Croatia Wines: Part I
We import white and red Croatian wines and make them available to U.S. consumers at our Topochines Vino online wine store: www.topochinesvino.com.
In late 2016 we made our first ever foray to the Balkans, a trip that was planned more or less on a whim and without any goal in mind but to explore the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia. When this former communist country imploded in the early 1990’s, a number of countries formed out of its ashes – either six or seven, depending on whom you ask. Yes, in that part of the world, everything is up for dispute. At a minimum, the former Yugoslavia now comprises Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. For reasons too complicated to explain here, Macedonia is usually referred to as the FYROM – the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Counting Macedonia, there are six countries that have sprung from the boundaries of the old Yugoslavia. We’ll save the story about Kosovo for another day, but you can see on this map that it is considered an autonomous province of Serbia.
On our 2 1/2 week trip we visited half of the countries that make up former Yugoslavia – Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. During this trip – which originated in Venice – we met wine makers and other wine experts that opened our eyes up about this truly fascinating region. We were somewhat familiar with the history of the region, going back to the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo that sparked WWI, extending all the way through the recent Balkan war. A very important detail, though, had escaped us: the region’s viticulture and enology.
During our trip we learned that grape growing and wine making in Croatia, for example, go back 2,500 years to the time of the Ancient Greek settlers. All along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, grapes were planted and quality wine was made for both domestic use as well as export. In more recent times, private wine production was hampered by the communist Yugoslav government, resulting in much of the wine industry being cooperatives, with private ownership discouraged. After the collapse of Yugoslavia, private ownership of land once again emerged and the commercial production of wine once again became vibrant. For the uninitiated, here is a quick primer on Croatian wines:
Wine Regions. While there are 300 recognized sub-regions in Croatia, they can be broken down into two broad categories: Continental and Coastal. Historically, much of the hype has come from the Coastal region as it encompasses the well-known Istria region (very similar in many ways to Tuscany) and the Dalmatian coastal and island vineyards that produce some of the best wines in Croatia. However, in the past several years producers in the Continental part of Croatia – primarily Slavonia and Plešivica – have begun making wines that are getting international attention. We have recently tasted some of these wines, including some delicious sparkling wines, and plan to import them here to the U.S. and offer them on our Topochines Vino online wine store.
Even with the recent surge of quality in the Continental region, the focus in Croatia is still on the Coastal regions of Istria and Dalmatia. Many visitors to Istria compare it to Tuscany, both for its physical resemblance as well as the quality food and wine available.
Both red and white wines are produced in Istria, and vineyards feature both indigenous and international grape varietals. The most common indigenous white grape grown in Istria is Malvasia; the most common red varietal is Teran. We are offering a crisp, refreshing Istrian Malvasia from producer Benvenuti: Buy Malvasia.
Farther down the coast of Dalmatia one encounters some of the most famous regions and vineyards in all of Croatia. most of them producing wine from indigenous Croatian varietals. Dalmatia breaks into three geographic sub-regions: Northern Dalmatia, Interior Dalmatia, and Central/Southern Dalmatia. These regions are largely dedicated to producing indigenous Croatian white varietals such as Bogdanuša, Debit, Grk, and Ninčuša and red varietals including Crljenak Kaštelanski, Dobričić, Plavina and Plavac Mali.
Geographically, the vineyards and wineries in Dalmatia are stunning and unlike anything we have ever seen. One of the places we visited was Grgic Vina, the Croatian winery owned by Napa winemaking legend Mike Grgich (of Grgich Hills). Their winery is a literal stone’s throw from the Adriatic sea and their vineyards a few hundred meters up the slope from the sea.
Along the coast, many of the vineyards can be found on unbelievably sloped hills, some of them with upwards of 45 degree slope with vines running straight up and down the hill.
Obviously, harvest must be done by hand and in most cases the pickers have to be harnessed and tethered due to the extreme slope.
In all of our travels to U.S. and foreign wine regions, we have not seen anything quite like the Dalmatian region of Croatia. While many vines are on the mainland close to the sea, some of the most famous vineyards are on islands and/or peninsulas: Hvar, Brac, Korcula, Vis, and the Peljesac Peninsula that houses the Dingac vineyards above.