-economic and political climate such as in Georgia, it will not be an easy process, but hard work, sticking to your values and a grain of luck will be enough for success.

Our strength is that we are long-term value driven, believe in the Georgian varietals and conduct our business in a professional international manner.

If you wish to send a personal message to global professional wine community, the floor is yours!

I want to tell the global wine community - we are coming! We have fantastic varietals and are in the process of making great strides in our vineyards and wine cellars.  And come to Georgia, select some great wines and drink them in some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.  And come by and taste some Danieli if you get a chance!

Thank you very much, Mr. Malver. 

© Hvino News.
To read other Hvino's interviews with representatives of Georgia’s winemaking industry, see (1), (2), (3)(4), (5).

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