Hvar Island – Home of Zlatans Grand Cru

Seaside Tasting Room of the Zlatan Plenkovic Estate on Hvar. (Photo courtesy Leith Steel) A vineyard assistant named Nevin drives us the four hours south from Krk to Split in the rain, where we slog to the catamaran that will take us to Jelsa, on the north side of Hvar island, in 90 minutes. Jelsa is a gorgeous town with a riviera look—there’s obviously plenty of money here, at least in tourist season. We’re on Hvar to visit the single winery in all of Croatia, called Zlatan Otok, that produces a Grand Cru wine. Zlatan Plenkovic, the owner, is not available to us, but his son Marin (who is finishing his studies to take up a position at the winery) takes good care of us for the twenty-odd hours we’re here. He drives us from Jelsa over the top of the island to the south side, where the winery is, via a single-lane tunnel with rough rock walls carved through the mountaintop. Marin pauses about 100 meters into the tunnel and points to a room off to the side where stainless-steel tanks are visible through the doorway—they store some of their white wine here without need for refrigeration (because of … Continue reading Hvar Island – Home of Zlatans Grand Cru

The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)

Niko Bura in the middle of an extensive tasting at his kitchen table. Niko Bura is a Croatian garagiste, with his setup on the ground floor of his house, and he is one of this region’s leaders in quality. Niko is making wine in the vineyard, not in the winery. Indeed, we met him this morning tilling the soil between newly planted vines on the family’s Dingač hillside. Niko himself is soft-spoken, clearly proud of his artist daughter, whose painting hangs on the wall of the small tasting room, and appears on the label of Bura Galerija, a light cabernet sauvignon that was first released this year, made from grapes grown in a prime valley location. He is also experimenting with marsellane, a cross between cabernet and grenache. It will be three or four years before the first bottling. The wine called Bura, of 100% Dingač plavac mali, was first produced in 1995. This year saw the release of the first bottles of Mare, from Postup plavac mali and named after its maker, Niko’s sister Marija. MARE 2004, Postup. For this vintage, the grapes were partially raisined due to lack of water on the hillsides. The wine is an unfiltered … Continue reading The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)

The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 1: Grgic etc)

The Dingač at its best: steep slopes, old vines, tons of sunshine right at the coast. We arrive by ferry on one end of the island of Korčula and are picked up by Marija Mrgudic and her son Boris, who drive us to the ferry dock at the other end of the island. This is a sneak preview only—we’re leaving the island immediately for Orebic, on the mainland, and will return to Korčula in a day or two. Orebic is a waterfront town on the edge of the Pelješac peninsula, where the renowned wine producing areas of Dingač and Postup cling precariously to hillside terraces overlooking the Adriatic. In terms of prestige, Dingač and Postup are the Napa and Sonoma of Croatia. Marija Mrgudic and her brother Niko Bura and their families are a leading wine producer in the area, under the name Bura Estate Winery. Boris is in his twenties, and does marketing and PR for the winery while also working in marketing for a local hotel group. He spends his weekend driving us through vineyards, crisscrossing the Pelješac, and talking with us about the growing private wine industry and rampant experimentation in the region, notably with plavac mali’s … Continue reading The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 1: Grgic etc)

The First Wine Guide to Dalmatia & Herzegovina: Vinologue

I walked through Pile Gate in Dubrovnik, my friend Ivana leading the way down the Stradun and then off on a side street that I hadn’t yet discovered in the Old Town. We arrived at a bar named Carpe Diem, sat down in the early evening and ordered. I had no idea what to order. I didn’t speak Croatian and so I was ordered a glass of red wine. At this point, everything changed. The wine was the Zlatan Plavac from Zlatan Plenković. That was in 2004 and I remember thinking it would be fantastic to learn more about these deceptively good Croatian wines, but there was nothing to be found. While beach tourism was taking off in Croatia, there were no wine brochures and there were no wine guides. People in most of the shops didn’t really know all that much as wine was wine. Frustrated and stubborn, I dug and started to read every scrap of news I could find. I drank more wine. I learned Croatian. I found importers in the US like Blue Danube Wine Company, learned more, and drank more wine. In 2007, I met my future wife who helped me to focus my interest … Continue reading The First Wine Guide to Dalmatia & Herzegovina: Vinologue

Matulić of Dol on Brač

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe Frane Matulić in his tasting room. Dol is a small village tucked away in the deep recesses of a small valley of the island of Brač, which explains the name that merely means ‘valley’ in Croatian. Matulić Plavac It’s a really lovely village that doesn’t seem to see a lot of traffic and because it’s not near the beach, the look of the town is 100% authentic with no ugly beach apartments. This also explains why there are only 112 people living in a village that once sported a slightly more bustling 750 souls. It is here, nestled in a 130 year old house and wine cellar that Frane Matulić makes his wines. He started four years previous and is currently pumping out 27,000 liters of wine a year. This is produced from the one hectare that he cultivates and about 20 more that he buys from. There is a wine growing tradition in his family, which has been additionally tempered with a dose of large business acumen working as the general director for Badel 1892, a massive alcohol producer in Croatia that is based in … Continue reading Matulić of Dol on Brač

Theres More to Brač Than Sandy Beaches

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe The harbor to the right, winery to the left. Tourists dead center. The island of Brač, the third biggest of the 1,184 off the cost of Croatia, and the biggest in the region of Dalmatia, is mostly known for its postcard-perfect beach in the town of Bol. Described by the Croatian Tourist Board brochures as “the most beautiful beach on the Adriatic”, the famous Zlatni Rat (Golden Beach in Croatian) owes its fame to its original cone shape and for being one of the very few on the Croatian coast that features sand instead of rocks, pebbles, or the most unfortunate: concrete. PZ Wines. Although currently the economy of Brač is based mostly on beach tourism, historically it has always been famous for its wines, goat cheese, and olive oil (as well as its white stone which, as a side note, it was used to build the White House in DC). Nowadays the biggest and oldest winery in Brač is PZ Bol, the island’s cooperative that now belongs to the Jeruzalem wine company in Zagreb. Founded over a hundred years ago, in 1903, it is located … Continue reading Theres More to Brač Than Sandy Beaches

The Craft of Bleuš and Kunjašić

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe 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. 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 … Continue reading The Craft of Bleuš and Kunjašić

Smokvicas Toreta

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe 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. The barrel sign out front The one thing that … Continue reading Smokvicas Toreta

The Former Collectives of Korčula

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe 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 … Continue reading The Former Collectives of Korčula

Croatian White Wines Getting Great Press

Matt Markovich writes in the San Francisco Bay Guardian the wine column Bottle Rockets (yes, that’s what they call it!). This week he is reporting on a recent trip to Dubrovnik in Croatia. Clearly, Matt had a great time sampling a number of Plavac Mali red wines. This is the ancestor of the Californian Zinfandel which in turn is the reason Matt entitles his article Original Zin. But his real love is for a particular Croatian white wine, the Pošip Čara made on Korcula Island where the famous world traveler Marco Polo was born. Matt sings the praises of this wine: Despite tasting around, we found ourselves ordering Posip Cara (poe-ship charrah) again and again. The experience of taking sips and gulps of chilled Cara in the hot sun was like taking a slurping, juicy bite from a perfect green apple. Always smooth, never too tart, and free of any alcohol bite or bitterness, it made me curse the fact that it’s apparently unavailable in the States. Do we have good news for him and all other lovers of this fine Croatian wine. You can buy it in the US! We do have it in stock and a number of … Continue reading Croatian White Wines Getting Great Press