Stipan Cebalo of Lumbarda

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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Stipan CebaloOne of the last wineries we visited on the island of Korčula was that of Stpian Cebalo in Lumbarda. This is on the far southeast side of the island and is a place where tourists usually just go for the beaches. But it is here where Stipan has two hectares of land and is one of the few producers of the white wine, Grk. The man knows what he is doing and has a family tradition of wine making that dates back an amazing 500 years!

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Grk and Plavac

Grk is a well-balanced white that doesn’t really push you one way or the other, but makes for pleasant drinking and is considerably different from Pošip, the other main white of Korčula. His 2005 ‘vrhunsko’ or high quality Grk has nice fruit aromas to the top and bottom of the nose. It is a bit dry, but not terribly so and has a nice finish. Stipan does not age this in oak at all and told us that he preferred not to have the oaky aromas to the wine, which seemed to be a good plan to us in the end as they would most likely muddy things up. We also tried his Plavac which has a touch of cinnamon to the nose which makes it a bit different than the other Plavacs we’ve tasted previously. It is 13% alcohol and that makes it rather strong for this region, yet it has a light body to it, making for easy drinking. The finish had some sweet, dry bread textures that were also quite pleasant.

Producing 6,000 liters a year certainly doesn’t make Cebalo one of the heavy-hitters of Korčula like Čara or Blato, but he is making good wines in his little spot on the island, on his terms, from just his grapes.

The Craft of Bleuš and Kunjašić

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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Stanojević and BleušTwo more of the smaller producers on Korčula are Bleuš and Kunjašić. They are both located around Smokvica and like many wine makers of this size, very tricky to find. You see, their cellars look just like any other house on the street and it’s not until you go inside that you see a whole wine making operation spread out from behind the old doors. It also makes it impossible to just drop by for a tasting or a visit, since you need to know someone who knows someone to call them and actually meet you as was the case when we went to Bleuš. But, they will always make it worth the hunt by rewarding you with good wines and great hospitality.

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Bleuš is a tricky name, since it really is the Stanojević Family that produces the wine now. Well, actually, it still is the Bleuš family (which they believe is really of French origins), but there were just two daughters to inherit the winery after their father passed away and it still is the custom for it to be the man’s family name on the wine, even if it wasn’t his family that originally produced it. But, this is changing as you’ll see Stanojević Family on the bottle, but with a Bleuš title. A tad bit confusing, but such are the customs and the cultural changes that are slowly happening.

We tasted the 2006 Pošip from Bleuš. It had spent seven months aging in stainless steel and had light cherry aromas to the nose along with a bit of peach and apricot. Overall, there was an abundance of spring aromas blossoming out of it and it opens up quite a bit as it breaths. The body is dry with considerably lighter tones to it that pass in to the finish of the wine.

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When it came time to visit Kunjašić, that proved even more difficult as we always seemed to catch him while he was out in the field and much like Bleuš, he was one of those wine growers that you had to be shown exactly where his cellar was in order to find it. Kunjašić produces a number of other wines that we were not able to taste, which in the end left us thinking to the next time we visit, because there is always a next time in Croatia. But thankfully, local pride was our friend and we were able to taste his 2005 Pošip at a restaurant in Korčula Grad. It opened up like most of the Pošips on the island, but had a bit more fruit, placing it somewhere between what Bleuš does and what Čara does.

It will be interesting to watch how both of these wineries progress, especially Bleuš, seeing as how this is their very first vintage.

The Mighty Blato of Korčula

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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Korčulanka fresh off the production lineWhen it comes to former Communist cooperatives on Korčula that transitioned in to successful private companies, there are none bigger than Blato 1902. Named after the town that they are located in, Blato produces a massive 1,000,000 liters a year and even has the capacity to produce more. But, they don’t make only wine. The produce rakija, aniseta, travarica, smokovača, rogačica, and komovica, as well as olive oil and vinegar. All told, there are about 30 wines and products that they make. Not bad for a company that was started by the local wine growers of the area in 1902.

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It was a little tricky to find, being that the main building is located behind a school of all things. Once we found it, our attempts at speaking Croatian with the employees was helped up and greatly improved upon by Sanja Protić and Ante Šeparović (one of the enologists) who spoke English and gave us the history and a tasting. We tried the 2005 Korčulanka which is at 12.5% alcohol and has a light fruit to the nose. This carries in to the body makes the wine easy and pleasing to drink. While not mind-blowing, it’s a pleasant wine that would go well with fish, chicken, and other light meats. Then we tried the 2005 Plavac Blato, which is 12.6% alcohol. It is also a solid wine that is very easy to drink. There is a basic Plavac Mali nose to it and a typical dry body. Much like the Korčulanka, it’s a basic wine, but also a good wine for meals.

The one wine that we didn’t get to try, but really wanted to was the Cetinka. It’s a native varietal to Korčula, Vis, and Lastovo, so you’ll only find it on the islands of Croatia. The described it as light, fresh, with a slightly acidic middle to it. Maybe we’ll see it further on in our trips, or maybe just the next time we’re in Croatia…

Smokvicas Toreta

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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Outside the tasting room with Smokvica in the background

Like most single-owner Croatian wineries, the story of Toreta on Korčula is all about a family history of wine making that stopped during Communism and is now working to produce again. In this case, the man who has taken up the helm is the very young Frano Banicević, who, at 25 has begun to run the winery that his great-grandfather built at the turn of the 20th century. Like most of the new generation in Croatia that are taking over from their parents or grandparents, they are full of ideas and ways to get their wines more well-known. One of the biggest examples of this is that fact that there are actually signs to the Toreta winery and it is quite easy to find in Smokvica. Others are a little more subtle like a gradual change in the design of the bottle labels. While seen as something of a waste by the older generations, Frano is keenly aware of how much it affects the decision of the consumer.

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The barrel sign out front

The one thing that really doesn’t change is the commitment to producing good wines. We tried two of their vintages in the tasting room that they have in ‘downtown’ Smokvica. By the way, ‘smokva’ is the Croatian word for fig and the region was apparently covered in them prior to massive wine cultivation. There still are some being grown and if you get the chance to try a fig jam from Dalmatia, do so as they’re some of the best in the world, but I deliciously digress.

Toreta’s 2005 Pošip at 13.9% alcohol is aged in Slavonian Oak. It starts out with a lovely, sweet nose that has aromatic touches of honey, apple, and a bit of pear. The body is full and surprisingly heavy, in that a great bit of the nose gets lost in it, but many of the tones come through regardless, all the way to a bit of lemon on the finish.

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Toreta’s Pošip

The Toreta is a 12.5% alcohol Plavac that is only classified as ‘stolno’ or table wine. Frano warned me about it not being that amazing before I tasted it, but I think he really sells the wine far too short, as it is actually quite good. While not a Dingač, it still retains a few of the elements in the nose. The body drops all of this and is quite light, but the high acidity you can taste in the wine speaks to me that it would pair extremely well with most any dish.

Visiting Toreta was a very pleasing experience overall to see how the younger generation of Korčula is slowly gaining the reigns from the older generation and doing it with what appears to be relative ease.

The Former Collectives of Korčula

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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Vineyards in front of Čara

Built in 1983, the company that is now Pošip Čara on the island of Korčula, started as one of the Yugoslavian wine making collectives. All of the grapes from the surrounding area in the town of Čara fed in to this one factory to produce the wines of which 90% were whites. There were 100 hectares of land which over time became dedicated to the production of Pošip. In standard Communist thinking, this centralized production made sense as there were plenty of areas that produced reds, so why not focus this region on just whites as they grew extremely well there? Well, the result of this today is that the region is still primarily growing only whites and while there are a few private growers in the region, the now privately owned Pošip Čara still dominates production with 300,000 bottles a year leaving their doors.

This is all done with a scant 10 people on staff, of which, one is Toni Tomić who was actually a mechanic, showing us around as he spoke the best English. But, even though he worked on the equipment that made the wine, he knew a considerable amount about the wines and the history of the company. Later we found out that he is one of the people who has been with the company since the first day they started to produce.

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The Pošip

The most likely reason for Pošip Čara’s success is that they focus on just a few wines. They have a little bit of table Plavac that they produce, but the real meat is in the Pošip. We tasted the 2006 varietal which was pleasant and much like most standard Pošip wines. There are some nice fruit aromas, but it has a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc finish to it. But, it did work as a good entry point for the Marko Polo, which is their flagship wine and what a wine it is with a honeysuckle and flowery nose that leads in a body full of strong fruits. Amazingly, neither of wines are aged in oak. They reserve that for a mere 200 liters that no matter how much we begged, we were not able to get at. We assume that they are also not available for sale as they are undoubtedly quite remarkable.

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Jedinstvo’s Quality level white

In a sharp contrast to Pošip Čara is Jedinstvo PZ which is a bit down the road outside of Smokvica. They were also a collective, but started earlier in 1954. Their privatization went much differently and they focused on producing a greater number of wines, but at a much lower rating level that ranges from wines you buy by the liter to low-end ‘quality’ level wines that are mostly suitable for drinking with a meal.

It is interesting to see how these two wine making companies with similar roots in such a small area have diverged so much in the tastes of wines that they produce. But, if you’re a white wine lover and haven’t tried Pošip yet, we highly recommend Pošip Čara.

Miloš, Popular Beyond Pelješac

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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Driving up the Pelješac peninsula from the Croatian mainland, Miloš is one of the first wineries one comes across. It is located in the little village of Ponikve just a few kilometers north of the walled town of Ston with its beautiful fortress.

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The StagnumIt

Although the Miloš family has been making wine for over 100 years, like most families in the countries of the former Yugoslavia they had to sell their grapes to the state-owned cooperatives. So it was only in the beginning of the 1990’s that Miloš became a private business, and is now producing about 50,000 liters of wine annually. Today Frano Miloš has managed to make the family winery into one of the most successful in the Pelješac region, and frequently receives large tour groups in their new tasting room and century-old family cellar.

Miloš produces a broad range of wines in each of the quality categories existing in Croatia (table, quality, high quality and special). Since we couldn’t try them all, we decided to taste their most popular varietal, the Plavac. It was a vintage from 2004 with a 12.6% of alcohol, a nice nose with a touch of aged leather and a well-balanced body. While dry, it was very well balanced and drinkable, especially for summer.

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Nadahnuće

We also tried one of their whites, Nadahnuće, which was a very good 50%-50% blend of Pošip and Maraština grapes. Both of these grapes came through surprisingly well and didn’t trounce one another, making for a very complimentary blend. Although it had a somewhat light and fruity nose, it was quite a strong white.

Closing up our tasting, we tried one of their high-end whites, the Stagnum from 2004 made up of Plavac Mali grapes. While stronger than the Plavac and with an alcohol percentage of nearly 15%, it had quite a smooth finish and was very even tempered.

Meet the Pelješac Peninsula with Bartulović

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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Their very nice brochure

Another interesting small wine producer that we found on the Pelješac peninsula was Bartulović, in the little village of Prizdrina near Potomje. We met Mario Bartulović, the manager of the winery located in his beautiful 500-year-old family house. His father Teo started producing in 1989 after having spent some time in Italy. They had to play a bit of catch up initially due to the long pause in production and until 1996 they were using a 220-year-old grape press.

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The old wine press

With a small production of around 20,000 liters a year, Bartulović produces three red wines, a white, a rosé and a few bottles of a very exclusive dessert wine, a Prošek. One of their reds, the Puncta, is a limited vintage biodynamic wine, made of Plavac Mali grapes grown on an ecologically tested vineyard, free of artificial supplements and chemicals.

We tasted the white Rukatac from 2005, with 12.5% alcohol, made of a local varietal that is also known as Maraština in the Konavle region. It had a very light nose but a bit of a sharp taste at the beginning, although it became smoother after getting a bit of air. We also tasted the Bartul red also from 2005, which is made of a blend of Plavac Mali grapes from 9 different vineyards. With a dark ruby red color and a thick, meaty nose, Bartul is a dry, full-bodied wine, with a bit of a cinnamon and licorice flavors and a spicy finish. It goes well with dark meat, especially venison, and naturally, Dalmatian smoked ham–pršut.

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Bartul Plavac Mali

Mario Bartulović, like other young wine makers in Croatia, has brought a lot of new ideas to the family winery and an entrepreneurial spirit to raise the profile of his wines. In contrast to the older generation of Croatian wine makers, craftsmen following a centuries old tradition who didn’t feel the need to promote their wines because their high quality spoke for itself, the younger generation taking over are equally concerned with the reputation of their wines and in promoting them outside of their region. Thus, Mario Bartulović ordered a modern, sleek, re-design of the labels of his wines, started tailor-made wine tours of the Pelješac peninsula called “Meet the Peninsula”, and he has opened a restaurant in his winery which offers home-cooked Dalmatian specialties paired with his wines.

The Craft of Kiridžija and Matković

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

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In Kiridžija’s cellars

While there is a great deal of large-scale wine production going on in Potomoje on the Pelješac peninsula, there are also a number of small producers who are crafting excellent wines on their own terms. They’re not easy to find and if you were to ask us where they were, we’d most likely have to point you to the first place we asked a person who knew a person who knew a person that eventually led to the homes and cellars of Kiridžija and Matković. Both of them are tucked away in homes where you’d never suspect that some fantastic wine making was taking place.

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Kiridžija’s wines

We started with Kiridžija. He has been making wine for the last 12 years, which is right in line with most of the region, as that was the time when the former Yugoslavia fell apart and they were able to start producing on their own again. In his 300 year-old home, he produces small quantities of both Plavac and Dingač. Let us reiterate that these are actually the same grape, but grown in very different regions of the peninsula. His 2004 Plavac at 12.6% alcohol retails for about $5 and has a nice, rich nose that had mint, berry, and tobacco aromas. The body was very pleasing as well with a buttery finish that really reigns in the sharp, dry tones that can be common in lesser Plavac vintages. The 2006 Dingač, with a rather hefty 16.4% alcohol, is so deep and flavorful that it is dangerous. Aged in Hungarian oak, the body is succulent and you really want to keep it on your palate as long as you can. Over the oak there also emerges some nicely subtle, sweet berry flavors.
For now, Kiridžija is enjoying his wine and exports part of his very small production to a very lucky Switzerland. As for what the future holds, that is a bit more uncertain because, like a great many wine makers in this region, he has two children who aren’t going to pick up the craft and one who is too young to start, but might down the road, only time will tell. Whatever the case ends up being, we hope that these wines will continue to be made.

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Tasting Matković’s Plavac

Then there is Petar Matković, whose family started making wine in 1536. He is from the 14th generation of wine makers! Sure, there have been some starts and stops in there due to such things as Communism, but the tradition continued regardless. Currently, they sell a great deal of their grapes to the local cooperative, but they also keep a small portion to produce 3,000 bottles of Dingač and 15,000 bottles of Plavac. Currently, they pick from 30,000 vines, but have planted some new vines in the Dingač region that they’ll start harvesting soon.

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Matković’s wines

We tasted the 2004 Dingač which had a great, soft nose of tobacco aromas and a smooth finish. It was a bit light on fruit aromas and flavors, which is most likely attributed to the oak flavors taking over from the six months it spent in French oak. We then also tried the 2004 Plavac which had quite a bit more fruit than the Dingač, yet had more of the deep, frothy nose that we’ve become accustomed to in the the Dingač. But overall, a very quiet, subtle, and easy to drink Plavac.
While they are producing rather different wines, these two producers are craftsmen and we included them in the same article, because their approach is the same: small production, based on a love of the grape.

Miličić: A Hobby Goes Big

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

Pavo Miličić had a long career working on the sea. He eventually made his way up the ranks to being a captain and worked in the cruise industry for some time. Despite traveling the world, winemaking was in his blood though. Like many in the Pelješac region, his family were growing wine previous to WWII when they stopped due to the new Communist regime not allowing any private wine production.
planTwenty years ago, Pavo started to try his hand at the grape again. Time passed and what started as a hobby quickly grew in to a company that produces about 300,000 bottles a year now. The production level of his winery has gotten so large that a year ago he formally quit his seafaring job to focus solely on his wines and built a new, larger facility that could produce upwards of 500,000 bottles. For all appearances, he seems to be handling the transition in stride and showed us around despite being deep in the middle of construction.

We tasted everything straight from the barrels as many of his wines are still in the process of aging for the new year. His 2006 Plavac has a very good tobacco nose with a hint of berries. You can really taste and smell the oak in it, but at the same time, it’s quite deep and flavorful. The 2006 was a step deeper than the Plavac with even more tobacco and a nice smooth finish.
tasteTo close out our tastes we had both the 2004 and the 2005 Dingac. The 2004 was just about to be bottled and has aged excellently. The nose is nice and earthy. The body has undertones of chocolate and pepper to it. Pavo says that he’s going to age it a bit more in the bottle and once it goes on sale, we’re sure it will be a hit. The 2005 is also bound to be popular and seems to be aging itself in to a very complex wine. While it’s far from being bottled, there are some lovely cinnamon and spice aromas in the nose. The body and smooth and light from start to finish and just as you’re getting the last taste of it, a great tickle of pepper hits your palate. Tying all this together are smooth and luxurious butter tones that really mark the wine as a future winner.

Pavo is headed in some great directions with his wines and it will he’ll be an interesting Croat to follow in the years to come.

Two-Donkey Matuško

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe

To distinguish themselves from their very close neighbor, the Dingač winery, Matuško has been putting two donkeys on their label to make them distinct from the one donkey that Dingač uses. The differences aren’t label-deep though, as Matuško is a much smaller winery, producing 500,000 bottles a year that are sourced mainly from their own vines that are nine hectares in size.

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Their winery is very friendly and set up to receive tour groups who can get a tasting of all 11 wines that they produce. Additionally, there is a downstairs tasting room with old farming implements and salutes to the donkeys that are no longer needed to carry the grapes over the mountain from the Dingač vineyards now that the Dingač Tunnel exists.

barrelsWe were told by our host that while we may see donkeys in the region still, they are strictly for the purposes of tourists and then their lives are much easier now. We selected several wines for tasting from their lineup and started with the 2006 Rukatac. This is light white wine, which is also called Maraština in areas such as Konavle, further south from Pelješac. It is a bit different from the typical Maraština though in that it’s a bit less fruity. The nose is still light and there is a slight ‘waffle’ quality to it which is quite pleasing.

While Pošip is only grown on Korčula (where Matuško sources their grapes) we decided to see what they did with those grapes. In the 2004 that we tasted, we found the nose to be more delicate than standard Pošip with a crème dessert aspect to it. The body was a bit noisier than other Pošips though and didn’t have a clear makeup to it. The finish however, was quite smooth.

When starting on the reds, we tried the 2005 Plavac Mali. The wine is rather light at 12.2% alcohol, but the nose is sweet and very tasty. These characteristics carry through to the body and then the finish that despite being a very dry wine makes for a tasty, smooth finish.

Matuško, like Dingač winery, makes a Dingač wine. Theirs is quite different from the Dingač Winery one, which is a characteristic we commonly found in how different all these Dingač were based on just a slight change to their growing angle on the slope of the mountain. The 2004 vintage that we tried was very good and a very distinct wine. There were peach aromas and even a hint of tomato to the nose. Another aroma in there we couldn’t really place a name on other than to say ‘chutney’. But overall, everything, from the nose to the body to the finish was vastly different from other Plavac and other Dingač that we’d had. To describe this wine would really not do it justice, as every person will get a different flavor from it.

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Overall, Matuško puts out a good selection of wines that are very representative of Potomje where they are located and of the Pelješac region in general.