Zbyněk Kopeček: My mission is to help small winemakersIn Austria, their position is much stronger

Text Martina Hošková and Jana Jenšíková Foto Vinařský Dům Kopeček Publikováno

Small-scale winegrowers and gardeners play an important role for our country, among other things as tradition and folk culture bearers. However, if they are to thrive, they require a specific approach. This is what Zbyněk Kopeček was aware of when he founded his company in 2005 in the region of Slovácko. Vinařský dům Kopeček was founded with the aim of giving maximum support to small farmers. Since the company only employs true experts and people who are 100% committed, they have grown continuously since day one thanks to a small but steady and affluent customer base. The National Development Bank (NRB) assists the company with current investment, among other things.

Slovácko – a region of winemakers

Traditions are still very strong in South Moravia, and in Slovácko in particular. Almost every wine-growing village hosts wine tastings, open cellars, cimbalom gigs and the like. For example, a traditional event called Slovácký rok recently took place in Kyjov. "You should have come to see it. It was beautiful! There was a two-hour long parade of people in costumes from the nearby villages, and more than thirty thousand visitors showed up to the event," Mr. Kopeček smiles.

Zbyněk Kopeček is very patriotic when it comes to Slovácko. A well-known promoter of small wineries, he is a leading Czech sommelier and wine expert, hosts radio shows about wine as well as live talks with winemakers, and he also writes articles. However, Mr. Kopeček career path was not a straightforward one.

He has been long active in business, obtaining his first trade certificate on 3 January 1990. He started as a haulage contractor and gradually built up a truck transport company with twenty vehicles. But he didn’t find this job very fulfilling, particularly in the turbulent 1990s. The turning point came when he left his share in the transport company to a business partner and decided to focus 100% on winemaking.

"In 2002, we bought an old house with a large plot of land by the main road in the village of Dubňany. We renovated it completely, set up a small shop selling wine supplies downstairs and a guesthouse with eighteen beds upstairs. Here, in the middle of the beautiful Slovácko, winemaking had always been all around me. As a hobby winemaker, I had been making wine from an early age. In 2005, I passed my final exams at the Secondary School of Oenology and Viticulture in Valtice, and a year later I passed both Czech and international sommelier exams, and then it all went really fast," the company owner recalls.

View of the vineyard and cellar of Kopeček in Dubňany

Small winemakers make for demanding customers

Due to their low turnovers and a small but very diverse product range, small-scale winemakers and gardeners are not an interesting deal for wholesalers. However, Vinařský dům Kopeček holds this customer segment in very high esteem, although as the company owner acknowledges, "They are a very demanding segment who need personal contact and must feel that our salespeople understand them and can advise them. This is also why most of our colleagues are winemakers, have winemaking education and a lot of experience in the field. But at the same time, they also have to be patient sellers with some endurance. It's clear that such customers are special, so we try to pamper them here."

All this is working fine also because Vinařský dům Kopeček is a family business. Mr. Kopeček’s son Zbyněk Jr is the marketing and sales director, his daughter Kateřina is in charge of the complete process around distribution and printing of wine glasses. Meanwhile, the company is one of the biggest wine glass sellers in the Czech market. Thanks to its own printing house, they can supply glasses with a logo to most wine exhibitions not only in Moravia, but across the whole country.

All this careful work has enabled Vinařský dům Kopeček to build a small but steady and affluent customer base. “These small customers keep coming back to us. They are not so sensitive to market changes or even complications such as the covid pandemic, and they still have the means to buy stuff.”

With her daughter (in the middle) and her partner at one of the folklore festivals. They are also involved in the family business.

Winery as a lab

Any products or services Vinařský dům Kopeček offers to their clients are based on their hands-on experience. The company has its own winery, which has won awards from major exhibitions and competitions, such as the best Pinot Blanc award at the Galerie Rulandských vín ČR contest, wine variety champion at the Grand Prix Vinex, gold and silver medals at the international Cuvee 2018 competition, and the like. The wines are produced in small and exclusive batches, a maximum of one thousand bottles. The grapes originate solely from the Dubňanská hora wine route, either from their own vineyards cultivated in the traditional way by the family members or from neighbouring growers.

The family winery works as a lab and product testing room for the company. "The small volumes enable us play around with the wine a little and also take slight risks during production. We’re not reliant on the wine sales too much. I try to make wines that are lighter, fresher, with harmonious acids and mostly dry. On my travels around the world, I can drink a lot of heavy alcoholic wines. Moravia is more suitable to make lighter wines."

While travelling, Zbyněk Kopeček also got the idea for a new drink - Winka. "It occurred to me in Thailand, when I was thirsty all the time. Their local beer was served in pints, so I felt really heavy after two pints. The wine there was expensive and I didn't like it, while spirits were cheap, but drinking spirits is not the best idea when it’s so hot outside. So I got this idea of a low-alcohol drink based on wine, natural aromas, lemon and other secret ingredients, and put it into practice after my return." Consumer feedback shows it has been a success so far. Currently, Winka is sold on Leo Express trains, in the Sklizeno retail chain, or at various festivals and in cinemas.

With a son who continues the family tradition.

Let's get inspired in Austria

We spoke with Mr. Kopeček just after his return from Vienna, where he assessed wines at one of the world's largest wine exhibitions, and so the conversation turned to Austrian winemakers. "Austria is far more open and encouraging towards its family wineries. Unlike Czechia, where our existing wine law puts the small winemakers on the same level as large producers who make a million litres of wine. In Austria, small winemakers have much better conditions for their work.

Austrians created a tailormade system for this. The wineries must family-owned, which includes father, mother, children, possibly siblings and grandparents. It's usually eight to ten people. They can produce wines based on their experience, client requirements and traditions. No one restricts or monitors them, they don't have to keep complicated record books, record all the procedures performed with the wine and so on. The only limitation is the area of the vineyards. The village mayor, who usually has a good insight, is responsible for the quality and operation. Winemakers do not pay any contributions to various funds, excise taxes or payroll taxes. But they are also not entitled to any subsidies, and thus the economy balances out. Small winemakers in Austria can therefore be self-confident, think economically and do not think too big.''

Moving to new premises

Cooperation with NRB pays off

Thanks to the day-to-day work and solid foundations, Vinařský dům Kopeček has only been growing since day one, even in times of crisis. One big change brought about by the covid pandemic was the huge increase in online shop sales, which basically continues to this day. Although the company's current premises are fairly large, they no longer meet today's needs. The company will thus soon move to new, modern, and most importantly larger premises. They will also be transitioning to a new warehouse system and accounting software.

For the ongoing expansion, the company took out a loan from NRB this year for energy savings (insulation, cogeneration units) as well as consultancy. Zbyněk Kopeček comments, "Our cooperation with NRB started already during covid, when we received the first interest-free loan for losses associated with anti-covid measures. The loan has already been repaid and we have become more familiar with the options NRB offers in terms of project financing. We are now investing in a bigger property, with large warehouse and sales premises, and we’ll have a chance to modernize our warehouse management. We’ve bought a former department store and now have to revitalize this 1970s building completely. Anyone who has ever repaired an old house knows how demanding it is, particularly in terms of financing. NRB has helped us with interest-free loans announced in various programmes, but also with consultancy and a friendly approach. Because at the end of the day, I'm just a winemaker and charts, calculations and reports terrify me. I definitely count on NRB's services moving forward."

Written by Martina Hošková and Jana Jenšíková

Photo credits: Vinařský Dům Kopeček

Článek si přečtěte v tištěné verzi TRADE NEWS 4 / 2023.

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