A memorable stay at the Kabaj Guest House

In the Kabaj Cellar

After landing at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport from San Francisco, we were less than 2 hours away from the Kabaj-Morel Guest House. The drive took us through the the Veneto flatlands until we reached the Friulian Hills and crossed seamlessly the Italian/Slovenian border. A few more kilometers driving through rolling hills of Brda and we were arrived at our destination: a deep yellow colored house glowing in the sunset, a large terrace overlooking small hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards and a big welcoming hug from Katja Kabaj.

View from our room
The view from our bedroom
Our balcony
Our balcony on the second floor, facing the vineyards

Jean-Michel was busy talking to other guests but suddenly he was in front of us: “Let’s go to the cellar, let’s taste some wine!” he said. And here we are in the cellar underneath the house, with a glass of of golden Tocai — as Friulano is still called in the region. Not a bad way to fight the jet lag!

The Kabaj-Morel house and entrance to the cellar
Fun in the cellar
We’re having some fun in the cellar

Jean — as his family calls him — is a force de la nature, larger than life. He works all day and then at night entertains his guests, sometimes until 3am! He makes his wines in his own image: intense and generous, in a no—compromise style: he will not play the ratings game. But even without trying his wines are internationally highly rated. Jean was even named a Top 100 winemaker of the Year 2013 by the American Wine and Spirits Magazine.

And Jean loves big bottles: magnums, double magnums, jeroboams! He has a humid and cool area in the cellar where he ages these big bottles wrapped in plastic to protect the label. What a feast to be able to taste an old vintage like the 2007 Beli Pinot that Jean opened for us!

An old magnum
The place where Jean ages his big bottles
Cellar Tasting
The 2007 Beli Pinot was absolutely delicious!

But this was just the beginning of the evening. The cellar tasting was followed by a four-course tasting menu showcasing the local specialties:

Flan with Fennel, Prosciutto and Arugula
Barley Risotto
Barley Risotto with Porcini
Grilled Steak with Polenta and Eggplant
Sweet Gnocchi with Cinnamon and Berry Sauce

After a good night of sleep and a solid breakfast of prosciutto, cheese, homemade jam, and a couple of foamy cappuccinos, we were back on the road for a tour of Goriska Brda.

Breakfast is also a feast at the Kabaj-Morel house
The medieval village of Šmartno, cultural monument
An old street
The old streets of Šmartno

The last day, Jean drove us around to see the vineyards. It rained a lot in July and August and the vintage will not be easy but Jean, hedging his bets, owns a mosaic of small lots spread across the hills, with different elevations, sun exposure levels and even one vineyard on the other side of the border.

Goriska Brda and the Veneto flatlands in the background
The grapes are almost ready to be harvested.

“I’ll mostly do big bottles this year.” Jean told us after looking at a grape that showed some signs of rot. “Small quantities and in big bottles, that’s how I see it for this vintage.”

It was time to leave , but not yet! Jean had woken up early in the morning to prepare his famous Goulash and we had to try it! The meat melted in our mouth and the Rebula had surprisingly the right amount of tannins and acidity to go well with the dish.

Our last treat: Jean’s Goulash!

Katja and Jean-Michel, we can’t thank you enough for your hospitality and generosity! And thanks to my husband Matthieu for his beautiful pictures!