Dear readers, let me introduce you to a man that pushed the level of studying at the Austrian Wine Academy to another level, a level many have never even come close to. Gregor Kren, a sommelier at Oštarija (Novo Mesto) and creator of Slovenia’s hip Pop Up Wine Festival, is the leader that every squad strives towards having. He organized some of the best wine tastings I have ever attended in a place that I would have never seen myself in a hundred years – Rust, Austria. There, while studying the WSET Diploma, we opened Champagne with sabers, studied the shit out of those huge books and laughed our asses off with some of the biggest names in the business. I’ll take this opportunity to thank him for all the awesomeness and legendary friendship we formed. Now, enjoy!
If you could own a vineyard anywhere in the world, which special destination would you choose?
If I could, I would never choose only one vineyard area in the world, because there are just so many places to enjoy across the globe. However, if I had to choose one location where I could own my own vineyard it would most definitely be Champagne. The area itself is very special, but the sparkling they produce have impressed me so much that it’s difficult now to drink anything else from the ‘bubbles’ world. The history of the production and the area itself drew me in so much just through the books that it feels like I’ve already experienced those important discoveries in the whole production of Champagne.
Anybody who I interview is a true foodie. What’s the strangest food & wine pairing you’ve experienced?
Well, to be honest, there actually were no weird wine pairings that I’ve come across, but the most demanding I find are those where you have to pair wine with very spicy food which I find difficult, if not, in some cases, even impossible. But the one pairing which I found very interesting a few years ago was a Carniolan sausage praline coated in chocolate with a combination of caramelized cabbage, paired with a Riesling ice wine. Definitely something you never forget.
Any specific preferences on a winemaking style?
I actually like all styles of winemaking. I search for quality rather than anything else. In some cases I like wines to be pure and straightforward like you would be reading them out of a book, sometimes more austere, sometimes more powerful. It really depends on the time, company and occasion, and of course the food. If I would have to concentrate on a certain winemaking style I would go towards long macerations of reds with an appropriate use of oak. I like full-bodied reds which can present a long life span (to see how they improve over time) or which can be drunk now as they are. And of course, sparkling wine on top of all that.
What was your career’s “aha” moment?
It happened a very long time ago actually. I was just finishing college for catering and tourism and I used to work in a specific hotel in Bled. At the beginning, I was more oriented on cocktails, but I didn’t see any future in that for myself in Slovenia and actually became sick and tired of working in hospitality. So at that time, when I almost left the career in hospitality, my formal boss Matevž Strajnar actually started to drag me around to different wine tastings. There I tried some weird wine pairings and started to appreciate the work of the winemakers. I also realized how much passion you can get from wine and food. I remember that break point like it was yesterday. I was at a wine tasting of Marjan Simčič wines in Ljubljana when he brought out his third vintage of Leonardo (passito style sweet wine) and served it with some gorgonzola cheese. As a novice, I was like “is this a joke or something”. But when I tried it, it was just…oh my God. Unexplainable. And that was it. After that, I immediately went for the ASI Level 1 course and continued with the WSET 2, 3 and 4.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in this business so far?
That is actually very simple. Never lie to a guest or try to trick them with a no-foundations story. I rather confess that I don’t know something and that’s it. They respect me more for being honest rather a liar. Besides that, knowledge really matters. There will always be someone smarter than you. And I love that. It always gives me an extra boost to go and sit at my computer and find out something new or read an extra book or two. At the end of the day, as a sommelier, information is all that you need to go that extra mile.
Prepared by Aleksandar Draganić.
I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad