Leo Gracin on how to grow Babić

Babic Terroir

Dr. Leo Gracin, a professor and enologist at the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology in Zagreb is a specialist of Babić, a indigenous variety that grows primarily in Central Dalmatia, near the towns of Šibenik and Primošten. The wine he produces, Gracin Babić, is actually considered one of the finest red Croatian wines today.

Babić is believed to be genetically related to the more widely planted variety Plavac Mali through their common parent, the ancient wine grape Dobričić. Although the vines are very vigorous, like Plavac Mali, they can produce great wines when growing in extreme conditions: sun-drenched slopes and poor, rocky soils, which gives lower yields and more concentrated flavors. The resulting wine is dark, full-bodied, quite earthy and tannic, with more acidity than Plavac Mali. It is also well suited to barrel aging.

Watch Enologist and Winemaker Dr. Leo Gracin explain how to farm Babić in his Primošten vineyard:

Dossier Zinfandel: Zinfandel’s Origins Demystified

Dossier Zinfandel Panel
Discussion panel after the screening of Dossier Zinfandel: Dr Carole Meredith (right), David Gates from Ridge Vineyards (left), and Yountville former mayor in red.

Last thursday was the premiere screening of Dossier Zinfandel at the third annual Napa Valley Film Festival. Directed by Mika Barisic, the documentary tells the compelling story of Zinfandel, “California’s own grape,” and the search for its mysterious origins.

When Croatian-born winemaker Mike Grgich arrived in Napa Valley in 1958, he noticed that the Zinfandel vines looked familiar and very similar to Plavac Mali, a native variety from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. He was convinced at the time that Plavac Mali and Zinfandel were the same grape.

Mike Grgich
Mike Grgich at the Dossier Zinfandel reception hosted by Grgich Hills Estate

With his support, UC Davis professor and grapevine geneticist Carole Meredith started a collaboration with the University of Zagreb. In May 1998, she traveled to Croatia to meet scientists Ivan Pejic and Edi Maletic and the three of them started exploring the Dalmatian coast. Eventually, they collected 150 samples that Dr Meredith brought back to UC Davis so that they could be identified in her lab using DNA fingerprinting.

Carole Meredith
Carole Meredith at the Dossier Zinfandel reception

While Meredith’s team was able to confirm that the Italian grape Primitivo and Zinfandel were clones of the same variety, they found out that Plavac Mali was not a good match. Instead, they identified the Croatian grape as an offspring of Primitivo/Zinfandel.

It is only in 2001 that Pejic and Maletic finally discovered the correct match when they sampled an almost extinct indigenous grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski (Kaštela Red) in an old vineyard in Kaštel Novi in Central Dalmatia. Only nine Crljenak Kaštelanski vines were found in the vineyards. More vines known locally as Pribidrag were eventually discovered near the coastal town of Omiš. Finally, they were able to identify a 90-year-old dried Tribidrag leaf from the Natural History Museum in Split as being identical to Pribidrag/Crljenak Kaštelanski/Primitivo/Zinfandel.

There are references of Tribidrag being cultivated in Croatia as far back as the early 15th century. At the time, Tribidrag was an important part of the wine trade between Dalmatia and Venice, which makes Zinfandel one of the oldest grape varietals from which wine is still being made.

Ridge Vineyards played a crucial role in the import of the Croatian grapes to California via the Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis. After undergoing virus elimination treatment, these grapes are now available for planting. The Crljenak Kaštelanski clone is called Zinfandel 42.1 and the Pribidrag clones are called Zinfandel 43.1 and Zinfandel 44.1.

Meanwhile in Croatia, Zinfandel is back to its roots. Zinfandel, Primitivo, and virus-free Crljenak Kaštelanski from UC Davis are now planted side by side in an experimental vineyard where Pejic and Maletic are studying how each clone behaves on the same terroir and in the same climate.

David Gates
David Gates, Vice President, Vineyard Operations at Ridge Vineyards, and Frank at the Dossier Zinfandel reception

Curious & Thirsty – Magic Wine: Tokaji

After communism ended in the 1990’s, a rush of investors, both foreign and domestic, bought up vineyards with the intention of resurrecting this dormant legend. The potential in the wine was re-realized almost immediately. However, the world’s thirst for sweet wines had turned dry. A blessing in disguise, clever producers began to experiment with making dry wines. Today, it is the dry wines that offer winemakers and enthusiasts the greatest insight into the character of the specific vineyards.

The Csontos vineyard
The volcanic Csontos vineyard

In addition to the classical aszú and modern dry wines, adventuresome wine makers are reviving almost forgotten traditional styles and experimenting with new styles. What is most amazing, is that regardless of forms, the distinct signature Tokaj leaves on its wines dominate. The natural conditions in the region are so unique, nothing like Tokaji can be produced elsewhere—even with all the knowledge and technology available now. There is a Renaissance under way in Tokaji, unlike any the wine world has ever seen. It is quite possibly the most exciting place to be drinking from today. Read the full story…

Culture connections

Samuel Tinon Dry Szamorodni
With Sherry fest in full swing in NYC , here is an unexpected connection worth sharing.

A few months ago at a Wine and Spirits magazine event, I had the pleasure of pouring the 2007 Samuel Tinon Dry Szamorodni for Sherry aficionado and Spanish chef Alex Raij of Basque restaurants Txikito and La Vara. Like dry Sherry, the distinctive character of the Szamorodni is partly derived from a veil of natural yeast—called flor in Spanish—that develops on the surface of the wine as it ages.

As a special example of the maligned style of dry Szamorodni, the Tinon spoke to her. In the spring of 2014, it will be paired with a dish Chef Raij will prepare as part of a James Beard House dinner. She also recently added the Tinon to the wine list at La Vara. I find it inspiring that one of New York City’s most discerning Spanish chefs sees connections and harmony between Spanish cuisine and a little known style of Hungarian white wine. Connecting seemingly disparate cultures in this way is good. It enhances their appreciation and hopefully inspires others to see associations that are less than apparent.

Tokaji and Sherry are more alike than meets the eye. Despite many fundamental differences such as climate, geology, alcoholic fortification, botrytis, culture, and latitude, the two wines and regions mirror each other in beautiful ways. Jerez has Palomino, whereas Tokaj has Furmint. Muscat surprisingly, vitis vinifera’s forgotten king, is shared by both. Their vineyards grow only white grapes and are affected by bodies of water. The unmistakeable character of a great Sherry or Tokaji derives from the anomalously biologically active cellars these wines are raised in.

Uncompromising in style, singular in experience, both can be found arrestingly dry, sweeter than honey, and all permutations in-between. Like Sherry, durability allowed Tokaji to rise to legend status. Impervious to oxidation, infinite in complexity, capable of lasting into eternity, if you drink Sherry, drink Tokaji and visa versa.

Kabaj: TOP 100 Winery of the Year!

Kabaj W&S TOP 100

Congratulations Jean-Michel Morel!

Kabaj wines have been praised by many wine critics and publications including Ed Behr’s “The Art of Eating”, Eric Asimov of the New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Tasting Table National. Now we are thrilled that Wine & Spirits Magazine recently named KABAJ TOP 100 Winery of the Year.

Jean-Michel and his family farm small plots of vineyards, where the Alps meet the Adriatic, on the Slovenian/Italian border in Goriška Brda, Slovenia. The name of the winery, Kabaj, is his wife Katja’s maiden name; Brda is their terroir: a special intersection of climate, geology, and culture that Jean intertwines into wine. Reflective of the diversity of their origin, there is something primal about them. Kabaj makes no fresh wine. Everything is aged and made to age. Dense in character, but never heavy, tension is drawn from minerality and grape tannin more than acidity. Less fruity than savory, the whites often have a textural quality akin to fine tea. They hate to be cold and typically show their best just below the temperature of their environment and company. The reds, made primarily from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, are vinified in typical Bordeaux fashion and are intensely mineral and savory. Bordeaux varieties have been planted in Brda so long they are considered the local red sort.

The W&S TOP 100 wineries of the Year are the 100 from around the world that got the best overall results in W&S tastings throughout the year. They will be profiled in the Winter issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine and honored at the annual 10th annual Top 100 Tasting in San Francisco on Tuesday, October 15th.

Here are Kabaj’s W&S tasting notes:

2010 Kabaj Ravan: 91 points
“If you have no patience for oxidative whites, steer clear. But if you’re open to the charms of this wine, it delivers remarkable freshness. Look past the resinous, tree-sap aroma and you’ll find a rich, earthy wine with yellow spices and flavors that are more wheat berry than nutty. Its mineral character would meld with a mushroom pilaf with fresh thyme and sage.”

2010 Kabaj Rebula: 92 points
“A woman walked into a bar and said, “I’ll have an orange.” The bartender looked confused. “Orange wine?” he asked. “Yes, an orange,” she said. True story, and a strong case for a glass of this ribolla, which is neither red nor white. The color is spot-on orange, the aromas and pleasantly bitter flavors hover between white flowers, dried pear, orange pith, the pink of peach pit, and red notes of bosky cherries. The wine’s direction and freshness seems to come from its pithy tannins rather than acidity, confounding any categorization other than orange. ”

2008 Kabaj Merlot: 92 points
“Gamey and closed off when first poured, this is all about structure, a dark, savory red with scents of tree bark and fresh pomegranate, amaro spices and meaty black juice. Some acidity brightens the wine, shot through its black tannins, lending a clean, fresh appeal. Serve with a well-aged cheese, like Vella Jack.”

2007 Kabaj Cuvée Morel: 92 points
“From the compelling herbal aroma to the generously textured fruit, this melds the best elements of merlot (60 percent of the blend) with cabernets sauvignon and franc and a small addition of petit verdot (4 percent). It’s as dark and savory as a digestif of herbal bitters, balanced by dark fruit that lasts with freshness. Decant it for venison or other robust game.”

A year in the life of a Tokaji vine

This is a follow-up from the previous post Adopt a Vine.

Gifted Tokaj vigneron Samuel Tinon charts the life of a traditionally cultivated vine planted on the slopes of the classified vineyard of Hatari between the villages of Olaszliszka and Erdőbénye in the year of 2013. It is a vine that our band of merry Blue Danubian’s selected on their trip this past January to the legendary appellation to be charted through the vintage. Here are his photos and his words.

September update

Vine September 4 2013

September 4 2013,

6:00AM at sunrise. Wonderful! We are very close to having a top dry furmint base and start studying the terroir of a first class vineyard. Also, we have to decide today wether to harvest next week for an Auction lot in 2014. Only one week to wait.

We had another GOOD rain on September 1st.


Vine September 4Vine September 4 2013


Vine September 4 2013Vine September 4 2013


August update

Vine August 8 2013

August 8 2013,

This summer is too hot and I have a bad feeling about this. Even the color of the vine in the picture indicates that it is too dry and hot.


Vine August 8 2013Vine August 25 2013


Vine August 8 2013

August 25 2013,

These pictures were made just before the first quality rain (around 30l/m2)… The vintage starts to move in a very good direction. The Orbánc is stopped.


Vine August 25 2013Vine August 25 2013


Vine August 28 2013

August 28 2013,

With a group of top sommeliers from Germany. Nice conversation around your vine…:):):)


Vine August 28 2013Vine August 28 2013


July update

Vine July 3 2013

July 3 2013,

Ready for the 4th of July!


Vine July 3 2013


Vine July 31 2013

July 31 2013,

July was just hot and sunny. Our first good rain came only yesterday (30 liters/m2) (see the picture below). The flowering result is ok but notice some huge differences in berry size. The vines also caught Orbánc (this is unusual and I am trying to stop it).

One month to go and then we will have some sugar in the berries.


Rain July 31 2013Farm July 31 2013


Vine Detail July 31 2013Vine Detail July 31 2013


June update

The vine June 2 2013
02 June 2013

Flowering… this is GOOD news, for You, For Me, for All. From now on, we can estimate 100 days to get mature grapes, which takes us to around september 10th…

This is just prefect, not too early, not too late. If we have some good rain at the equinox, it will be in the pocket.






tinon_vine_june_berries10 June 2013

Mother nature is doing its job. You can see the berries now.

To be honest, I am scared about the weather situation: some crops were totally destroyed last week by botrytis! Botrytis was on the grape, before flowering, like in 2010. Today we finished our second spray.

We will have some almond, cherry and wild strawberry too…






Vine June 2013


Vine June 2013Vine June 2013


Vine June 2013Vine June 2013


May update

Stetson's vine May 1 2013
The vine May 1 2013
01 May 2013

I will send you a photo every other day as this is actually too much work.

You can already notice the new grapes.

Meanwhile, the second market started yesterday following the auction. I’ll call you tomorrow.

Good luck with today’s wine presentation.



Stetson's vine May 3 2013
The vine May 3 2013
03 May 2013

Keep going… Hopefully, we will have time to clean up your vine this weekend.



April update

Stetson's vine April 13 2013
The vine April 13 2013
13 April 2013

Spring arrived in Europe on Saturday 13th. In less than 2 weeks, nature exploded and we believe again: a crop is possibly coming along.

Just in time.

With this temperature, we’ll be busy next week on all fronts.

Next Saturday, on April 27th, we’ll have our Tokaj Spring Wine Auction. The Gala is fully booked. And we are closing today for the blind tasting.

Probably lucky with the weather.

Vineyard early April


Stetson's vine April 29 2013
The vine April 29 2013
29 April 2013

We have a huge acceleration of vine growth thanks to ideal temperatures (30°C-18°C), which gives the plant a phenomenal growing potential.

So that I can share this feeling with you, I’ll try to send you a picture every day this week.

Last Saturday, on April 27th, we had our First Tokaj wine auction and it was a complete success:

More news tomorrow.

Vineyard end of April


March update

Vine March 2013
The vine pruned in March


The WildWux Project

Wildwux Project

Founded by Ilse Maier of Geyerhof and her friend of many years, Burgenland red wine specialist Birgit Braunstein, the WildWux project takes a holistic approach to wildlife and environmental protection. The goal of the project is to go beyond organic viticulture and give back part of the vineyard to nature under the supervision of wildlife specialists. 30% of the vineyard is been restored into a wildlife corridor that preserves biological diversity and protects local species such as the red-backed shrike, the inches ios, the European tree frog, the bumble bee, and the spermophilus, in their natural habitat.

“Preserving nature and utilizing the vitality of the soil” is Ilse Maier’s motto at Geyerhof. The family has been managing vineyards organically for many years, focusing on a sound eco-system and healthy soils.

Organic viticulture is much more than avoiding chemicals. For the Maier family, it is a trapeze act without a safety net. The vineyards need to be continuously monitored in order to catch diseases in their earliest stages. Small failures can have disastrous consequences and sometimes, it’s too late to implement remedying measures.

“We have worked on specialized know-how during the last fifteen years and this has taken a great deal of hard learning, courage and patience,” says Ilse Maier.

Once the grapes are harvested and brought in the cellar, there’s not much to add or alter to make the wine and only a limited amount of sulfites are added during wine production.

We are excited to introduce to the US one of the two wines released by the Wildwux project (there is also a Red Cuvée produced by Birgit Braunstein): the 2012 Geyerhof Wildwux. Made with organic Grüner Veltliner, it is quite restrained, harmonious, and complex, with a refreshing acidity and high minerality.

Ode to LA

Stetson at the Blue Danube Wine Co. Summer School in LA

Going back to LA for Blue Danube Wine Co. Summer School after living in Brooklyn for the past year, felt more reunion than class. The massiveness of this personal experience dawned when the Summer air hit me outside LAX and memories forgotten and familiar swirled together.

LA has changed. Not because it needed too, but because this is what it does best. It was great to reconnect with many of the people responsible for this, I did not know that I missed them so much. Seeing that what were conversations, some quite old, come to fruition and play a part, is in my world profound. Wine defines this business, but relationships give it value. For those in LA who have supported what we do, hosted us in their businesses and taught at least as much as learned, my hat is eternally tipped. The invitation we sent out for the trade tasting listed me as an instructor, the reality is that I am among the students, in LA most of all.

Blue Danube Wine Co. Summer School Tasting

Extra hat tips to:
Silver Lake Wine – for hosting the awesome Sunday Tasting
Terroni – For hosting the Summer School
Gjelina – for the 5th year anniversary party and Romanesque lunch
Walts Wharf – for still being were it all began for me

…and of course Michael Newsome and Mike Tesarek my Blue Danubians in crime whom without, this experience would have not been possible.

until next time.

Blue Danube Wine Co. Summer School InviteBlue Danube Wine Co. Summer School

Teran is IRONic, because….

Terra Rossa…it is grown in IRON rich soil called Terra Rossa and tastes of IRON.
…though inky dark, Teran’s IRON cool character makes it a unexpectedly appropriate summer red.
…while perfumed and pretty it is best suited to cured and chared rare meats.
…Croatia has historic claim to the name Teran, but with their recent entrance into the EU, producers now have to find a new certainly less historic name for it.

So, what is Teran?

Italy, Slovenia and Croatia all produce wines called Teran (Terrano in Italy) that are related in both composition and form. In these three countries, the best examples classically come from patches of iron rich Terra Rossa soil that has significant influence on the wines. While there is a considerable variation in style among them, they relate to each other categorically. Intensely colored, they have typically more acid than tannin, though some extreme exceptions exist. They are ideally perfumed with brassy high toned fruit and an engaging medicinal/amaro edge that feels as nice as it smells. The sorts of grapes they are made from are related, but vary and are sensitive to the touch of the wine maker.

We regularly find ourselves captivated by these wines, regardless of their country of origin or any real differences, and we have amassed something of a selection. However, on July 1st, Croatian producers can no longer label wines Teran. Supposedly, even the bottles on the shelves (in the EU, not in the US!) will have to be changed! For many, this will be difficult or worse. These wines, Croatian or otherwise, deserves our support and investigation regardless of what we call them. It is our mission, join us. Please let me share what we know ourselves, it’s delicious…

4 Terans

Blue Danube wines excell at Wine & Spirits 24th Annual Restaurant Poll

On May 1, 2013, Wine & Spirits Executive Editor Tara Q. Thomas organized a tasting of sommelier favorites from Eastern Europe for the Wine & Spirits 24th Annual Restaurant Poll.

Watch the sommelier interviews that were conducted during the tasting and notice their enthusiasm for the wines:
“These are wines with a sense of place, these are wines that tell a story of a remote region, and wines that make you travel, let’s say, imaginary travel while we’re drinking them.” shares Ciprian Toma from Domaine Wine Bar.

Also note that several Blue Danube wines were among the sommelier favorites!