Boris Ivančić, whose Vivat wine stores have been an indispensable part of the Croatian wine market for the past 25 years, has retained his enthusiasm until today, combining it with high business and aesthetic standards. Recently, he embarked on a new adventure, having opened the new Vivat fine wine bar in Martićeva street, across the street from his wine store, offering fine beverage enthusiasts a very special place to taste a carefully hand-picked selection of diverse wines, champagnes, but also coffee and juices.
We talked to him in the pleasant ambiance of the bar, as he was closely monitoring the finishing touches put on the interior design. Although his attention was sought constantly from all sides, he took the time to demonstrate to us the tart tastes of the apple and aronia and talk to us about the orchards in southern Styria where they come from. We discussed his beginnings, but also his current plans, which are putting Martićeva street on the wine lovers’ map of Zagreb.
Rebbeca Mikulandra: I’ve come across your article about your visit to Vinitaly in 1993 and how it was a sort of turning point – that’s the year you opened your first wine store. Can you tell us more about what brought you to this decision?
Boris Ivančić: Actually, I’ve become a wine salesman completely by chance. As I was nearing the end of my law studies, thanks to an idea of my wife’s father, I found myself in his newly furnished wine store, opened on the occasion of the first ‘Wine in Croatia’ exhibition in 1993 in Boćarski dom. Before the exhibition, an entire bus filled with the organizers of the exhibition went to visit one of the biggest wine fairs in Verona, Italy. We were astonished by its size and the selection of wines, which most of us had never seen before. There were only a couple of wine producers on the national market, and there were almost no international wines offered whatsoever. The wine store was small, but had a very contemporary interior design for the time, and was designed by the then very young architects Ćurković and Zidarić. We had a difficult time filing the store with wine bottles as they were simply non-existent on our market. In the back of the premises we had three steel containers for selling wine in bulk, which was very popular at the time, whereas the shelves were filled with floral arrangements. The offering of Croatian wines was simply not sufficient. After the first exhibition ended, I was simply hooked. I simply stayed in the store and gave it the name Vivat (from the Latin Vivat, crescat, floreat, which I remembered from the law firm where I worked as an assistant during my studies), and began doing something completely new and unplanned. I was very new to the business. However, thanks to acquaintances I made at the exhibition, very soon I began going around restaurants and turning wine into money together with the pioneers of Croatian wine production, Enjingi, Zdjelarević, Katunar, and a little later with Plenković, Skaramuči and Krauthaker, Tomac… That’s essentially what a wine salesman does: he turns wine into money for wine producers.
RM: It seems that entering the wine business was a complete success for you.
BI: Wine provided me with the opportunity to have some very interesting experiences and encounters. Thanks to this business, I’ve visited numerous vineyards all over the world and on different continents. Wine producers are usually very likable and warm people, who are in love with what they do, and mostly live in harmony with nature. The wine business is connected to nature, beautiful countrysides and landscapes. I usually say: since I put all this effort into finishing my law studies, I wouldn’t waste my time on selling anything other, more banal, than wine. I would never be attracted to selling radiators, milk or hardware. Wine simply has that certain something. We perceive it as an extraordinary, even noble liquid, an achievement of civilization. People like to talk about wine, and I can understand that the wine business seems like a magical profession, combining business, hobby and pleasure.
RM: With the Vivat fine wine bar, you’ve added a new element to your offering. Can you share some of your first impressions on how it was received in the neighborhood?
BI: We’ve been playing around with the idea of opening a wine bar for about a decade now. We’ve already dabbled in the catering services when we opened Christmas market stalls, in which we also pioneered. The first street bar we opened, in the city centre in Gajeva street, was a champagne bar. When the opportunity presented itself to open a bar across the street from our wine store, it was now or never. Incidentally it coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Vivat wine store. The hospitality and catering industry is completely different from sales. It’s not as easy as it might seem, especially not when you have to do it simultaneously with the very demanding and extensive business activities of Vivat, which include supplying chain stores and restaurants across the country, maintaining relations with numerous local and international suppliers and managing two wine stores. So, you could say I’ve had quite a lot on my plate for the last couple of months. But, at least it’s not boring, it’s fun!
When I started with the idea, I wanted the bar to be a place where lots of toasts are proposed. And I hope that it will be a place like that, a place with lots of toasts and positive energy.
RM: Have some wine selections turned out to be popular, and are there some wines that your clients haven’t discovered yet that you would point out?
BI: A lot of people ask us why there are so few Croatian wines in our offering. Obviously, domestic wines are easily available, but we want to offer our clients the opportunity to get to know something different, from other countries, climates, soils, people and areas, cultures… A part of what we want to slowly introduce into our offering are more natural distinctive wines with character, which I personally like to drink more and more. We hope to have enough patrons as soon as possible so that our offering of champagnes by the glass can be as versatile as possible. I would also point out our very interesting offering of first-rate liqueurs from Burgundy. Also, what makes us unique is our offering of sweet and fortified wines, such as Porto, Madeira, Sherry, etc. There are plenty of other wines that the average patron hasn’t discovered yet. There’s a danger that our clients who are caterers themselves will view us as competition, but I hope that won’t be the case because our mission is to promote unknown wines as much as possible. We hope we will become a part of the daily rituals of the residents of Martićeva street, our neighbors and everyone else attracted by the increasingly distinctive offering and services of the street.