Polish wine from a cluster
I have recently been presented with an unusual gift - a bottle red wine produced near the town of Zielona Góra. Given our climate, we are unlikely to become a major wine producer, nevertheless in some regions of Poland wine production may prove an opportunity to create an interesting regional product or brand. And that’s exactly what the wine producers’ cluster of the Lubuskie voivodship has been trying to do.
There isn’t much to say – the wine tastes very dry. Growing grapes in our climate is surely quite a challenge. That’s why Polish wine producers are rather unlikely to produce enough wine to flood super- and hypermarkets with. Although, on the other hand, the French Beaujolais nouveau owes its worldwide success not to its perfect taste, but rather to the ingenious and gigantic ”Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” marketing campaign lunched worldwide at the end of each November.
Our wine producers are capable of producing only a small volume of wine that doesn’t even make it to the shops. Such small-scale alcohol production encounters numerous legal and tax barriers overcoming which begins to pay off once a plant grows to be a big distillery or a brewery producing thousands of beer bottles daily. Polish wine producers ―mainly hobbyists ― don’t have it easy. Nearly 10 years ago, in an interview for Businessman Magazine” I spoke with Roman Myśliwiec, an owner of a small vineyard in the region of Podkarpacie. What he said then is pretty much still true: “Myśliwiec is not allowed to sell his wine, because he does not have a laboratory, which is one of the requirements of the wine production legislation, addressed mainly to large producers of the lowest quality wines. Polish law simply does not provide for the existence of small, private vineyards. In the EU, small wine producers are relieved from the requirement to build labs, which is quite an expense. Instead, they can order external companies to carry out the necessary tests. But his is unheard of in Poland. “I hoped that following our accession to the EU these absurd requirements would disappear, but the EU legislation is addressed only to countries producing at least 25 thousand hl of grape wine annually” ― he says bitterly. And even though in our article entitled “Behind the UE’s Threshold” we expressed the hope that this situation would change once we become a member of the community, nothing has changed so far.
Despite the barriers, though, the wine industry in the warmest regions of Poland, such as the Lubuskie voivodship, or parts of the Podkarpackie voivodship, continues to grow, and wine producers –now associated in a cluster - have not ceased to struggle with the unfavourable reality and continue to develop their production.
Mr. Adam Grad, an owner of a vineyard named “Julia,” located in Stary Kisielin near Zielona Góra, has published an interesting paper entitled “Conditions for the Development of a Wine Producers’ Cluster in the Lubuskie Voivodship.” Skipping the part devoted to the theory of clusters, let’s take a look at the part of the paper devoted to wine production and tourism in the voivodship. The author starts with the description of the phenomenon of enotourism, i.e. wine tourism, which, on the one hand, is conducive to the development of the regions’ geographical and cultural identity, and, on the other hand, is an effective way of attracting a specific group of tourists. According to the research results quoted in the paper, an enotourist has an income higher than the average and does a job requiring high qualifications.
The author also discusses the activity of the Wine Producers’ Association of Zielona Góra. The main task of the 80-members association is to revive the local wine production traditions, which they believe will stimulate economic development of the region. Wine was produced in Zielona Góra already in the middle ages, and despite periodical difficulties, the wine production traditions have survived in the region until today. The association supports and promotes the revival of wine production in the region, and organizes events such as the Beaujolais Day, the Wine Producers’ Ball, the Wine Contest or the Zielona Góra Wine Fair.
Grad also dwells on the prospects for the development of the wine cluster in the region. According to the result of a survey conducted among by the members of the association, the common belief is that one of the factors conducive to the development of the cluster is the existence of the Honey and Wine Route of the Lubuskie region, which has already gained some recognition nationwide, and the image of the town of Zielona Góra as the “capital city” of Polish wine. The author claims that the local wine producers have the zeal, determination and patience necessary to develop a wine cluster, where the “true benefits (...) will not be visible until several years from now.”
Among the threats to the development of the cluster identified by the members of the association the major ones are the legislation, which does not provide for the possibility of producing small volumes of wine. Another barrier is the low popularity of wine in Poland, where the “national beverages” are beer and vodka.
Grad also mentions the factors which may contribute to the development of the cluster and enotourism in the region, namely the development of cooperation with vineyards located in Germany, near the national border, as well as stronger promotional campaigns (publications, websites) conducted in several languages, including English and German. He says that turning the local wine production from a hobby into a profitable business will require a greater involvement of the companies associated in the cluster.