After hiking and bathing comes an evening of freshly-caught Adriatic fish, delicious delicacies, liters of local wine, live music, and lots of singing (and maybe even a little romance) for visitors to Croatia’s southern Adriatic coast.
The latest Croatia installment in Marcy Gordon’s travel blog in which she discovers the treasures of Istria: truffles, olive oil, prosciutto & wine. And in which we hear that in Croatia, “It’s not just a wine, it’s a lifestyle.”
Europe Up Close concludes their visit to Croatia with a culinary journey through Zagreb, in which they discover Dolac Market, Portugizac young wine, “domaci cvarci”, the Museum of Broken Relationships, “strukli”, Klub Gastronomadi, and that Slavonian oak is from Croatia, not Slovenia.
“Soil so red it stains your hands, a native red variety with off the charts acidity, and a family dedicated to tradition with an eye for innovation”….Meet the Terzolo family of Istria and their delicious flagship wine, Teran.
In the hills just above a luxury marina filled with opulent yachts lies a natural wonder – one of those rare and mystical places where the transcendental forces of the planet converge to create a particular sweet spot for growing wine grapes.
Here the leaves of old vines radiate in the summer heat. White rocks cover the ground and reflect sunlight, shrouding the plants in a platnium aura. Climb up onto the slopes and all grows quiet; a seminal silence – the hushed ancient secrets of butterflies, cicadas and sun lizards. I imagine them taking cover under leaf and stone as the salty sea breeze flicks over the craggy landscape.
The vines – many hunched like old market women and gnarled by the forces of time – stand stoically and stooped, burdened by their dark bunches and surrendered to the pateince they know they must keep through the decades, the centuries….
But one cannot feel – while meandering on foot through this majestic place – anything but light in step, reverent in heart, and stimulated in mind and spirit. For this is Bucavac vineyard, an unassuming shrine to the local native red grape called Babić (for more about Babić, click HERE).
Bucavac is arguably one of the least known yet most renown vineyards in Croatia (taking a respectable place behind some of the more famous coastal vineyards such as Dingač and Postup).
Elsewhere in the Old World of wine growing regions, vineyards of this stature and power are often bestowed with titles such as Grand Cru or Premier Cru. These growing areas are treated as sacred places and stand as royal thrones to the nobility of the wines produced there. One wonders, if Bucavac were located in France, would it be considered among the great wine regions of the world?
In Croatia Bucavac is simply an umarked and often unnoticed hillside. Unpretentious and until recently nearly forgotten. Tourists in sleek cars pulling boat trailers or campers zoom by on the Jadranska magistrala (Adriatic Highway), oblivious to the quiet grandeur of the sacred garden just off in the distance with its knotted and wizened old vines.
While not ancient, Bucavac vineyard is legendary and remains a testament to human determination and endurance. It is the only vineyard site in Croatia that is on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List as a protected site of “cultural and natural significance”.
To further heighten the historical mystique of this little vineyard and the Babić grape, an old aerial photograph of Bucavac was once displayed in the lobby of the United Nations building in New York City.
Lying about 20 minutes south of the coastal city of Šibenik, Bucavac occupies a sleepy hump of limestone hillside just two miles (3 km) south of the seaside resort town of Primošten. The landscape is a mixture of terra rossa soil, blue-grey scrub brush, shimmering green vines, and white limestone set to the backdrop of an aqua-bue Adriatic Sea. Looking at Bucavac from a distance, I am reminded of the fabulous title of an old Ernest Hemingway story, “Hills Like White Elephants”.
By far the distinguishing characteristic of Bucavac vineyard is the patchwork of stone walls and square plots of vines that criss-cross the slopes. Collectively these checkerboard plots comprise the approximately 18 hectares of Babić vines that is Bucavac vineyard. Many of the vines are over 40 years old.
The UNESCO website further describes Bucavac as lots “made up of red soil in which a few vines are planted while low dry stone heaps keep the soil together around them…. Local unpaved paths lead to the lots…. This originally rocky, inaccessibly terrain has been transformed through extreme human effort into agricultural land, namely, by its clearing in the traditional manner (manually) without the use of machines. The Bucavac site has remained a completely preserved surface as it was at the time it was first developed, maintaining the original morphology of cleared lots, traditional way of soil cultivation and agricultural function which have not changed in the entire area up to the present.”
The current configuration of vineyards at Bucavac was hon out of the stoney hillside in 1947, when the municipality of Primošten granted local residents 1,000-square meter plots of “bare and rocky terrain” in which to plant vineyards. “The clearing and reparation of soil and planting of wine grapes lasted ten years or so, and there were families who planted a few thousand vine plants of the Croatian indigenous sort Babić, which produces best quality wines precisely in the Primošten region”. (UNESCO)
Today Bucavac vineyard lies somewhat in limbo as its future is debated and its place in the world of wine remains to be seen. A project to restore the vineyard and replant the oldest and most unproductive vines is currently underway. However, limited government funding and pending European Union regulations prohibiting the planting of new vines have slowed progress and left the project without a clear mandate.
When I first visited Bucavac, I ventured up the top on the slopes on my own, thinking that at any moment someone would shout at me for trespassing – or that I would be arrested by the authorities. But nothing happened. I was left alone to stroll among the sleepy vines, lost in reverent thought, sampling nearly ripe berries along the way, digging my fingers into the soil, and turning over a bleached piece of limestone between my fingers. Touching the terroir, as they say….
It was a magical feeling. Alone among those historic vines, conversing with them, asking politely to taste their fruit, telling them that soon they shall become great wine. “Just a little longer”, I’d say. “Just be patient and give it your best.”
I promised those vines that someday the world would love them. Someday wine aficionados from all corners of the earth would taste the dark nectar of their souls: premium Babić wine! And they would be happy, laughing and singing, and toasting one another’s health.
After my last visit to Bucavac (when I eventually came down out of them hills), I made my way into Primošten. There I met Professor Leo Gracin, who is one of the leaders of the Bucavac restoration project. He happens to also be one of the few quality producers of commercially-available Babić wine in the region. His “Suha Punta” Babić remains as one of the best examples of this darkly colored, uniquely characteristic wine.
I found Dr. Gracin waiting for me at a small restaurant in the center of Primošten. On the table was an open bottle of his 2008 Babić and lunch. As I sipped and swirled the wine and ate heartily from the savory selection of pan-fried veal, braised chard and potatoes swimming in golden olive oil, and fresh crusty bread, I thought about the vines of Bucavac and my promise to them.
And here in my glass, so dark and brooding, was their gift to me. An inky elixir in which swirled all the flavors of Bucavac – the stones, the red soil, the olive trees, figs, sea salt, wild thyme and rosemary, the scratching song of the cicadas….For a moment I thought I could hear the wind – and the ancient secrets of all the life that over time made those hills home. Ghosts of the leathered faces and hands that once excavated the stones from the soil and stacked them into the immovable walls of Bucavac seemed to ascend on the wine’s bouquet, brushing my lips and cheeks.
Looking even deeper into the wine, I noticed that from its dark depths radiated a light. The light of grace. The light of love. The light of patience and hope….
Time suddenly slipped away. My body became spirit. My soul grew still. I understood…. Life is indeed transient. What is important is not what when take from it but what we leave behind for new generations to find.
At this juncture I am inclined to let Hemingway keep his wonderful “Hills Like White Elephants” metaphor. Bucavac deserves a metaphor of its own, something that captures its sense of timelessness, beauty – and tenuous future.
“Hills Like Sleeping Dreams”. Hmmm…perhaps.
And like a dream, it is in a somewhat suspended state of animation that Bucavac remains. Living proof of the continuity of life and triumph over hardship and uncertainty. I suspect that it will continue to uphold that tradition – at least I hope so.
With a glass of Babić in hand, I daydream about the time when I can wander those hills again. Feeling fully awake to their magic. Overcome by the mysterious power of the planet’s ability to generate such breathtaking beauty. Humbled and meek among the seminal stones of history.
First, we begin 2012 with an fresh, clean new blog design. I hope you like it!
Also, I just wanted to thank everyone who visited the blog, commented, and shared our posts in 2011. You guys rock!
In case you were wondering, we had over 42,000 views in 2011 – an average of 116 per day, and almost 70,000 (and growing) visits since our first post on December 21, 2009. Not sure how that stacks up in the BIG blog world, but I think it is pretty awesome! So THANK YOU again. And please help us to make 2012 an even better year by contributing ideas for the blog, commenting, and sharing our posts far and wide.
In the meantime, check out the full annual report courtesy of the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys. And enjoy the new blog design – and content – in 2012!
All the best,
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe. Another year has woven its winding path and is about to quickly disappear over the horizon. Yet I hope that somewhere along the way you found the time to stop and enjoy many of Life’s beauties and precious moments, glass of great wine in hand, and friends and loved ones by your side!
With that said, I would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year and to THANK YOU for your ongoing support, encouragement and friendship. It has truly been a wonderful journey so far! And I have no doubts that 2012 will bring us even better reasons to salute and celebrate the winemakers and wines of Croatia!
As always, I welcome your suggestions and feedback for the blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and website (yes, it will be completed in 2012 – I promise!). Remember, these pages are for you and for your enjoyment. So, I will be soon asking you for your ideas, comments and criticisms so that in the coming year we can serve you better.
In the meantime, enjoy the holiday celebrations – and please be safe!
May the New Year bring you much joy in your heart, sacred peace in your soul, passion and exuberance to your spirit, and vibrant health to your body! I hope that the days and months ahead bring you closer to your dreams and find you waking each morning with the excitement and lust that come from knowing that Life has a purpose, Love waits to greet you, and Opportunity and Success serenade you like the sweetest of songs.
I look forward to tasting our way down the wine roads of Croatia with you in 2012. “Sretna Nova Godina – and Živjeli!!!”
In its Winter 2011 issue, Ensemble Vacations® Magazine features the wines of Croatia under the headline, “Worldly Delights”. The author, Alison Kent, goes on to describe Croatia as a “vibrant viticultural region” and a “country steadily gaining international recognition”.
Ensemble Vacations is a member-sponsored travel organization that “brings you a world of opportunity, presenting…experiences to spark your imagination and whet your appetite”.
To read a PDF copy of the article, please click the link below. Enjoy the article and feel free to leave your comments.
Okay – just a quick post to share some happiness and holiday cheer. A couple nights ago I brought a bottle of the Vinarija Dingač 2005 Postup to the Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa at the Plazastaff holiday party. The wine, made from the Plavac Mali grape, was well loved by my colleagues who tried it. Mind you, this is a group that is accustomed to being around and drinking Grand Cru Bordeaux. Said one colleague, “I’m surprised by how smooth it is. It’s really delicious.”
Yes, the wine showed really well. Elegant and poised yet intensely aromatic on the nose. The light, translucent garnet color betraying its bold notes of dried fig, dusty dried cherry, black olive, iodine, wet limestone, and hint of black truffle. Oh yeah – and that alluring yet all-too-familiar hint of barnyard (our Dalmatian friend, Brett), faint but distinct, adding just the right amount of Old World charm.
At 6 years old, the fruit remained intact, the tannins softened, the wine “so smooth” that it simply slipped too easily down the gullet, leaving a medium, cocoa dust, dried fig and cherry, and seaside mineral finish.
As often is the case with the Donkey and similar Dalmatian wines, this style evokes in my mind images of dining at one of the many open air cafes and restaurants along the Adriatic Sea on Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline. On the table: local prosciutto and cheeses, olives, grilled Adriatic squid, seafood risotto, stewed chard, fresh tomato salad, and crusty bread….
In the background, a troupe of local “Klapa” singers sing songs of the sea, olive picking, lost love, and the beauties of Dalmatia. In the sky, the powdery white path of the Milky Way stretches across the heavens with a vibrancy unknown to many city-dwellers. The air is scented with sea salt, fig leaf, wild herbs, and wood-fires that roast fish to perfection. All is perfect, especially when the wine – made from Plavac Mali or other indigenous grapes – goes down as easy as this Postup.
(BTW: Postup is the name of the geographically-protected area on the Peljesac peninsula where the Plavac Mali grapes were grown. More on that at another time.)
Too bad then that the Vinarija Dingač 2005 Postup wine is SOLD OUT on the U.S. market. Justifiably so, it seems. Like real donkeys in Dalmatia, this donkey wine is a rare beast: only limited quantities are imported to the U.S.
But fear not, a new batch of Vinarija Dingač wines are on the way and should be available from Blue Danube Wine Company very soon. But if you really need a Plavac Mali wine for your holiday table, other options are available: according to its website, Blue Danube still has limited quantities of Dingač Vinarija 2006 Dingač, Bura-Mrgudić 2007 Dingač, Bura-Mrgudić 2007 Postup, PZ Svirče 2006 Ivan Dolac, Miloš Plavac, Miloš Stagnum, ZlatanPlenković Zlatan Plavac 2007 Barrique or 2007 Grand Cru, and Saints Hills Dingač. Please check with Blue Danube regarding holiday shipping possibilities and times!
In the spirit of the faithful Donkey, I wish you all a very happy, healthy and wondrous holiday season, with many warm memories and exciting dreams inspired by a perfect glass of wine.
To help you get in the spirit, enjoy this video (below) called BOŽIĆ NA MORU (Christmas on the Sea).