Tag Archive | history

A Bit about Babić (the Grape) – Part I

Text and photos (except where stated otherwise) by Cliff Rames

When the subject of indigenous red grape varieties in Croatia arises, generally and indisputably it is accepted that Plavac Mali is King.

Yet the King’s Court includes several other local dignitaries of assorted distinction who have endured the centuries and survived the incursions of history. These locally noble grape varieties continue to play an important role in the glasses of present day wine consumers in Croatia, and some are just now finding their way onto the tables of wine lovers in distant lands like the U.S. and the U.K.

Babić

Babić grapes, Northern Dalmatia, Croatia

One of them is an old friend and occasional mistress of mine – Babić, the somewhat softer and more reasonable Queen to the often brasher and more savage King Plavac.

{To take this Royal Court silliness even further, I would submit that Crljenak Kaštelanski (AKA Zinfandel) is the Queen Mother and Teran, our wilely ambitious friend that rules the roost as Istria’s only indigenous red cultivar, is the Joker – a wild card prone to all sorts of surprises and unexpected delights.}

Back to Babić….

Babić

Babić

While records show that Babić has been planted in northern and central Dalmatia (Coastal Croatia) for hundreds of years, its origins remain a mystery (until DNA profiling is concluded). On one hand, it has been suggested that Babić is a localized clone of Dobričić, the red variety that is native to Šolta island and now famous for being one of the parent grapes (along with Crljenak Kaštelanski) of Plavac Mali.

Dobričić

Dobričić (Photo courtesy of Alan Mandic, Secret Dalmatia)

But in their book “Plavac Mali: A Croatian Grape for Great Wines” , authors Edi Maletić, Ivan Pejić and Jasminka Karoglan Kontić suggest that Babić and Dobričić are connected via a parent/offspring relationship. However, insufficient genetic data makes it impossible at the moment to determine which is the parent and which is the scion.

Elsewhere in the region local synonyms for Babić include Babica, Babina, Babinka, Babičević, Pažanin, Roguljanac, or Šibenčanac – although “Babica”, according to some locals that I spoke with, is thought to be a wayward clone of Babić that produces bulbous berries of inferior quality.

Babica

A lone Babica vine left from my grandfather's vineyard, Tisno, Croatia

Unlike Plavac Mali, which grows best throughout southern Dalmatia and on many of the idyllic islands that speckle the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, Babić’s home is comprised of a 300-400 hectare swath of parched hillsides around the central Dalmatian town of Šibenik and southward toward the city of Split. While some Babić is also found in non-commercial vineyards as far north as Pag island near Zadar, its home is undisputaby the wine-growing hills of Primošten (60 hectares) and more specifically the famous Bucavac vineyard (18 hectares) in the hills overlooking the seaside resort town of Primošten, where it is the only variety planted (more about Bucavac in a later report).

Babić growing zone (shaded area)

Primošten

Primošten, heart of Babić country!

Bucavac

Bucavac vineyard, Primošten, Croatia

Bucavac

Bucavac

Babić has traditionally lurked on the sidelines as a minor player among Croatia’s diverse array of indigenous grapes, overshadowed by more celebrated Plavac Mali.  Leo Gracin, PhD, Senior Scientific Assistant at the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology – University of Zagreb, Croatia and a leading grower and producer of Babić), estimates that Babić totals approximately 1.5% of all grapevine plantings in Croatia today. It is also the second most-widely planted native red grape (second to Plavac Mali) and represents about 4% of all red cultivars in Croatia.

Babić

Babić - ripe & ready!

Yet Babić plantings around Šibenik and Primošten are increasing. Most significantly, heavy-hitter producers like Vinoplod Šibenik (the local cooperative) and Zlatan Plenković (winemaker and owner of the Hvar-based winery, Zlatan Otok) recently planted several hundred thousand new Babić vines on the previously barren hillsides that were once part of a Yugoslav Army training base just outside Šibenik at Jadrtovac. These vineyards are expected to come into production in 2012 and could potentially unleash a flood of new Babić wines onto the market – hopefully at approachable prices!

New Babić plantings near Šibenik

New Babić plantings near Šibenik

Baby Babić

Baby Babić

(To Be Continued….)

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Plavac Mali: The Jewel of Dalmatia

By Matthew Drazick Halip, Guest Blogger

On a recent, chilly spring evening, I was sitting at my desk, pen poised over paper, contemplating an open bottle of Plavac Mali red wine. With every sip, memories of my visit to Grgić winery in Croatia flashed inside my head: the perfume of lavender fields and saltwater; the sound of the crashing waves at Trstenik Beach; and the faces of the two kindly women who introduced me to the bottle that began my love affair with wine.

(photo courtesy of http://www.limun.hr)

That introduction came four years ago, when my cousin and I commandeered a relative’s car and went zipping across the grape-vine covered hillsides of the Pelješac peninsula, a 40-mile long finger of land that points out into the Adriatic Sea in southern Dalmatia.

(map courtesy of http://www.find-croatia.com)

We were on a mission to find “the Man”, Mike Grgich. Or least to visit his “other” winery.

Grgic Winery (photo courtesy of http://www.palmspringslife.com)

Above us, the golden sun glistened in the afternoon sky, illuminating the jagged white limestone that ringed the coastline, briefly giving way to the calm cove and smooth pebble enclave that is Trstenik beach.

Suddenly I was overtaken by a feeling of serenity. The sights before me – the sparkling Adriatic Sea, olive trees, wild-herb covered hills, and emerald vineyards clinging to the steep slopes – took my breath away. This was no longer the Motor City. What was unfolding before me was something akin to a fairytale landscape.

(photo courtesy of pixdaus.com)

The anticipation of the day’s event had butterflies fluttering inside my stomach, sending ripples of excitement throughout my body. After a quick stop to gaze out from another of the many scenic roadside lookouts, I turned to my cousin, Romana Prepolec, and asked her when we would be heading to the winery. Smiling, she simply said (in her charming Croatian accent), “We can go whenever you’re ready.”

The drive to the Grgić winery was short (nothing is too far away on the sparsely-populated Pelješac peninsula), but just long enough for my excitement to make me impatient. But soon enough, just after another curve in the winding road, a white sign with painted words appeared, indicating that we had arrived at the historic winery.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

A gravel driveway lead up to a simple white building that was tucked into a small grove of pine trees. Just beyond the trees, descending down toward the sea, chartreuse-colored Plavac Mali vines thrived in scattered clusters, clinging to a tumble of rock and wild herb-strewn slopes. Hanging from them were conical bunches of purple and burgundy berries, ripening in the hot sun.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

“Dobro došli u vinariji Grgić” two women casually welcomed us as we walked inside the tasting room of the iconic winery.

My cousin returned the Croatian greeting as I tried to absorb the majestic nature of this place where an international winemaking star calls his second (or “first”?) home.

Mike Grgich (photo courtesy of Grgich Hills Winery)

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, of Grgich Hills Winery in Napa Valley, grew up in this part of Croatia, drinking wine his father made from native Plavac Mali grapes. After emigrating to the United States, Mike Grgich went on to achieve international recognition, after the Chardonnay he made for Chateau Montelena won the now-famous Paris tasting of 1976.

Many years later, Mike returned to his Croatian homeland, and in 1995 he established Grgić Vina on this very spot where I stood – ready to begin tasting the Grgić Plavac Mali that the two nice women poured for me.

The crimson colored wine shimmered in the sunlight as I swirled the juice inside my glass. Plum and black cherry aromas rose up and caressed my nose, awakening my senses with each inhale. Romana raised her glass and said “Živjeli” (in the traditional Croatian salute for “Cheers”) as we clinked our glasses together. My mouth began to water at the prospect of the first sip.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

At once I could tell the wine was hearty: Ripe flavors of dried and stewed fruit, Mediterranean herbs and spices, and a touch of oak coated my palate. The combination of flavors had my taste buds abuzz with delight, eager for the next sip.

The afternoon drifted away in a wash of wine, good conversation, and a short tour of the winery property (the grape press that Mike used to make the Chardonnay that won the Paris tasting is now on display at the winery). Finally, my cousin and I left the winery with a prized bottle in hand, a smile on our purple lips, and daydreams of a return trip to this beautiful site.

Plavac Mali vines near Grgic Winery (photo by Cliff Rames)

While I am still waiting to take that trip back to Grgić winery to relive the glory of tasting Plavac Mali in its native home, I will have to be content with opening a bottle of Grgić Plavac Mali every once in a while to taste, smile, and dream….

For me, Plavac Mali is more then just a wine. It’s an unforgettable memory, a unique experience, a special feeling that that makes the hair on my arms stand up when I think of it touching my lips.

Plavac Mali (photo by Cliff Rames)

This Croatian grape with the funny name spilled the dark ink of juice with which I began to record my lifelong story of wine tasting – setting the bar high as I taste my way through the world of wine, from Alicante Bouschet all the way to Žlahtina.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Grgić 2007 Plavac Mali (Pelješac Peninsula, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia)
Deep ruby color tinged with garnet. Distinctive aromas of muddled plum skins, mission fig, black cherry, and dried cranberries, with hints of Mediterranean herbs, sea salt and powdered limestone, and infused with sweet oak notes of chocolate and cafe au lait. On the palate, the wine is a contradiction of rusticity and elegance: bold, somewhat course tannins give a rugged frame to a mouth feel that seems smooth, rich and lush all at once. Super ripe black fruits, dried fig, spice, anise and mocha notes coat the palate and linger on the finish. The wine feels slightly overripe, and with 15,1% alcohol, it is powerful and a bit aggressive at the moment. But bright acidity provides the vibrancy to give it lift and freshness, and the warm alcohol glow yields to the sun-baked flavors. Still young, the wine would benefit from a few years’ cellar time – or 1-2 hours in the decanter prior to serving. -C.R.  (Imported by Vinum USA: http://www.vinumusa.com/)

Matthew Drazick Halip is a Croatian-American food & wine blogger, student and sports aficionado from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He current resides in Greensboro, North Carolina. His blog is called Motor City Munchies: http://motorcitymunchies.blogspot.com/ 


A Waltz through Wines of Croatia History: It’s Dingač, Dummy

Text by Cliff Rames, © 2011

{Note: This is the follow-up installment of a two-part post. Click here for Part 1.}

It was around the summer of ’91 when things really became interesting. The virtual seeds that were sown in my conceptual vineyard the year before took root and began their climb toward the sun.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Back in Croatia, I went to visit relatives on one of the thousand-plus islands that are sprinkled like seashells up and down the Dalmatian coast.

One afternoon over lunch, the subject of wine came up, which led to a debate about the merits of my uncle Zoran’s (aka “Bugi”) homemade wine (it was drinkable when mixed with water, in a traditional Dalmatian mix called “bevanda”).

Finally, Uncle Bugi told me about a wine named Dingač and urged me to try it.

“Ding-gatch”, I said. “What’s that?”

Bugi didn’t know the specifics. He just heard it was good.

Later I learned that Dingač is a wine made from indigenous Plavac Mali grapes that thrive on the parched limestone slopes of a geographically-protected vineyard area (called Dingač) on the Pelješac peninsula of southern Dalmatia.

Dingač (photo by Cliff Rames)

Bugi told me that the 1985 vintage (he heard) was excellent, the “best of the decade”. He also happened to know where I could get a case of it. Perhaps it was or wasn’t a great vintage, I didn’t really know then. But I wasn’t taking any chances.

The next day I bought the case and as many bottles of the ‘85 I could find in the local shops (in those years, the US dollar went a long way). Excited and willing to “share the love” (and unaware of the pros and cons of cellaring a wine), I immediately opened most of the bottles during lunches at friends’ and relatives’ houses (which was quite a treat for them, as store bought wine was then – and still is for many folks today – a luxury item reserved for special occasions).

the '85 Dingač (photo by Cliff Rames)

As the wine was poured and tasted, I sat back and studied the reactions. Would they appreciate the same sense of wonder and happiness that these wines brought me? Or was I crazy?

Invariably, and with great satisfaction, the answer would arrive to the sound of trumpets as the eyes of those gathered around the table sparked with twinkles of revelation and delight. Lips smacked; faces smiled; heads nodded with approval; bottles stood empty. The Dingač delivered.

Uncle "Bugi" (photo by Cliff Rames)

At this point I affirmed the previous notion that I was on to something. Anything that could bring so much happiness at once to a diverse group of people (grumpy and preoccupied relatives included) needed to be investigated, studied and pursued deeper and further.

And so it came to pass. My fate as a Wines of Croatia groupie was sealed. Or more appropriately, the vines in this remarkable vineyard flowered and bore fruit.

Plavac Mali (photo by Cliff Rames)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the Laguna and Dingač experiences (followed by equally rewarding waltzes with many other wines) ultimately set in motion the wheels that would take me down the path to becoming a sommelier. But that’s another story….

In case you’re wondering, I managed to save two bottles of that 1985 Dingač, which I eventually brought home to New Jersey. Unfortunately, one of the two remaining bottles was later dropped and broken by my mother when she was cleaning the cellar of our family home. I still recall the horror at the sight of the green glass shards and purple blood on the floor. I will never forget how enticing it smelled. For a fleeting moment I envisioned myself down on the floor, lapping it up like a thirsty puppy.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

The second bottle is safely tucked away in my makeshift wine cellar, its donkey label dirty with age but still the beautiful reminder of a happy memory.

As for the wine inside, it probably didn’t survive the years before I knew anything about the fundamentals of proper wine storage. But it doesn’t matter. I will probably never open it to find out. There are memories inside, and I want them to remain suspended in that now iconic bottle forever. The recollection of drinking the 1985 Dingač with friends and family all those years ago is far more pleasurable and powerful than the burning urge to temporarily satisfy my curiosity – and forever remove that mythological wine from existence. So, the decision was made: we will grow old together.

No worry. There are so many other bottles worth opening, new experiences to be lived, fresh memories to be made. It is in this belief that the Wines of Croatia adventure begins.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

What lies ahead are so many glories, the siren-call of so many bottles with labels embossed with exotic names like Pošip, Babić, Malvazija Istriana, Dubrovačka Malvasija, Debit, Teran, Škrlet, Zelenac, Frankovka, Graševina, Maraština, Žlahtina, Grk, Gegić, Lasina, Plavac Mali, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Portugizac, Kujundžuša….

Wines from places with difficult-to-pronounce names like Hvar, Plesivica, Postup, Korčula, Kutjevo, Ilok, Krk, Zagorje, Moslavina, Primošten, Baranja, Istria, Međimurje, Cavcat….

And of course, there’s always the donkey of Dingač, my lifelong companion (other current Dingač producers include Kiridžija, Saints Hills, Matuško, Bura-Mokalo, Skaramuča, Madirazza, Kirigjija, and Miličić).

Skaramuča Dingač w/ Adriatic squid roasted in its own ink (photo by Cliff Rames)

 Wine is truly enchanting; its mystery, mythology, tradition, romance, and allure are irresistible and powerful. I am under its spell (as perhaps are many of you, too). And damn it, I want it to stay that way for a long time to come.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

I hope you enjoy wandering through the Wines of Croatia “vineyard”. Take in all the sites. Touch the soil. Breathe in the air. Caress the vines and leaves. Sample the berries. Taste (in moderation and responsibly of course) as many of the wines you can afford to purchase yourself. Or smuggle back in suitcases. Or convince others to give you.

You never know, you just might discover that special bottle or two that will change your life.

A Waltz through Wines of Croatia History: A Tweet Heard by No One

Text by Cliff Rames, © 2011

Some of the greatest vineyards on the planet were once just humble fields or plots of undeveloped land, fallow and overgrown with brush, or planted with generic crops or fruit trees. Others were once cattle ranches or sheep pastures, moonscapes or volcano slopes.

Moonscape (photo by Cliff Rames)

It takes an open mind, some vision, a willingness to dream, and the stamina to work hard (as well as the capacity to risk much) for a person to be able to look at a parched and barren scrape of dessert, an overgrown plot of scrub brush, or a steep, craggy hillside and say: I can make great wine here.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I first cast eyes over the landscape of my future “vineyard” in 1989, when I was an exchange student at the University of Zagreb in the capital city of Croatia. That landscape emitted subliminal messages in the form of little voices that whispered, “Something is going on here; you should pay attention; this is where you need to be”.

Being young and crazy at the time, I heard the message but didn’t think much of it. There was too many other things going on, places to go, people to meet….

Nonetheless it stuck with me and quietly influenced the paths I chose that would eventually lead me to the Promised Land, that place in mind and soul where suddenly everything makes sense. Call it a vineyard.

Okay, I’m not really talking about a real vineyard (at least not yet). The vineyard I refer to is a metaphorical one: it’s a fertile idea. More practically, it’s a project that started out as a single tweet on Twitter – sent out to no one.

Somehow through the mysteries of social networking, that single seed in the form of a tweet (a “tweed”?) has since grown, spread, and wrapped its tendrils around many trellises in the virtual vineyard. Its clusters of fruit symbolize the final product, the idea-made-real. You know it as Wines of Croatia.

Within that tight cluster are many juicy berries, individual parts of one whole. One berry is this blog. Others include the Wines of Croatia Facebook page, Twitter page, and soon-to-be-launched website.

This metaphorical vineyard is heavy work. But it is a labor of love, born out of discovery, nurtured by the collective family of friends and followers (you!), and propelled forward with anticipation and excitement for each new virtual – and real – vintage.

Yes, its seeds were cast upon the fertile land at a time before I knew anything about vineyards or wine. But as is often the case with farming, you learn as you go, pressing out small bits of knowledge and wisdom from nature, the land, and the wine (as well as many books, classes and visits to real vineyards and winemakers).

(photo by Cliff Rames)

It all began one cool, autumn evening in Zagreb, circa 1989. I was sitting in an outdoor pizzeria (which featured amazingly aromatic wood-fired oven pizzas) with a few other American exchange students. While we each came from widely scattered parts of the United States, our little group shared a common purpose: we were all in Croatia (it was still part of Yugoslavia at the time) as part of a program to learn the Croatian language, culture, political life and history.

But that evening – and in many days and nights afterward – I learned something that was not part of my college syllabus: the joys and wonders of Croatian wines.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

As it happened, my hungry companions that evening noticed my fascination and interest in the local wines and appointed me czar of the wine list and asked me to order our dinner bottle. After a few minutes of pretending that I knew what I was doing, I randomly chose a wine called “Laguna”, a 1986 Merlot from the Istria region along the north coast of Croatia (it had a different label back then, a black one I think).

At the time I knew nothing about the producer (Laguna is presently owned by Agrokor Vina, a conglomerate that produces a wide array of decent and fairly accessible wines) or whether or not this particular wine was well-regarded by “critics”. All I knew that evening was the wine rocked my world.

Unlike some of the astringent, undrinkable and cheap plonk I had come to know – and wreck my stomach with – in college, the Laguna Merlot was so soft, smooth and sultry, with a distinctive sweet black fruit and earthy quality. In my memory, I recall that it was a lighter-style Merlot, translucent and garnet – not opaquely purple like many contemporary Merlot wines.

The pizzeria we were sitting in was one of the best at the time, and I’m sure the pizza was awesome, but I don’t remember it at all. The wine had my full attention. Transfixed by it, I couldn’t get enough. The little specks of sediment at the bottom of my glass fascinated me and added allure, convincing me it was not just another industrial wine but was perhaps a “natural wine” – unfiltered and unadulterated.

(photo courtesy of http://www.moja-kuhinja.com)

Was the wine great? Did it deserve impressive scores and flowery tasting notes? I can’t say. It doesn’t really matter now. To my young and admittedly naïve palate, it was delicious, seductive, memorable, and transformative (and a hit with the group, too).

(photo by Cliff Rames)

It can often take a decade or more to plant and nurture a vineyard to the point where the vines are ready to give juice that is worthy of wine. In my case, it would be another 17 years before I became certified as a sommelier and another three years before I sent out the first lonely Wines of Croatia tweet.  

But wine is a product of patience. What matters to me is this: that evening at the Zagreb pizzeria I became a changed person. My eyes (and palate) were forever opened to the magic and romance of wine.

The landscape of my future vineyard called out. Eventually I listened – and started to dream.

A New Book about Plavac Mali: Obligatory Reading for Wine Patriots

Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia

Translated by Morana Zibar, www.Gastroprijevod.com

Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia

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I don’t usually write reviews which are not about wine. But one exceptionally valuable book forced me to compose my first book review. Luckily for me and my readers, the subject of the book is wine, which gives this review some credibility.

The book is called “Plavac Mali – A Croatian Grape for Great Wines”, written by Edi Maletić, Ivan Pejić and Jasminka Karoglan Kontić.

(Editor’s note: The Plavac Mali book was expertly translated into English by Jagoda Bush.)

The Croatian wine scene already owes a lot to this trio of scientists (with some more stress on the first two names), and this book is just a logical continuation of their productive and valuable work. Remember, it was these scientists who discovered the origins of Plavac Mali, as well as the fact that Zinfandel is actually a Croatian variety called Crljenak.

Crljenak Kastelanski

This trio of scientists also identified Malvasia Istriana as an indigenous grape, and then discovered that Malvasija Dubrovačka belongs to the same family as numerous Italian and Spanish Malvasias, like Malvasia delle Lipari.

Malvasija Dubrovačka

Let’s not forget that they also saved a large number of indigenous grape varieties that were previously on the brink of extinction, and they have published many scientific papers. Edi Maletić is also publishes texts in mainstream magazines, and I must admit that I’ve enjoyed reading his columns for years. His style of writing is at first somewhat dry, factual and scientific. But he eventually incorporates interesting stories to which the general public can relate without losing their scientific value.

Plavac Mali grapes at Dingač

Their new Plavac Mali book is an example of such a style. It is extremely serious and competent, but written entertainingly enough so that anyone can (and must) read it. The most important parts deal with ampelography, which means that the book provides clear evidence of the origin of Plavac Mali, explains and defends the science behind the identification of the Croatian origin of Zinfandel (Crljenak), clears some misconceptions about the many local synonyms for Plavac Mali, and establishes and explains the relationship between Plavac Mali and other Dalmatian varieties.

Plavac Mali vineyards, Hvar

Other parts of the book are also interesting, especially the section that explains the specific conditions required to transform Plavac Mali from a mediocre to a superior wine.

It is very interesting to know that this book was proposed and funded by the “Grozd” Plavac Mali Association. This is unique in that Grozd is an association of Plavac Mali consumers and enthusiasts – not winemakers. The fact that an association of consumers has contributed to the expansion and sales of a wine – more than all professional associations of winemakers and winegrowers together – is somewhat amazing. With the honorable exception of Vinistra, many Croatian associations of winemakers are not doing much, or if they are, we don’t see many results. In Grozd’s case, the result is fantastic: an excellent book about a unique and important grape variety which will be cited and used for decades.

Reviews of four excellent Plavac wines from three different vintages:

 
 
 

Photo courtesy of Korta Katarina winery

Korta Katarina Dingač 2006

Excellent vintage from a very ambitious winery. Its aroma is still dominated by the lingering presence of oak, which detracts from its appeal. But in the mouth it shows perfect harmony. The tannins are abundant but not astringent. The balance of alcohol, extracts and acids is excellent, and the finish is very long-lasting. Wait at least another year before drinking.

 

 
 
 

Photo by Cliff Rames

Bura Dingač 2007

Dingač is a superior vineyard site that managed to handle the very hot 2007 vintage well. While other Plavac wines from the same vintage are often overly mature already and somewhat dull, Bura’s high, mountainside vineyards are cool enough to give this almost concentrated wine the necessary balance and the final smoothness. Excellent wine.

 
 
 

Photo by Tomislav Gluhak

Mare Postup 2007

Unlike Bura, Mare did not manage to stop the high level of sugar in the grapes, so part of the sugars remained in the wine, making it a bit sweetish. But at the same time the aromas are uniquely nice and intense. Dry figs, prunes and walnuts prevail. Beautiful wine. It is not a wine meant to be paired with food, but a glass or two of this sweet nectar at the close of the day makes an unforgettable experience.

 
 
 

Photo by Cliff Rames

Saints Hills Dingač 2008

This wine has not yet reached the market, but it is already on the way to become one of the best. It has a beautiful smell of pure Dingač aromas, like prunes, baked cherries and traces of dried figs mixed with finely balanced oak notes. The taste is extraordinary, incredibly mature for such an early vintage, amazingly balanced, rich and delicious, with tamed tannins, and in the end, despite its obvious strength, adequately soft and smooth.

Note from the Editor: Wines of Croatia is now accepting pre-orders for the Plavac Mali book. Limited quantities will be available in the U.S. in September 2010 – exclusively from Wines of Croatia. If you wish to reserve your copy, please email: info@winesofcroatia.com. Price: $35 (includes USPS Priority shipping to addresses in the U.S.; additional shipping costs will apply to addresses outside the U.S.)

Wines of Croatia:

www.winesofcroatia.com

www.Facebook.com/winesofcroatia

www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia

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Winemaking on Hvar: From Ancient Greece Until Now (Part II)

 

 

 

 

Text by Ivana Krstulović Carić, dipl.ing.agr.

Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia

Photos by Ivana Krstulović Carić (unless otherwise noted)

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While the diseases and pests that attacked Hvar’s vineyards and wrecked the island’s economy were eventually conquered, viticulture as a way of life never fully recovered to its previous level of importance. Total vineyard acreage fell by over 2,000 hectares to 3,500 hectares under vine. The economic and social impact would be felt for decades to come, resulting in a further decline in production as many residents of the islands (including Hvar) abandoned their vineyards and homes to go abroad to seek work and a means of steady income.  

photo by Cliff Rames

However, a local family, led by Niko Duboković Nadalini – a powerful ship and land owner, winemaker and the mayor of Jelsa – spearheaded an effort to restore the vineyards of Hvar. They introduced modern method of grafting grapes onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks and shared the technology with local wine growers. Their winery in Zavala* earned numerous world-class wine awards in those times.

Grafted young vine on Hvar (photo by Cliff Rames)

Yet after the nationalization* initiatives of the early 20th century, their winery was abandoned. Today most of their vineyards are overgrown with pine trees and macchia*, although certain sections have recently been replanted with young vines by local winemaking families, such as the Carić family in Zavala and Zlatan Plenković.

Zavala

World War I brought the Italian occupation of Hvar, during which time the Croatian language and culture were suppressed. Soon thereafter Hvar was absorbed into the newly-founded Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, which later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The Great Depression (1929-1932) had an obviously negative impact on wine production, and many winemakers and co-operatives, because of large debts, imploded and ceased to exist. As a result, the local population set off on another large exodus to distant countries such as the USA, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, where they hoped to find new lives and jobs.

Today you can still find living witnesses of this hard time. My grandmother, Danica, still recalls her mother’s sad sighs while she was baking bread. “A board of bread, one hectoliter of wine”, she would say. This meant that to buy 20kg of flour, one had to sell 100 liters of wine. 

Modern mechanization, vehicles and roads were unheard of in these times. In order to reach the vineyards on the south slopes of Hvarske Plaže and the wine cellars of Ivan Dolac, wine-growers were required to climb over steep heights of Vorh Mountain.

The summit of Hvar island

It is interesting to note that before the arrival of phylloxera, mostly white indigenous grapes were grown on the south slopes of Hvar: Bogdanuša, Mekuja, Parč, Kurtelaška, Vugava. Only later did Plavac Mali, the most widely-planted red grape in Dalmatia, come to dominate and prevail in the area. 

Plavac Mali grapes (photo by Cliff Rames)

Up until World War II, every town on the south side of the island had its own quay where boats would dock to buy wine. Traders would visit wine sellers, sample the wines and set their prices. The price of wines from Hvarske Plaže was always significantly higher than those from the north side of the island where the grapes were of lower quality and sugar levels. 

 

Transporting the wine from the cellars to the boats was a challenge due to the steep slopes. Donkeys often bore the burden of carting the wine from villages situated far from the sea to the docks. Once at the sea, the traders would fill wooden barrels with the wine and then throw them into the sea, where they were picked up by the boats.

 

Sometime after World War II, Peroslav Carić (Slavko) noticed a new invention – rubber hoses – while visiting a marketplace, and he purchased some 2000 meters of hose. His idea to use the hose for pumping wine from the seaside stone reservoirs into the barrels was a success, and he soon offered his service to all the  villages on the south side of Hvar, as well as a few on the island of Brač. 

Pitve–Zavala tunnel

With the building of the Pitve–Zavala tunnel in the early 1960s, life became easier for the locals, who no longer had to each make wine in their own cellars and then transport it to the buys. Instead they transported the grapes through the tunnel to the big wineries on the north side of Vorh Mountain for processing. 

But this progress was not necessarily good news. The large wineries, such as Hvarske Vinarije, Dalmacijavino, and VinoProdukt (today the cooperative Svirče), shifted into quantitative winemaking. Quality diminished but was offset by positive developments regarding modernization and better organization of production, brands and sales.

Svirče cooperative (photo by Cliff Rames)

Thanks to the hard work of Ivo Politeo, Hvar achieved its first wine with Protected Geographical Origin status, “Faros”, which was produced by Dalmacijavino from locally indigenous Plavac Mali grapes from the south slopes of Hvar. This is Croatia’s second wine with protected status, the first being Dingač from Pelješac.

 

The era of Socialism brought further degradation of quality and the number of acres under vine, due to the disparaging attitude towards agriculture and farmers.

Today it is estimated that there are only 300-500 hectares of vineyards on Hvar, a huge decline from the 5,750 hectares of the mid 19th century. However, a reassessment of current vineyard acreage is underway, which will hopefully provide more precise data about present day viticulture.

Vineyards on upper south-facing slopes (photo by Cliff Rames)

When faced with the global economic problems of the present day, we can’t help but wonder what kind of a future awaits us.  One thing is clear: we should endeavor to preserve the things most dear to us – our heritage and our vineyards – because crises come and go. Vineyards do not grow overnight.

We must learn from the mistakes of our past. Ironically, the vineyards that my family cultivates today were purchased by Ljubo Carić, my husband’s father, even though the same land was once owned by his father, Juraj Carić.  In fact, when widowed with six children, my husband’s grandfather sold all his lands on the prime southern slopes to buy land on the north side of Vorh Mountain, which he thought would be easier to work. 

Vineyards in Svirče, north side of tunnel (photo by Cliff Rames)

Unfortunately, he lost almost all the value of his investments and savings when the Austrian Crown (currency at the time) was converted to the Yugoslavian Dinar. He never accomplished his dream of growing quality grapes in his new vineyards.

Note: More about the development of wine production on Hvar and the relationships between local winemakers will be covered in subsequent articles. Stay tuned!

Postscript from the editor: On May 31, 2010, the winemakers of Hvar joined together to establish their own representative association (“udruga”). Elected to be president of the Association of Hvar Winemakers is Mr. Andro Tomić of Bastijana winery in Jelsa. Marija Gabelić was chosen as vice president, and the author of this article, Ivana Krstulović Carić, will serve as secretary. The association’s mission will be to promote Hvar as a wine destination, revitalize abandoned vineyards, and protect & promote native grape varieties.

 
 

Andro Tomić (left), Bastijana winery (photo by Cliff Rames)

* Key to Terms in the Article:

Stari Grad: the “old town” on Hvar, also known as Pharos.

Neretvans: Citizens of the Principality of Neretva (7th century). Neretva is a river valley and its surrounding delta area in south Dalmatia, Croatia.

Svirče, Sveta Nedilja, Jelsa, Vrboska, Stari Grad, Hvar, Zavala: Towns on the island of Hvar.

Hvarske Plaže or Plaže: a sub-appellation on the island of Hvar – considered the best on the island. Translated as “Hvar’s Beaches” or simply “Beaches”. The name came from the fact that the vineyards are located on slope above gravel beaches of Hvar’s south shore.

Nationalization: The act of seizing land or other private property and converting it into public ownership, as occurred during the communist years when Croatia was part of former Yugoslavia.

Macchia: Scrub land biome in the Mediterranean region.

Link to original article in Croatian: http://www.supermarketi.info/index.php?mod=intervju&interId=11

 

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Winemaking on Hvar: From Ancient Greece Until Now (Part I)

 

 

 

 

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Text by Ivana Krstulović Carić, dipl.ing.agr.

Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia

Photos by Ivana Krstulović Carić (unless otherwise noted)

 

Since the arrival of Greek colonists in 385 B.C., the Dalmatian island of Hvar, Croatia has endured many changes. Rulers, empires and foreign armies have come and gone. Today the marks and scars of these events remain a part of the island’s cultural-historical identity and economic position in the region, and the ethnic composition of the island reflects the genetic patchwork left behind by the influx of settlers over time.

But one thing remains virtually unchanged. This is a tale about the continuity of winegrowing and winemaking on Hvar, which has survived the many rises and falls caused by wars, social unrest, vineyard scourges, and economic hardship.   

In the beginning, From the Aegian island of Paros the Greeks brought grapevines and planted them in the fields of Stari Grad, thus establishing the island’s first vineyards.  The Greeks then divided the fields of Stari Grad*, also known as Ager (originally named Chora) into 73 equal parcels and allocated them to the local settlers.  

The fields of Stari Grad

One year after their arrival, a conflict between the Greek settlers and the local Illyrian tribes broke out. With the help of Dionysius I of Syracuse’s fleet (winner in the war against Carthage and ruler of Sicily), the Greeks were able to defeat the Illyrians and strengthen their hold on the island. 

According to Roman historian, Appian, the Illyrian mainland tribes considered wine from Hvar a valuable commodity. Clay amphora bearing the seal of Pharos, which were recently excavated near the Neretva River in southern Dalmatia, affirms the importance of wine in the cultural-historic lifestyle of the region.

Greek amfora

During the time of Demetrius of Hvar, a great soldier and confidant to Queen Teuta of Illyria, Hvar returned to Illyrian rule. 

In the 2nd century B.C. the Romans conquered Hvar and brought with them the methods to improve the local production of wine. The Romans built many villae rusticae in the fields of Stari Grad and elsewhere on the island, where the owners would reside for the greater part of the year. 

Remains of villae rusticae at Kupinovnik, Stari Grad fields, Hvar (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

During this time, in the city of Salona, the capital of the Roman region of Dalmatia, a Christian group was founded and guided by Domnius of Antioch (better known locally as Saint Duje). Since Hvar was a major port between Salona and major cities of the Mediterranean, the teachings of the Christian Gospel quickly spread among the islanders, an influence that remains today.

Roman ruins at Salona, Croatia (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

After the fall of Salona (7th century A.D.), some of the city resident fled to the islands, subsequently followed by the Slavic tribe, the Croats. The Croats soon adopted the traditions and winemaking skills that would sustain the continuity of grape cultivation and wine production until the present day.

During the Middle Ages, Hvar was subjected to a revolving door of rulers: the Neretvans*, Croatian kings, Byzantine, Hungarian, Croatian-Hungarian kings, and finally the Venetian Republic all took their turns. 

Despite all the turmoil, vine cultivation and winemaking endured and continued to be the backbone of the local economy. In the Middle Ages, two-thirds of arable land was owned by the Hvar Commune, and the remaining third belonged to royalty and the Church. 

Stari Grad fields

Public lands were offered for rent to the workers, royalty and the Church. Strict rules governed the division of property and the payment of land rent. Grape growers were required to pay 1/6 of the yield to the royalty and the Church. Discontent led to unrest, and under the leadership of Matija Ivanić, a civil uprising (1510-1514) broke out. The mission: to secure equality between the common folk and the royalty.

The uprising was followed by a period of Turkish incursions. The Turks raze the towns of Hvar, Stari Grad and Vrboska. Turkish invasions all along the coast led to demographic changes, as a large number of Croats from the Neretva region and the Makarska coast fled to Hvar in search of safety.

Hvar eventually came under control of the Venetians and continued to develop – despite ups and downs – as an economic center of Dalmatia. Wine exports were the leading source of revenue, although Hvar was also well known for its production and export of dried figs, olive oil, almonds, carob and other Mediterranean produce.

Photo by Peter Higgins, http://www.Art.com

In the time leading up to the mid-19th century, Hvar was again subject to periodic regime change, coming under control of the Austrians and subsequently the French (beginning of the 19th century). It also came under attack by the British and Russians, during which time commerce was interrupted and the local economy stagnated.

Austria again gained control of Hvar in the middle of the 19th century. As a result, Hvar gained access to new markets in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which boosted the importance and production of wine.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the scourges of phylloxera, peronospera (downy mildew) and oidium (powdery mildew), devastated and ruined the vineyards of France and Western Europe. Wine from Dalmatia suddenly came under higher demand, prompting the residents of Hvar to expand their vineyard holdings to 5,750 hectares. With the increased production and revenues, many wine-growers enlarged their homes and converted the ground floors into wine cellars. The future suddenly seemed bright, and Hvar enjoyed newfound prosperity.

Grapevine under attack by Phylloxera

To minimize the power of and offset any threat from the buyers and traders, many of the smaller local wine growers decided to organize themselves into the first island cooperatives. One such cooperative, Svirče *, remains today.

photo by Cliff Rames

But the unfortunate cycles of history soon took a turn, and the economic boon turned into catastrophe. The Wine Clause, a mandate that allowed Austria to import cheaper wines from Italy, forced a drastic and devastating 350-500% decrease in the price of Hvar’s wines.

If that were not enough, the vineyards of Dalmatia – including Hvar – were also attacked by peronospera and oidium, followed in 1909 by the ravaging effects of phylloxera. The glory days of viticulture on Hvar seemed to die a slow death, leaving the population without the means to earn a living, and the local economy teetered on the verge of collapse.

A record of these dark days is still visible, engraved in 1901 in a stone panel on the chapel in the village of Ivan Dolac*, which says:

In honor of the Mother of God, this Church was built by Ivan Carić of the late Juraj.  Since 1852 oidium and peronospera have ruined the grapes. These were hard times.  Root pests came from Zadar, and the vines whithered.  In fear we await our doom.  My People! Devastated by this affront from God, heed the Virgin Mother Mary.  And may God protect us from these three evils.

 (To be continued…)

Link to original article in Croatian: http://www.supermarketi.info/index.php?mod=intervju&interId=11

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