Text by Ivana Krstulović Carić, dipl.ing.agr.
Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia
Photos by Ivana Krstulović Carić (unless otherwise noted)
Since the arrival of Greek colonists in 385 B.C., the Dalmatian island of Hvar, Croatia has endured many changes. Rulers, empires and foreign armies have come and gone. Today the marks and scars of these events remain a part of the island’s cultural-historical identity and economic position in the region, and the ethnic composition of the island reflects the genetic patchwork left behind by the influx of settlers over time.
But one thing remains virtually unchanged. This is a tale about the continuity of winegrowing and winemaking on Hvar, which has survived the many rises and falls caused by wars, social unrest, vineyard scourges, and economic hardship.
In the beginning, From the Aegian island of Paros the Greeks brought grapevines and planted them in the fields of Stari Grad, thus establishing the island’s first vineyards. The Greeks then divided the fields of Stari Grad*, also known as Ager (originally named Chora) into 73 equal parcels and allocated them to the local settlers.
One year after their arrival, a conflict between the Greek settlers and the local Illyrian tribes broke out. With the help of Dionysius I of Syracuse’s fleet (winner in the war against Carthage and ruler of Sicily), the Greeks were able to defeat the Illyrians and strengthen their hold on the island.
According to Roman historian, Appian, the Illyrian mainland tribes considered wine from Hvar a valuable commodity. Clay amphora bearing the seal of Pharos, which were recently excavated near the Neretva River in southern Dalmatia, affirms the importance of wine in the cultural-historic lifestyle of the region.
During the time of Demetrius of Hvar, a great soldier and confidant to Queen Teuta of Illyria, Hvar returned to Illyrian rule.
In the 2nd century B.C. the Romans conquered Hvar and brought with them the methods to improve the local production of wine. The Romans built many villae rusticae in the fields of Stari Grad and elsewhere on the island, where the owners would reside for the greater part of the year.
During this time, in the city of Salona, the capital of the Roman region of Dalmatia, a Christian group was founded and guided by Domnius of Antioch (better known locally as Saint Duje). Since Hvar was a major port between Salona and major cities of the Mediterranean, the teachings of the Christian Gospel quickly spread among the islanders, an influence that remains today.
After the fall of Salona (7th century A.D.), some of the city resident fled to the islands, subsequently followed by the Slavic tribe, the Croats. The Croats soon adopted the traditions and winemaking skills that would sustain the continuity of grape cultivation and wine production until the present day.
During the Middle Ages, Hvar was subjected to a revolving door of rulers: the Neretvans*, Croatian kings, Byzantine, Hungarian, Croatian-Hungarian kings, and finally the Venetian Republic all took their turns.
Despite all the turmoil, vine cultivation and winemaking endured and continued to be the backbone of the local economy. In the Middle Ages, two-thirds of arable land was owned by the Hvar Commune, and the remaining third belonged to royalty and the Church.
Public lands were offered for rent to the workers, royalty and the Church. Strict rules governed the division of property and the payment of land rent. Grape growers were required to pay 1/6 of the yield to the royalty and the Church. Discontent led to unrest, and under the leadership of Matija Ivanić, a civil uprising (1510-1514) broke out. The mission: to secure equality between the common folk and the royalty.
The uprising was followed by a period of Turkish incursions. The Turks raze the towns of Hvar, Stari Grad and Vrboska. Turkish invasions all along the coast led to demographic changes, as a large number of Croats from the Neretva region and the Makarska coast fled to Hvar in search of safety.
Hvar eventually came under control of the Venetians and continued to develop – despite ups and downs – as an economic center of Dalmatia. Wine exports were the leading source of revenue, although Hvar was also well known for its production and export of dried figs, olive oil, almonds, carob and other Mediterranean produce.
In the time leading up to the mid-19th century, Hvar was again subject to periodic regime change, coming under control of the Austrians and subsequently the French (beginning of the 19th century). It also came under attack by the British and Russians, during which time commerce was interrupted and the local economy stagnated.
Austria again gained control of Hvar in the middle of the 19th century. As a result, Hvar gained access to new markets in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which boosted the importance and production of wine.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the scourges of phylloxera, peronospera (downy mildew) and oidium (powdery mildew), devastated and ruined the vineyards of France and Western Europe. Wine from Dalmatia suddenly came under higher demand, prompting the residents of Hvar to expand their vineyard holdings to 5,750 hectares. With the increased production and revenues, many wine-growers enlarged their homes and converted the ground floors into wine cellars. The future suddenly seemed bright, and Hvar enjoyed newfound prosperity.
To minimize the power of and offset any threat from the buyers and traders, many of the smaller local wine growers decided to organize themselves into the first island cooperatives. One such cooperative, Svirče *, remains today.
But the unfortunate cycles of history soon took a turn, and the economic boon turned into catastrophe. The Wine Clause, a mandate that allowed Austria to import cheaper wines from Italy, forced a drastic and devastating 350-500% decrease in the price of Hvar’s wines.
If that were not enough, the vineyards of Dalmatia – including Hvar – were also attacked by peronospera and oidium, followed in 1909 by the ravaging effects of phylloxera. The glory days of viticulture on Hvar seemed to die a slow death, leaving the population without the means to earn a living, and the local economy teetered on the verge of collapse.
A record of these dark days is still visible, engraved in 1901 in a stone panel on the chapel in the village of Ivan Dolac*, which says:
In honor of the Mother of God, this Church was built by Ivan Carić of the late Juraj. Since 1852 oidium and peronospera have ruined the grapes. These were hard times. Root pests came from Zadar, and the vines whithered. In fear we await our doom. My People! Devastated by this affront from God, heed the Virgin Mother Mary. And may God protect us from these three evils.
(To be continued…)
Link to original article in Croatian: http://www.supermarketi.info/index.php?mod=intervju&interId=11