Only six restaurants in Rovinj have his wine on their menu, and that is because he wants it that way. His way of living and producing represents the local, indigenous Istria from past times, something that slowly became an exclusive available to only some of us. We interviewed the winemaker Juraj Mastilović (25) who runs the country estate Stancija Collis. On a peaceful hill a few kilometers from Rovinj, his guests can enjoy pure nature with original Istrian products: autochthonous wines, extra virgin olive oils, homemade cheese, donkey milk.
What is the story and philosophy behind Stancija Collis?
My father bought the land here in 1988, shed the forest and planted his first olive tree… During those years, we made wine and olive oil for ourselves and for several family friends. Working side by side with my father and learning how to produce olive oil and wine, I became passionate about it. After finishing high school, I started my studies to become an enology engineer and graduated in 2015th. That’s when I decided to go seriously into the world of wine making. After gaining experience at several regional wineries, I decided to take it to the next level – and went to New Zealand. After staying there for 3 months, I spent some time in Australia and returned home, and that is it. From the one hectare in 1988, today we count six. We have 500 olive trees, we grow grape varieties of malvasia and teran. Our goal is to grow autochthonous, native Istrian grape varieties. We also have 60 goats, donkeys and cows – all that is what makes our Stancija Collis.
Why New Zealand?
When I graduated I was 23 years old, it’s when I knew I would continue my family business, and before that I wanted to gain experience abroad at other wineries. New Zealand has grape harvesting in February, March and April, and in our regions that’s in September, and that was perfect timing for me. After contacting several wineries, I received a response from one, signed a contract, sat on the plane and went to Marlborough – the southern New Zealand island, which is also its most famous wine region. They have excellent Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. I spent 3 months there working in a winery that produces twice as much of the whole Istrian area – you don’t see an end in those wine yards. It was very hard, but I wanted to gain experience, and earn some money – life was expensive there.
So, what is it that distinguishes our region from New Zealand?
People see what’s on the news, and accordingly create an image that life is better somewhere else. I don’t think you can know that until you see those differences for yourself. I went to New Zealand and realized I could never set my roots there. The mentality and way of life are different to what I’m used to. I have the feeling that we are warmer people, more family-related. It is true – you have to try harder to make a living in Croatia, but it’s possible if you’re passionate and persistent. It’s a lot of work but you’re happy to do it – for your family. At least I see things that way. New Zealand and Australia are beautiful countries with good standards of living, but people are work oriented, they don’t spend much time with their friends and family.
What can our winemakers learn from New Zealand’s?
In my opinion, nothing much. I’m surprised how our winemakers take great matter into organic wine production. Our younger winemakers are increasingly turning to the original way of wine production that is in harmony with nature. The previous generation of winemakers was oriented to quantity and earnings. Back then it was harder to earn money by producing wine, so they lost quality due to various conditions, mechanization at the time, and mostly because they were profit-oriented. Today, however, we have different conditions and opportunities, it’s much easier for us to produce quality wine.
So, we have to go back to basics?
The general trend is to produce a lot of wine, and along with it, exploited vineyards become more susceptible to diseases and have a shorter expiration date. One follows the other – you want quantity, you lose quality, and then you lose the indigenousness and what makes Istria so special. If we all aim at quantity and produce identically – we all become the same.
Where’s tradition and originality in that? Nowhere, it’s non-existing. We need to return to the original ways of production like our grandparents did it, everybody have to produce in their own special way, and retain their own story. That’s when the magic happens, and wine becomes work of art. We are slowly returning to the organic production of wine with an extended maceration process. We can offer top quality products if we simply remember to take a natural, non-harmful approach towards nature.
Where is the balance between retaining quality, and increasing tourist arrivals each year?
I hope that our tourism is going in the direction of increasing quality of the service itself and attracting only those guests who can afford our exclusivity.
With mass tourism, we are ruining the ecosystem, and Istria is too rich with nature and too beautiful to be destroyed. Some neighboring destinations have become industries that are detrimental to nature. Too much promotion is a double-edged sword – when we speak of Rovinj. We can’t let it become just one destination in a sea of million – we are special, we have to preserve that.
How do guests reach you?
Mostly through reservations, which is my ultimate aim. We treat guests of Stancija Collis as family. The tour starts with a light walk through our estate. What we try to convey is the beauty of living in harmony with nature. After the tour, we organize tastings so guests can enjoy our products. My aim is to be fully booked and reduce drop-ins in order to avoid crowds. That way I can be devoted to my guests and give them a unique experience. I started with the winery a few years ago, so I can’t afford such an approach yet, but I’m slowly working my way towards it. I appreciate my work, I know how much I have invested in it – and you can’t put a price tag on that.
When it comes to you reaching others – do you attend wine fairs and show your work?
This year I exhibited on few wine fairs, but that’s it. Although at first, I wanted to make myself visible, I realized there is just too many of us winemakers reaching out from every corner, and I want to be special. It is true, I made the effort to promote myself in the beginning, but I wanted to stop when enough is enough. I will simply let other people talk about my work, people who tried my products or visited Stancija Collis. There is no better way than that, because you know it’s transparent and true.
How do you decide on distribution of wine?
I work with friends who know me for years, so my distribution comes down to five-six restaurants in Rovinj and one in Premantura. My philosophy is to personally distribute everything. I prefer such an approach, I have a different, warmer relationship with people who buy my wine because they’re my friends. There were opportunities to expand on the foreign market, but didn’t take them. Our region has no capacity to export large quantities of wine abroad. Increasing the production would inevitably lower the quality. Being small and local is good as long as we can live prosper here from what we do.
Do you recognize such an approach with other winemakers? Maybe just a few of us. The majority of winemakers wants to do business and turn winemaking into an industry. People don’t realize, until something happens to them, that money isn’t everything. Unfortunately, some winemakers, after creating a successful brand have no need to keep up with quality. Average wine consumers are easily bought. They see a nice visual identity – and they’ll buy the wine.
A good winemaker lives in harmony with nature and his wine yard, he sleeps well and calmly at night, has no stress, and most important he is joyful to make good wine.
People who come here have started to recognize the quality of a local family producer. I am not worried about the future, we’re slowly going towards quality.
Behind every successful story there is…
The initiative to create Stancija Collis was mine, but with complete support and help from my parents. I may be the one who had the idea, the one who runs all this, but I have a great family and let’s not forget – a great geographic location for this job. Everything matters. In the end, my dad who has great taste started all this in 1988. – I simply couldn’t turn out wrong with such great parents.