Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe
Pelješac is a 65km long peninsula in Southern Dalmatia, about an hour north of Dubrovnik, which produces some of the best wines in Croatia. The majority of them are produced from the red Plavac Mali grapes grown in a thin strip of land of only 2km in the Southwestern side of the peninsula, known as the Dingač region.
Dingač comprises the lower half of a steep mountain that runs along the sea by the village of Potomje on the other side of the mountain. For centuries, the people of Potomje and the surrounding villages had to travel on donkeys, horses or mules to tend to the vineyards in the Dingač slope, on the other side of the mountain. They also had to bring their yearly harvest by those same beasts of burden to Potomje, to crush and age the grapes. Naturally, this was a very labor intensive process, so in the early 1970’s all the wine growing families in the area decided to pool their money and order the construction of a tunnel through the mountain. This tunnel, which was finished in 1973, made life a lot easier for the Dingač wine growing, although the vineyards in the region still need to be tended by hand due to the inclination and sheer ruggedness of the land.
This is an area that is always sunny, even when in Potomje, on the other side of the mountain, it’s snowing as happens every couple of years, and thus it produces high quality grapes with a very deep and distinctive taste. Also, depending on the position of the vineyards on the slope, the inclination, how they face the sun or how close they are to the sea, they can produce grapes with quite a different taste in spite of literally growing next to each other.
In Peješac, everybody’s family seems to have been sailors and winegrowers, and thus vineyards cover the whole peninsula. However, only a few of the winegrowers actually produce wine for sale, with most of them selling their grapes to the local cooperatives and making only a small amount for their own family and friends to consume. This is something that most families in Pelješac have been doing for centuries, until communist Yugoslavia was created and they were banned from producing wine even in small amounts for the household. With the end of Yugoslavia nearly two decades ago, wine production is quickly growing in the area again and old vineyards that withered away are coming back to life.
The biggest winery in the area is the Dingač cooperative, which currently produces half a million liters of wine a year. It produces four types of red Plavac Mali wines: Plavac, Pelješac, Postup and, of course, Dingač. Despite these all being from the same grape varietal, the plavac mali, it is only the Dingač that comes from the grapes on the other side of this half a kilometer tunnel through the mountain.