Chinese Businesswoman Launches Slavonian-Dalmatian Winemaking Project

By 4 February 2019

A visit to the En Primeur young wine festival, held on January 31 at the Westin Zagreb Hotel, was an excellent opportunity to taste young wines and get acquainted with the latest developments on the Croatian wine scene. The event was dominated by Slavonian winemakers gathered by the Graševina Croatica association, and it also brought together winemakers from Međimurje and Dalmatia. I was pleasantly surprised by the news that a businesswoman from China has bought a vineyard in Kutjevo and launched her own Slavonian-Dalmatian winemaking project.

Qin Hellner was born in Beijing and has a degree in international business from Shanghai Maritime University. For about a decade, she worked for COSCO – the largest Chinese state-owned shipping company. In the mid-1990s, she moved to Melbourne where she ran a private brokerage firm.

With her former husband, a German, she decided to move to Europe in 2012 to provide their children with European education. Her son was enrolled at a German boarding school, but Germany was not the place where Qin wanted to live. They were looking for a pleasant place to live, and in Melbourne, she met the Croatian Consul General Antun Babić, who told her about how Croatia is a great country for a living.

Without much thought, she accepted the consul's invitation and visited Croatia. Since Mr Babić is a Slavonian, they first visited Kutjevo and the Golden Valley, met the famous winemakers Vlado Krauthaker and Ivo Enjingi, and then went to the Croatian coast.

“Although the visit was short, we immediately fell in love with Croatia and decided to stay here. We moved to Zagreb and decided to invest in a business in Croatia, but we soon realised that it was not easy to do it because of all the bureaucratic complications in Croatia. Of course, we did not give up, and we soon bought a vineyard in Kutjevo because we were impressed by the people we met there during our first visit to Croatia, with their culture and hospitality. We fell in love with the Goldey Valley landscapes that reminded us of the 150-hectare farm we owned in Australia.”

Initially, she did not intend to produce her wine but primarily enjoy the rural landscapes. They sold their grapes to others to financially cover the upkeep of their vineyard and make a small profit.

After the divorce from her husband, Qin could choose between the vineyard in Kutjevo and the yacht, and she naturally opted for the vineyard. Last year, due to the abundant grape harvest in the Golden Valley, she could not find buyers for her grapes. She turned a problem into an opportunity and decided to produce her wine, helped by winemaker Antun Plančić from Hvar. She was introduced to Plančić by a business partner with whom she is building a tourist complex near Zagvozd. “If everything turns out fine, we will offer packages to our guests in Zagvozd which will include a visit to the Golden Valley and our vineyard, which also includes a holiday home. Of course, we will also offer boat trips to the Dalmatian islands, especially to the Plančić winery on Hvar where our wines are finalised.”

The vineyard covers two hectares, and Graševina covers 80% of it. Qin's focus is on quality, and she plans to produce between 10,000 and 12,000 litres of wine annually.

“Since my main job was international trade, I used to travel a lot. I am now in active retirement, so I have enough time to travel for fun. If I notice a good business project, then my trip is more than just having a good time. My lifestyle is no longer as intense as it used to be, but it is very relaxing. My biggest passion is food and these days I travel to enjoy different cultures and their gastronomy. "

Qin says Croatia is a beautiful country with wonderful people, full of energy and entertainment, but it is complicated to follow Croatian legal and regulatory frameworks. "That is why I do not want to go into too large investments here. And if by any chance I do not succeed in business ventures here, at least I will own great properties and have good wine to enjoy with my friends. That is enough for me! "

Given the positive energy she radiates, I believe that Qin will succeed in spite of all the administrative obstacles faced by investors in Croatia. Her example will be a pointer to others who can see that tourism potential in Croatia is not limited just to the Adriatic coast.

More news on Croatian wines can be found in the Lifestyle section.