Aleksandar Draganic writes about himself, ‘I’m a WSET Diploma student exploring all things wine through food, travel and good times. Currently based in sunny Singapore. Find out more about me and get inspired at grapenomad.com.’ Here’s his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.
What you usually hear about how the passion for wine flared up in certain people (visiting En Primeur, drinking wine on the rolling hills of Tuscany, working a harvest while backpacking…) doesn’t really apply to me. It’s not that I’m a unique snowflake or anything along those lines, it’s just that being passionate about wine in Sarajevo raises a few eyebrows. Why? Let me rewind that for you and start the story ten years earlier.
My father opened a wine shop in 2009 when I was 19. Until then, I didn’t have any desire to drink, taste or smell wine; I only drank inexpensive boxed beverages at music festivals and at mini guitar concerts organized by that one friend in a park to charm the ladies with Oasis and Whitesnake. We all have those. Even though my first taste of the vine’s nectar wasn’t romantic, my conversion from a casual drinker to, shall I say professional, was meaningful and I have since devoted my life to wine. Most parents push their children to become lawyers, bankers, doctors, but my parents, owners of an import company/wine shop, were appalled by what I was drinking during my late teens and did everything to help me find my way through the darkness. I remember the exact words my father told me one day while I was cleaning the bottles in the shop. “Ok, now I have a wine shop. I’ve been drinking wine since I was 25 and it would be nice for you to try it out, or at least stop drinking the bad stuff. Start with me.” I trusted the man. After all, he worked his way up in the restaurant business from a busboy to a manager of fine dining in an Italian restaurant as an immigrant in Canada. Upon coming back to Sarajevo in 2001, he launched one of the very first import companies in the country and opened Divina in 2009, to work on education through workshops, tastings and seminars. He was a big inspiration for me, and still is to this day.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows from the beginning. During my early twenties, I was studying English Language and Literature. It was fun and I was dreaming about becoming a university professor. After classes or with every hour of break I had, I would have to go to the shop and clean. I detested it. All my friends were sipping coffee and bathing in the sun of the beautiful spring days, while I was shut in a (then) tiny shop, polishing labels of wine I couldn’t even pronounce. My parents’ logic was that it was better to work for them then for somebody who wouldn’t appreciate my time and effort. Almost ten years after, I wholly see what they meant by that. As months passed, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check out a few books that were laying around in the shop. I started vigorously reading The World Atlas of Wine and The Wine Bible. Seeing that I was invested in learning about his craft, my father organized a mini tasting for the two of us one night, the theme being Gems of Tuscany . Filled with this freshly gained knowledge, it was an honour to be a participant of this. We started out with variations of Chianti, progressed through Rosso di Montalcino and Vino Nobile and finished off with a Brunello. I was blown away. How was a beverage made out of grapes so complex, yet so intriguing?
Needless to say, dreams of becoming an English professor faded away. My linguistic studies were pushed aside to make more room for wine. I signed up for the WSET in Zagreb, finishing levels 2 and 3 while simultaneously getting my Bachelor’s degree the same year. My colleagues thought that I was out of my mind. They asked me what am I going to do with this “wine thing” in Sarajevo. There was even a joke going ‘round that I was an “alcoholic with a degree” who was paid “to smell wine”. Everything would be much easier if I had fallen back into my comfort zone and followed the rules. But the rules are always there to be broken. The doubts and suspicions coming my way pushed me even further. After Zagreb, I signed up for the WSET Diploma in Rust, Austria. There, I met some of my lifelong mentors who inspired me to move overseas to experience the vibe of a growing wine culture. I got a job in Singapore mid 2017 and worked as a head sommelier in a New Zealand steakhouse. After shifts, I would go to wine bars to train my palate. On Sundays, I’d go to blind tastings to meet sommeliers and winemakers. My mind was being expanded at rapid speed and there was always someone smarter than me, someone who tasted more wines than I did, someone who travelled more. And I loved that. Fast forward to today, I’m glad that I’m brought back to the level of an optimistic open-minded explorer every single waking moment and I’m still immensely grateful for that first sip of Chianti. Thanks, Dad.