When I relocated to Croatia in 2011 after a lifetime in the Middle East, it was to discover my Croatian heritage and to answer that million dollar question “Where is home?” My quest took me to the Pelješac Peninsula where my mother is from, through breathtaking vineyards and humble wineries, and thanks to the openheartedness of the locals; my introduction couldn’t have been anything less than magical.
An Introduction to Croatian Wine
It all started with a firm handshake with Marija Mrgudić from Pelješac, a respected winemaker and a force to be reckoned with. The Pelješac Peninsula is a long stretch of land wearing out into the Adriatic just one hour north of Dubrovnik. Pelješac is one of the most prestigious wine regions in Croatia, home to Dingač and Postup, the first appellations of controlled origin to be registered in Croatia, so what better way to discover my roots than through the roots of the famed Plavac Mali vine? Marija took me under her wing and walked me through every worthy vineyard and cellar on the peninsula, and I also gave a hand in harvesting her Plavac Mali before joining the winery efforts with her family to produce their beloved Mare Postup wine. She later also dragged me along to most wine fairs, introducing me to winemakers from all over the country.
Introducing Social Winemaking
Marija’s family accepted me as their kin, but the biggest confirmation of my new Croatian existence was yet to come. On a warm September night, I was called to a quaint little village tucked into Pelješac’s interior called Košarni Do to join 10 local winemakers, amongst them Marija’s children, in their friendship project, a social wine. Each of the winemakers had brought two baskets of their absolute best-selected Plavac Mali grapes, which would contribute to the making of this social wine. As the music played and the two village dogs looked on in curiosity, we sat in a circle, de-stemming every grape by hand and tossing them into a big tub in the middle. The back pain was interrupted with snack breaks and stretches as the manual labor took us well into the night. Purple-stained hands, laughs and song set the mood as the peninsula dingoes howled to the tune in the forests beyond.
Footmade Croatian Wine
The tub was slowly, but surely filling up and the time had come for the crushing phase of production. “Where is the crusher?” I asked; they laughed and it was all clear, my chubby little duck feet had been nominated for the task as crusher. A thorough foot scrubs and in the tub I hopped, stomping my way around in circles, with a few dance moves in between. After the hour-long grape dance session, we transferred the whole lot into a fermentation tank to let nature do its thing to this concentrated potion of super-sweet goodness. A couple of weeks later, the work continued as we moved on to the pressing phase in production. Another non-mechanical production, I spun my head to dizziness turning the handles of the ancient wooden press. After settling in a stainless steel tank, the wine was transferred to a new Slavonian barrique barrel to mature for another year. A few sneaky sips along the way showcased quite a promising wine. The wine was transferred to 102 magnum bottles (1.5L), to rest for 12 months before its exclusive release
Much like men and sports cars, Croatian winemakers measure their manhood by how high the alcohol is in their wine and this social wine would certainly prove to be the manliest of all men; 18.2% alcohol! Thus, they named the wine Imperator, the emperor.
What I didn’t know at the time was that being selected to crush the grapes was a great honor and so I was named the Godmother of the wine. I thought nothing of it until a couple of years later when Imperator was released at a tasting in Dubrovnik. They invited me to attend as the honorary guest, accommodating me like a queen in a luxury villa on the sea, and introducing me in front of a tasting panel of 100 people. All the guests were eager to talk to me about my wine making experience and for the first time I realized, I had found my Croatian (vine) roots!
There are a heap of humble wineries that dot Pelješac’s wine roads and Select Croatia take you to the best-kept secrets on the peninsula with the Pelješac Wine Rhapsody tour. With a visit to the Miloš Winery in Ponikve, you will be introducted to a very poetic and charismatic approach to winemaking and when you try the aged Stagnum Plavac Mali, you will want to move into the cellar and stay… believe me, I’ve tried to convince them! Next up is Grgich Winery, owned by famed Croatian-born winemaker from Napa Valley, Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate before visiting the family cellar of Mario Bartulović who is your guide for the day for lunch and wine.
Do you want to be part of Pelješac wine story? Feel tree to ask for tips…