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Ralf Schumacher: "I’m nothing but impressed about Slovenia"

It is said that there’s no such thing as coincidences. However, it is precisely coincidences that often lead us to the most exciting things and turning points in life. I believe that this holds true for the story of former Formula 1 driver Ralf Schumacher and the Klet Brda winery.

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Ralf Schumacher and I met at the Klet Brda winery on his last visit to Slovenia. During our extremely pleasant encounter, we tasted excellent wines from the winery and talked about wine and all things related to it. It is clear that this former race car driver is a man who knows what he wants and how to get it. He does not leave anything to chance, not even wine. But why I mention coincidences?

Because the true story goes like this: one day at a Salzburg restaurant, Ralf Schumacher tasted a glass of Rebula, a variety of wine very dear to him and which deeply impressed him. He wanted to find out the name of the producer to serve the wine at his Mediterranean restaurant. He got in touch with the Klet Brda winery and ended up in Goriška Brda.

"Not only the Rebula I tried made it to my restaurant, but we also agreed on a working relationship with our own ideas, and very successful ones, I could say. We increased the range also to other white and red wines as well as sparkling and sweet wines. I’m very happy about it," he explained. "Today I’m here for next season and I’m really happy with the variaties and everything that is produced here. We have really high-quality standards,” explained Ralf how it all began. Their partnership developed even further and the Schumacher Selection wine brand emerged.

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    Ralf Schumacher with the head oenologist Darinko Ribolica. Photo: Klet Brda archives

Schumacher Selection was carefully curated by Ralf. The line is very versatile as Ralf chose a traditional sparkling wine, the fresh white wines of Rebula and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay aged in barriques, light Pinot Noir, distinct Cabernet Franc, and a Brda specialty, Picolit, a traditional dessert wine. The wines are only available at select restaurants – also with Michelin stars – and bars.

When Ralf Schumacher talks about wine, you can feel his passion for this noble beverage as well as his devotion and perfectionism concerning wine and everything related to it, including sophisticated wine glasses and bottle openers. His interest in wine is not something he started after his successful career in sport, in which, he politely educates me, he is still very active.

"My interest in wines goes way back, to when I was just 20. Interestingly, my son who is only 18 now loves the Cabernet Franc we make here together with Klet Brda."

He discusses all the details with the head oenologist Darinko Ribolica from the Klet Brdo winery. He knows precisely how he would like his wine to be, but at the same time he is aware that wine gets its charm and touch from nature. During our pleasant talk, he reveals that he is led by nature. Even his lifestyle is active and nature-related.

"If you do something extremely alive, you want to enjoy healthy food,” says Ralf, who is very fond of everything natural.

"We should never forget that the most interesting thing about wine is that we can manage it only to a certain point of our abilities, because it is a natural product. Then we can only leave it to the temperature, water, earth, sun … That is why wine is so interesting to me. It needs the love of people who are around it. And here in Slovenia it has all of this. There are families that care for the grapes and that is one thing I learned in Slovenia and I find it impressive. The outcome is simply amazing. It’s something special. Wine is a 100% natural product, it’s pure and each year offers itself to you."

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    Ralf is a wine lover. Photo: Klet Brda archives

Slovenia came as a true revelation

He honestly admits that this was his first contact with Slovenia and it proved to be a true revelation. He was impressed by its wines, nature and people whom he finds dedicated and hard-working. "So far I’m nothing but impressed with Slovenia. I’m amazed not only about the quality of its wine, but also its beautiful landscape and excellent food. I’ve only met straightforward and honest people here. For me it is an asset in life and I only hope that we continue in this way."

According to him, he is lucky to have been able to travel around the globe and taste different wines. Ralf is a wine connoisseur, wine lover and a passionate wine collector, who has always wanted to have his own winery. His wish has partly come true by forming a partnership with the Klet Brda winery.

"This winery is very flexible although it is quite big for Slovenian standards.  They are market oriented in this is helpful," tells Ralf, who developed close ties with his partners in the Klet Brda winery.

Last year, he picked up the scissors and a bucket and helped with the harvest. He has thus experienced this important part of the Slovenian grape-harvesting tradition where everybody works together towards a common goal. "I was picking grapes and was impressed how everybody joins in, from six to eighty-year-olds and it was amazing being part of it. But the most wonderful about it is that the product is fantastic," explains Ralf, who in this way participates in the production of the Schumacher Selection from the beginning to the end.

He remarks with some disappointment that people from Germany, France, Austria and Italy who work in this field prefer to stay in regions they know and with which they are familiar. The English, the Dutch and the Americans are much more open about this.

"I grew up in Germany and was familiar to German wines, also Italian and French. I wasn't aware of how truly impressive the area here in Brda is, where you can find wide range of varieties on just 1,000 hectares. All these circumstances and also the effect of the local climate result in truly amazing products," tells Ralf, who last year became a true ambassador of Slovenian wines, especially of his favourite, Rebula.

He believes that Slovenian wines are the perfect product. "I was impressed by the authenticity of the product, whether it goes for red, white, sparkling or dessert wine. And I must say that my customers enjoy it."

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    He is impressed by Slovenian wines. Photo: Damjan Simčič

The Schumacher Selection

Apart from Ralf's carefully-selected range of wines, the Schumacher Selection also includes wine glasses, bottle openers and other accessories. The Schumacher brand is only available in select restaurants and bars. As Ralf explains, this is because of two reasons: if you want to sell certain quality and this goes together with the price.

"I don’t like people ‘Googling’ about the prices of wine. They have no idea how much effort it takes to run a restaurant or bar and how much service is behind these types of endevours. That is why I want the Schumacher wine to exclusive so that people cannot Google the price. Also, it takes so much work and energy to produce wine. There’s so much handwork involved, and also climatic influences, that the price shouldn’t be discussed that much."

When asked about his future plans, he smiles politely. "Well they are very simple," he adds warmly. "I’m happy where I am. With my partners here, we will keep trying new things. I have some ideas that come from my personal taste. I work very closely with Darinko and it has been going really well. I must say that people underestimate the quality of Slovenian wine and this is where I want to contribute. I think what people are doing here is really good."

Considering that all this is the result of a glass of Rebula, it is hard not to believe in coincidences, isn’t it?

Author: Polona Prešeren

Date: 18. February 2020

Time to read: 3 min