Proprietor: Ernest Tolj
Website: Saints Hills Winery
Country Location: Croatia
SAINTS HILLS was founded in the year 2006, with the intention to make and tender premium quality Croatian wines. The company owns three vineyards and two wineries in two Croatian regions: Dalmatia (Dingac & Komarna) and Istria.
DINGAC - St Lucia vineyard, Peljesac-Dalmatia
ST ROKO - St Roko vineyard, Komarna-Dalmatia
NEVINA - St Ante vineyard, Radovani-Istra
Innocence Found: Saints Hills Winery
Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia
Translated and Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia
By now many people have heard a lot of great things about Saints Hills Winery, but not many of us have actually tasted the wine. It’s like a Ferrari: everyone knows it’s a great car but very few of us have actually ever driven one.
The owner of Saints Hills Winery is smart and passionate. More important, he manages to skillfully combine these two very opposite characteristics. The truth is, passion and intelligence are two things in business that don’t always merge successfully – except, perhaps, in the wine business.
A good business strategy is not a guarantee of good wine. But a sincere emotional bond between the winemaker and the product is – thank God – usually a good start toward great wine. Of course it is not a good business strategy to produce and bottle your first vintage and then, instead of releasing it onto the market, you give it away to friends. Needless to say, that approach is not profitable. It is even less rational to release your second vintage and limit its distribution to just a dozen or so places, before giving away the rest. This approach, of course, only compounds the financial losses. Along comes the third vintage, a wine that you feel meets the criteria of experienced and refined gourmets, and then you release the entire batch onto the market. This decision is based in emotion, not business. It is the passionate next move of an artist who finally pulls away the curtain to reveal his creation for all to see and judge.
That is exactly what Saints Hills Winery owner, Ernest Tolj, has done. After five years of preparation, he has finally released the Saints Hills 2009 “Nevina” white wine, a blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay, as well as a red wine made from Plavac Mali, the Saints Hills 2008 Dingač.
And the wines are brilliant!
In today’s world, many affluent lovers of wine desire to produce wine under labels embossed with their own names. Once they realize that a winery has a hunger for money that is like a bottomless pit, most give up on the glorious notion of being able to sit in a restaurant with business partners and order a wine named after them.
Ernest Tolj is by far in a different camp. A serious businessman with huge ambitions, Tolj manages to merge business savvy and an unbelievable passion for wine into a clear and balanced production and marketing strategy. He is also cognizant that he must absorb the losses of the past two vintages and carry them forward for at least the next three years. That, in fact, was the plan from the start. And the current distribution plan is no less ambitious: Saints Hills wines will simultaneously enter the markets in Croatia, Serbia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Until now, no other winery in Croatia has achieved such a feat.
Such an ambitious plan requires the assistance of top notch people in the profession. Not surprising then that Mr. Tolj has hired the most important enologist/wine consultant of our time: Michel Rolland from Bordeaux, arguably the creator of some of the best wines in the world.
The grapes that will provide the backbone to Saints Hills wines are Malvasia Istriana (white) and Plavac Mali (red) from vineyards in Radovani, Istria (Malvasia) and the Dingač appellation (Plavac Mali) on the Pelješac peninsula – two wine-growing regions that currently show great potential.