A Bit about Babić (the Grape) – Part I

Text and photos (except where stated otherwise) by Cliff Rames

When the subject of indigenous red grape varieties in Croatia arises, generally and indisputably it is accepted that Plavac Mali is King.

Yet the King’s Court includes several other local dignitaries of assorted distinction who have endured the centuries and survived the incursions of history. These locally noble grape varieties continue to play an important role in the glasses of present day wine consumers in Croatia, and some are just now finding their way onto the tables of wine lovers in distant lands like the U.S. and the U.K.

Babić
Babić grapes, Northern Dalmatia, Croatia

One of them is an old friend and occasional mistress of mine – Babić, the somewhat softer and more reasonable Queen to the often brasher and more savage King Plavac.

{To take this Royal Court silliness even further, I would submit that Crljenak Kaštelanski (AKA Zinfandel) is the Queen Mother and Teran, our wilely ambitious friend that rules the roost as Istria’s only indigenous red cultivar, is the Joker – a wild card prone to all sorts of surprises and unexpected delights.}

Back to Babić….

Babić
Babić

While records show that Babić has been planted in northern and central Dalmatia (Coastal Croatia) for hundreds of years, its origins remain a mystery (until DNA profiling is concluded). On one hand, it has been suggested that Babić is a localized clone of Dobričić, the red variety that is native to Šolta island and now famous for being one of the parent grapes (along with Crljenak Kaštelanski) of Plavac Mali.

Dobričić
Dobričić (Photo courtesy of Alan Mandic, Secret Dalmatia)

But in their book “Plavac Mali: A Croatian Grape for Great Wines” , authors Edi Maletić, Ivan Pejić and Jasminka Karoglan Kontić suggest that Babić and Dobričić are connected via a parent/offspring relationship. However, insufficient genetic data makes it impossible at the moment to determine which is the parent and which is the scion.

Elsewhere in the region local synonyms for Babić include Babica, Babina, Babinka, Babičević, Pažanin, Roguljanac, or Šibenčanac – although “Babica”, according to some locals that I spoke with, is thought to be a wayward clone of Babić that produces bulbous berries of inferior quality.

Babica
A lone Babica vine left from my grandfather's vineyard, Tisno, Croatia

Unlike Plavac Mali, which grows best throughout southern Dalmatia and on many of the idyllic islands that speckle the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, Babić’s home is comprised of a 300-400 hectare swath of parched hillsides around the central Dalmatian town of Šibenik and southward toward the city of Split. While some Babić is also found in non-commercial vineyards as far north as Pag island near Zadar, its home is undisputaby the wine-growing hills of Primošten (60 hectares) and more specifically the famous Bucavac vineyard (18 hectares) in the hills overlooking the seaside resort town of Primošten, where it is the only variety planted (more about Bucavac in a later report).

Babić growing zone (shaded area)
Primošten
Primošten, heart of Babić country!
Bucavac
Bucavac vineyard, Primošten, Croatia
Bucavac
Bucavac

Babić has traditionally lurked on the sidelines as a minor player among Croatia’s diverse array of indigenous grapes, overshadowed by more celebrated Plavac Mali.  Leo Gracin, PhD, Senior Scientific Assistant at the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology – University of Zagreb, Croatia and a leading grower and producer of Babić), estimates that Babić totals approximately 1.5% of all grapevine plantings in Croatia today. It is also the second most-widely planted native red grape (second to Plavac Mali) and represents about 4% of all red cultivars in Croatia.

Babić
Babić - ripe & ready!

Yet Babić plantings around Šibenik and Primošten are increasing. Most significantly, heavy-hitter producers like Vinoplod Šibenik (the local cooperative) and Zlatan Plenković (winemaker and owner of the Hvar-based winery, Zlatan Otok) recently planted several hundred thousand new Babić vines on the previously barren hillsides that were once part of a Yugoslav Army training base just outside Šibenik at Jadrtovac. These vineyards are expected to come into production in 2012 and could potentially unleash a flood of new Babić wines onto the market – hopefully at approachable prices!

New Babić plantings near Šibenik
New Babić plantings near Šibenik
Baby Babić
Baby Babić

(To Be Continued….)

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A Heavyweight among Champions: Agrokor Joins Vinistra

May 12, 2011 – Poreč, Croatia

The world evolves and time changes everything.

And so it was today when Agrokor, one of the largest producers of wine in Croatia, officially joined the ranks of Vinistra (the Association of Winegrowers & Winemakers of Istria). To be more precise, Agrolaguna, a subsidiary in the large web of winery holdings owned by Agrokor, became the 119th member of Vinistra.

Based in Poreč, a historic seaside town in the Istria wine-growing region of Croatia, Agrolaguna currently manages 520 hectares of vineyards and a wine portfolio that includes the “Laguna Histria” label and the award-winning “Festiga” brand.  

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Put in perspective, it could be said that Agrolaguna is the elephant in the room, although that analogy applies only when you are in Croatia. When one takes into account that the vast majority of Vinistra’s members are small family wineries, Agrolaguna is like Gulliver at the Court of Lilliput. But to the outside world, the firm is relatively small, producing not millions of bottles but a few hundred thousand, perhaps.

Waiting for the ceremonies to begin. (photo by Cliff Rames)

 Nonetheless, Agrolaguna’s entry into Vinistra is big news, politically and economically. The mother company, Agrokor, has tremendous resources and a keen desire to be a serious player on the Croatian team of wineries. Over the past few years, it has invested heavily in advanced winery technology, vineyards, redesigned packaging, and new marketing strategies. It has engaged high-profile international consultants to help repackage its image from that of a factory winery to a producer of quality, accessible and value-driven wines that retain a true sense of place. 

(photo courtesy of VinMedia)

Signing the agreement were Vinistra president and spokesperson, Ivica Matošević, and Agrolaguna Director, Goran Kramarić. Matošević spoke briefly, providing a short history of its activities and events leading up to the agreement, signed on the eve of the 18th annual Vinistra wine expo.

“Agrolaguna’s membership in Vinistra is a huge step forward for Istrian and Croatian wine”, stated Matošević. “Vinistra’s acceptance of Agrolaguna’s membership request demonstrates that all of our winery members are united as equal players, whether they are small or large producers. Only in this way can we have the strength and resources to compete and achieve positive results in the international market”. 

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Kramarić spoke of Agrolaguna’s long relationship with Vinistra and its ongoing cooperation to advance the image and success of the Istrian wine brand.

“This agreement opens a door that leads to new opportunities for intensive cooperation to strengthen and support export initiatives, continued development of our wine roads and wine tourism, and joint participation in future events and exhibitions”, said Kramarić.

Arriving by helicopter that landed in a field behind the Agrolaguna winery in Poreč, Agrokor president Ivica Todorić presided over the ceremonies and was visibly pleased with the proceedings.

Ivica Todorić (photo by Cliff Rames)

“Our cooperation with Vinistra did not begin with the signature on this agreement today”, he said. “It is, however, evidence of our commitment to continue our partnership and desire to achieve our common goal to promote Istrian wine at home and abroad”.

“Agrokor invested a large sum of money to improve its brand and raise the quality of its wines. With that, we intend to lead the way forward and have a positive effect on the future of the market”, added Todorić.

“We appreciate and value the tremendous achievements that Ivica and his team have accomplished in the name of creating an Istrian brand”, said Todorić. “All this was done with the noble purpose of promoting Istria as a wine region, elevating the quality of Istrian wine, and celebrating the Istrian way of life. For this reason, I am extremely satisfied to sign this agreement today and formally join the members of Vinistra and move forward towards our common goals”.

(photo courtesy of VinMedia)

The formal speeches concluded with a startling but charming admission from the Župan (head administrator) of Istria County, Ivan Jakovčić: “About 10 years ago, I said in an interview that Malvazija Istarska, in my opinion, can never be a world-class wine. I stand here before you today to confess my mistake. I know now and can say with all certainty: Malvazija can be a world-class wine. And it is with great satisfaction that I witness the signing of this agreement today. In it, I see the future”.

Agrolaguna's tasting room (photo by Cliff Rames)

The signing ceremony and press conference were held in the nicely appointed tasting room at the Agrolaguna facility in Poreč and was followed by a lunch that few cynics could dismiss: plump and sweet shellfish roasted to perfection in large scallop shells, as well as local specialties perfectly paired with Agrolaguna wines.

It was a convincing display of haute cuisine and wine showmanship. Agrokor seemed to be sending a message to all in attendance that said: “We have arrived. Make no mistake. We are in this to win”.

Clearly the winners are all members of Vinistra, heavyweights and lightweights equally, and by extension – all Croatian wine producers. The model for cooperation among wineries and vision for success set forth by Ivica Matošević and his team at Vinistra are a guiding light that can – and should – show the way forward for all winemakers from every wine-producing region in Croatia. 

ProWein 2011 Gets a Taste of 150 Wines from Croatia

From March 27-29, 2011, the wine world was focused on Düsseldorf, Germany, site of one of Europe’s most important wine festivals: ProWein.

 

According to the organizers of the festival, ProWein 2011 was attended by over 3,600 exhibitors from some 50 countries. Attendance reached 38,000 – a 5% increase over 2010.

The organizers also noted an increase in the number of international guests, primarily from Great Britain, Scandinavia, the USA and Canada, as well as Eastern Europe – especially Russia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. The festival also saw an increase in the number of visitors from Asia – most notably China, Thailand and Hong Kong. Festival organizers reported that over 80% of visitors were individuals who are directly involved in purchasing decisions (Source: Visitor Survey at ProWein 2011.)

Photo courtesy of Vinolab d.o.o.

For the 5th consecutive year, Croatian winemakers were among the international exhibitors, with 25 of the most important wineries in Croatia participating, collectively representing more than 150 wines.

Croatia’s participation in this year’s ProWein fair was sponsored by the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK), in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development (MPRRR).

Photo courtesy of http://www.nacional.hr

With total space of 95 square meters, the Wines of Croatia booth was the focus of much attention, as trade professionals stopped by to investigate and taste the wines of Agrokor-Vina, Arman, Badel 1862, Capo, Cattunar, De Georgiis, Feravino, Jako Vino, Kabola, Kalazić, Korta Katherina, Krauthaker, Kutjevački Podrum, Lagradi, OPG Božo Bačić, OPG Šime Škaulj, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Vinski Vrh, Vinoplod, and the University of Zadar.

Photo courtesy of Vinolab d.o.o.

“This fair is of great importance to Croatian wineries, because it is an opportunity to present the wines of Croatia to an international audience”, said Rajko Ružička, Assistant to the Director of the Office Agriculture, Food and Forestry at the HGK.

“We hope that our presence at the fair will help to increase exports of Croatian wines, especially in regard to Germany, which at 600,000 liters annually makes it the second largest foreign market, after Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is why the HGK and MPRRR support Croatian wineries at international festivals like this, because it is critical to effectively present and position Croatian wines in potentially interested foreign markets.”   

Photo courtesy of Vinolab d.o.o.

Due to the large volume of business conducted during the festival and shear number of journalists present, ProWein is an opportunity that under no circumstances should be missed, said Saša Špiranec, Chairman of the Association of Croatian Wineries Festival Committee at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK).  

Saša Špiranec

“ProWein is the starting point of marketing activities of our new association, whose primary mission is to raise awareness among the wine consuming public about the wines of Croatia. The task of branding Croatian wine includes many promotional tools – including specialized fairs like ProWein”, said Špiranec.

Đuro Horvat (Photo courtesy of http://www.liderpress.hr)

 Đuro Horvat, president of the Association of Croatian Wineries at HGK, added that Croatian winemakers regard the creation of a strong Croatian wine brand – one that showcases the excellent quality and originality of the wines – as crucial for the export market.

“Export trends from year to year indicate movement towards high quality wines from premium categories. That is why this festival is important as an opportunity to establish business contacts and ultimately increase wine exports through new sales,” said Horvat.

 

“Croatian wines are growing more and more interesting to international consumers and markets, who are increasingly seeking out wines of origin produced from indigenous grapes. This is especially true in more developed markets, such as Germany and Great Britain, where the rate of wine consumption is growing and the market is saturated with the most popular international varieties,” added Horvat.

Across six pavilions, visitors to ProWein were treated to a comprehensive snapshot of the world wine market and a selection of thousands of wines to taste. ProWein is an important bellwether of emerging trends and a showcase for new products and services, as well as an ideal venue for networking between visitors, producers, exhibitors, distributors and the media.

photo by Rene Tillmann / Messe Duesseldorf

Summing up the positive results of ProWein 2011, Hans Werner Reinhard, Deputy Managing Director at Messe Düsseldorf, said: “We are delighted with an extremely successful event! Our positive expectations were even exceeded. ProWein 2011 went splendidly. ProWein was impressively able to underline its status as the leading international fair measured by all key performance indicators. It brings the supply and demand sides of the wine and spirits market together at an international level in a uniquely professional atmosphere and it is the perfect meeting point for the sector to showcase trends and innovations, to discover and discuss.”

Next year’s ProWein event is scheduled for March 4-6, 2012 in Düsseldorf.

 

[Sources: Nacional.hr article (in Croatian), published on March 28, 2011; ProWein press release, published March 29, 2011]

London Calling: Over 200 Wine Professionals Turn Out for Croatia Tasting

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Adapted (in English) by Cliff Rames from various media reports, including a Vinistra press release: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/10856096/2010-10-14-Predstavljanje%20Wines%20of%20Croatia%20u%20Londonu%20okupilo%20više%20od%20200%20vinskih%20distributera,%20kupaca,%20sommeliera%20i%20medija.pdf

 All photos by VinMedia

Spearheaded by Croatian winemakers Ivica Matošević, Ernest Tolj (Saints Hills winery), and Vlado Krauthaker, Wines of Croatia held its first-ever tasting event in London this past Tuesday, October 12, 2010.

 

The event, attended by more than 200 wine distributors, buyers, sommeliers and journalists, represented the first of many initiatives in a new campaign by individual wineries to promote Croatian wines on the international stage and facilitate the creation of a unified brand concept under the moniker “Wines of Croatia”, which will come to symbolize wines of quality, distinction and authenticity.   

In addition to the wines of Matošević, Saints Hills, and Krauthaker, various selections from the Dalmatia, Istria and Slavonia regions of Croatia were also chosen for representation at the tasting. Included among them were the wines of Agrolaguna, Belje, Kabola, Korta Katarina, Kozlović, Mihalj, Trapan and Zdjelarević wineries.

 

Seizing upon recent momentum and positive coverage of Croatian wines in the media (including by Robert Parker), the Wines of Croatia event was an opportunity for UK-based distributors and journalists to learn more about the country’s wines and network with winemakers and other industry personnel.

Vlado Krauthaker engages guests

The Wines of Croatia team was on hand to tell guests the story of the wines and about the unique assortment of indigenous grapes from which they are made and the beautiful places where they grow. More importantly, the winemakers shared a simple message with those gathered at the event: “Croatia has arrived on the scene. We have something special. Give us a try. We think you will enjoy the discovery”.

Judging by the positive comments and smiles, the message seems to have found a receptive audience. Reactions to the wines included expressions of pleasant surprise, thirsty curiosity and enlightened excitement. And everyone seemed to agree on one point: The time has come for Croatia to emerge on the international wine scene and showcase its wines, especially its small batch and family–produced wines, through a well-organized, smart and attractive marketing campaign.

Tara O'Leary with Saints Hills winemaker & owner, Ernest Tolj

Influential wine journalist, Tara O’Leary, seemed convinced: “Croatia has three very different wine-growing regions with three very different styles of quality wines. All we need is more information in order to activate and engage communication with the public and the wine world, because Croatia is still pretty unknown. On the other hand, events like work well to inform and inspire the wine community. In all these gifts lies the potential of Croatian wines.”

Saša Špiranec (right) and guest

During the presentation, guests were also able to meet and speak with Saša Špiranec, one of Croatia’s premier wine experts and writers. Mr. Špiranec provided information about many of the indigenous grape varieties that were showcased at the tasting – Babić, Graševina, Malvazija Istriana, Plavac Mali, Pošip, and Teran – and explained how the wines from these grapes each reflected a sense of the place from which they came.   

Bruno Trapan (right)

Many of the distributors, wine buyers and sommeliers also expressed an interest to travel to Croatia and provide their clients with a first-hand experience to see for themselves the potential of Croatia’s wine regions.

The London presentation was just one a series of international events planned for the coming months, and it is the first formal event that occurred since the establishment in September of an association for small and family wineries under the banner, Wines of Croatia. The primary mission of this association is the promotion of Croatian wines as part of an overall economic and tourism strategy, as well as to highlight the potential of Croatia’s wine as an export product. 

 

Similar Wines of Croatia tasting events – scheduled for November – are currently being organized for New York and Chicago.

The Notting Hill tasting differed from the June’s “Fine Wine Croatia” tasting in London in that attendees were representatives from wine associations, distributors and buyers, whereas the June tasting focused on wine critics and journalists – who afterwards published some very positive reviews.

Ivica Matosevic (right)

Finally, after the day-long tasting, about twenty influential London distributors, sommeliers, and wine buyers gathered at the Notting Hill Brasserie for a formal wine dinner and presentation, organized by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. The multi-course meal was accompanied by perfectly paired wines from Matošević, Saints Hills and Krauthaker wineries.

 

From the dinner, Tara O’Leary reported on her blog, Wine Passionista:

“Seared scallops with lobster and prawn tortellini and lemongrass velouté were paired with the Krauthaker Graševina “Mitrovac” 2009, while cep crusted John Dory with a broccoli purée, white beans, pata negra and cep velouté was accompanied by Saint Hills “Nevina” 2009.

The dark spice and tannins of the Matošević “Grimalda” 2009 was perfectly suited to a roast breast of partridge with creamed cabbage, truffle purée and truffle sauce. The youthful Saint Hills Dingač Plavac Mali 2008 stood up well to the succulent slow cooked venison loin with sweet potato purée, confit red cabbage and the valhrona chocolate sauce that made the wine’s mocha mannerisms sing!  Lastly, the luscious Krauthaker Zelenac IBPB (TBA) 2008 dessert wine captured the essence of the evening when accompanied by the apple tarte tatin with crème fraiche and Calvados sauce.”

To read Tara’s full report from London, check out her blog here: http://winepassionista.com/?p=788

 

Next stop on the Wines of Croatia tour: TRU restaurant in Chicago, and the Oak Room in New York. Stay tuned!

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PRESS RELEASE: Saints Hills Selected for Prestigious Merano Wine Festival

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ZAGREB (Croatia), September 3, 2010 – After a rigorous selection process, it was announced that Saints Hills Winery, together with the Bura/Mrgudić family winery, were chosen to represent Croatia at the 19th annual international Merano Wine Festival, one of the most exclusive and most elegant oeno-gastronomic events in Europe. The festival will be held November 5 – 8, 2010 in Italy’s picturesque resort town of Merano.

Merano, Italy

With its selection, Saints Hills 2008 Dingač becomes the first Plavac Mali wine from the Dingač appellation of Croatia’s southern Dalmatia region to be chosen for representation at this prestigious event.

Photo by Cliff Rames

To guarantee that the highest quality and most exclusive products are represented at Merano, only a limited number of wines are selected for recognition and participation. A panel of wine experts carefully evaluates each wine, and only those that achieve a minimum of 86 out of 100 points can be included in the “presentation and tasting of top class unique wines from all over the world”. Each candidate wine must also demonstrate a verifiable pedigree of origin and be “characterized by their intensity, complexity, elegance, and extraordinary personality”.

 

With 89 points, Saints Hills 2008 Dingač successfully secured a place among the 462 “chosen” wineries (336 from Italy and 126 from the rest of the world) who will be presenting their wines for tasting at this year’s festival. An estimated 5,000 visitors from around the world are expected to attend.

 

In addition to the 2008 Dingač, Saints Hills will also present its 2009 Nevina (a blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay).

Photo by Cliff Rames

The Merano Wine Festival is widely recognized as an important “meeting place”, a venue where representatives from wineries, hotels and restaurants, as well as wine writers, sommeliers, and other wine and culinary professionals can gather to network, taste the selected wines, and exchange information. Saints Hills Winery’s participation is a major opportunity to promote not only its own wines but also Croatia as a wine-producing country with a rich array of indigenous grape varieties and a unique terroir.

  

As a winery, to be included in the Merano festival is tantamount, for example, to being a musician who is asked to play at one of the world’s greatest music halls”, observed Ernest Tolj, owner and winemaker at Saints Hills Winery. “This is huge recognition for us, especially since we are one of the newest wineries in Croatia and our wines are just now entering the market in Croatia.”

Ernest Tolj (photo courtesy of Saints Hills)

Tolj adds: “I would like send a message to the participants of the Merano Wine Festival:  Premium quality wines – wines that have the unique characteristics of their specific terroir – exist in our part of the world.”  

Saints Hills vineyards in Dalmatia, Croatia

Established in 2006, Saints Hills Winery – in collaboration with one of the world’s most famous enologists, Michel Rolland – produces wines from vineyards it owns in Radovani (Istria), Pelješac (Dingač) and Komarna (Dalmatia).

Michel Rolland & Ernest Tolj

The inclusion of the Saints Hills 2008 Dingač and 2009 Nevina at the Merano Wine Festival couldn’t be timelier: Exports of Croatian wines to Western Europe and the United States are increasing, and Saints Hills wines are poised to enter the U.S. and U.K. markets in the coming months.  

Saša Špiranec, one of Croatia’s leading wine writers and experts, notes that participation in prestigious wine events like Merano not only shines a global spotlight on the individual producers who are present but also on the whole country’s wine industry.

Steven Spurrier scoring Croatian wines at LIWF (photo by Fine Wine Croatia)

At the moment, Croatian wines are trying to find their place among very strong competition on the international market. Participation in events such as Merano is an opportunity to present the potential of Croatia’s indigenous varieties and show that they can stand equally alongside the international competition”, Špiranec added.

 

Saints Hills Winery recently presented its wines at several international tastings, most notably in London and New York, and generated a lot of interest in Croatia’s indigenous varietal wines. Julia Harding, a Master of Wine and member of Jancis Robinson’s eminent team of wine reviewers, tasted the Saints Hills 2007 Dingač at the London International Wine Fair in May 2010. Her score of 16.5 points (out of 20) was to date her second-highest rating of a Croatian wine.

Photo courtesy of Merano Wine Festival

For additional information about the 19th annual international Merano Wine Festival, go to: http://www.meranowinefestival.com/

Press Release Contact:

Marko Kovač, VinMedia

Tel: +385 99 735 73 99

Email: marko@vinmedia.eu

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Michel Rolland Discovers Malvasia Istriana from Croatia

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Translated and edited by Cliff Rames from the original Vinistra press release (in Croatian):  http://vinistra.com/news/for-media

Michel Rolland, the world’s leading wine consultant and enologists, recently toured a few wine regions of Croatia. On July 2, 2010, he also attended a tasting of 28 Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija Istarska) wines at San Rocco restaurant in the Istrian town of Brtonigla. 

photo courtesy of Vinistra

The tasting, organized by Saints Hills Winery with the support of the association of Istrian winemakers, Vinistra, was also attended by a dozen Croatian winemakers, enologists and experts in the field.

photo courtesy of Vinistra

After the tasting, Mr. Rolland said that, in his assessment, the 28 Malvasia wines he tried were well-made, refreshing and very approachable. He added that with Malvasia Croatian winemakers have an opportunity to present the international market with a unique wine of a specific character.

photo courtesy of Vinistra

The goal of the tasting was to present Mr. Rolland with a cross-section of Malvasia wines that are representative of the wide range of styles available of the market, ranging from simple, refreshing, early-drinking wines to highly extracted, wood-aged versions.

“Malvasia wines are very well made, fresh and refreshing. They are all good, with different characteristics. None of the wines were flawed, which is very good for the future of winemaking in Croatia. Paired with the food I tried in the past few days, the wines were perfect,” Rolland said – adding that still there is room for improving their quality.

Bruno Trapan & Michel Rolland ( photo courtesy of Vinistra)

Mr. Rolland also had the opportunity to meet with a number of local winemakers and enologists to discuss the history and conditions of winemaking in Istria, characteristics of the grape variety, winemaking techniques, different approaches of vinification, and the long-term the potential of Malvasia. 

Ernest Tolj & Michel Rolland (photo courtesy of Vinistra)

Among the producers represented at the tasting were Benvenuti, Brčić, Coronica, Clai, Degrassi, Franc Arman, Geržinić, Kabola, Kozlović, Prince, Krulčić, MaDeBaKo, Matošević, Pilato, Piquentum, Poletti, Radovan, Roxanich, Saints Hills and Trapan.

Michel Rolland traveled to Croatia at the invitation of Ernest Tolj of Saints Hills Winery. Support for the Malvasia tasting was provided under the umbrella of the Istrian winemakers association, Vinistra. 

Tolj & Rolland at Dingac (photo courtesy of Saints Hills Winery)

Saints Hills Winery, which was established in 2006, owns three vineyards and two wineries, one in Istria and one in Dalmatia (where it produces wine from two distinct vineyards sites, Dingač and Komarna).

Mr. Rolland began consulting for Saints Hills winery two harvests ago. Mr. Rolland’s mission is to assist Saints Hills – in the vineyard and the cellar – to produce wines for the domestic and international markets that are the best expression of indigenous varieties they represent and the unique terroir represented in each of the three vineyard sites where the grapes grow. 

Saints Hills "Nevina" (blend of Malvasia & Chardonnay)

“Croatia has several positive conditions for wine production. First of all, it’s a fantastic tourist destination. More and more people are traveling to Croatia, and there they are drinking Croatian wines, which is the best publicity. Once they return home, these tourists will talk about their Croatian wine experience. Secondly, the wines are original and should be in the international market. For international buyers there is always a curiosity factor, because people like new wines from new places. Of course, the bottle should contain good wine!” Rolland explained.

Mr. Rolland said that marketing and positioning will play a key role in the international market, which will very quickly define the price it is willing to pay for Croatian wines.

photo courtesy of Vinistra

“Croatia’s baseline market is Croatia, which is also a very beautiful environment in which to promote wine”, concluded Rolland.

(Born in 1947, Michel Rolland is the world’s leading wine consultant and enologist. He has 100 clients in 13 countries and is known for his unique style of consultation in the world of viticulture and winemaking.)  

 

 

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A Warning to Croatian Winemakers: If We Don’t Export, We Don’t Exist

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Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia

Translated by Morana Zibar, www.Gastroprijevod.com

Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia

 

The Croatian wine market is exhausted. New vineyards are being planted, and the number of winemakers is rising. Yet no one is thinking about export. Without organized joint action we don’t stand a chance. 

Regardless of the serious economic crisis that has impacted the Croatian wine industry almost as much as the automotive sector, it will still be a successful year. I know it sounds harsh, but this crisis has come in handy.

For years our winemakers have all been drinking water from the same well. Even though their numbers are growing and there’s less and less water, they are not moving away. Even when they almost reached the bottom and the water became muddy, making them realize they have to go into the world to look for new springs, they didn’t do it. They preferred the muddy water to the uncertainty of the unknown. 

Now it is finally over; there is no more water. The well is empty. The race across the desert has begun. Will our thirsty friends reach a new spring before they lose their strength? Some of them will, especially the bigger ones who held advantageous positions at the well and managed to stock up reserves.

But some of them won’t make it; some will surely perish along the way. They will be mostly the small, the weak, and those who drank everything instead of building stockpiles.

 

Unfortunately, even those wineries who found their way to the new spring won’t stand much of a chance of long term survival. All around them will be waiting big lions and hungry hyenas that will not respond favorably to strangers drinking their water. Scattered in unorganized small groups, our poor winemakers won’t stand a chance against the hungry beasts.

But if they had set off like an organized army, when there were still good stocks of water, and proceeded to conquer spring after spring, then nothing could have stood in their way.  By securing more wells in advance, they would have prevented their own little well from drying up.

The “well” of course is the Croatian market, which has been sucked dry for years because Croatian winemakers practically don’t export at all. It’s impossible to understand the point of planting new vineyards, increasing the number of winemakers and wine brands if nobody is even thinking about exporting.

Newly planted vineyards in Dalmatia. Photo by Cliff Rames

The local market has been stagnant for years and the former number of winemakers was quite enough to satisfy its needs. The only discrepancy was between the amount of red and larger amount of white wines. If we had no intention to export, we shouldn’t have planted new vineyards. Instead we should have replaced a portion of white varieties in existing vineyards with red varieties.

Export statistics are poor, and the numbers heavily reflect our exports to neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Export to the rest of the world is still in its infancy. The efficiency of Croatia’s export strategy is so far best illustrated by the following figures, taken from the Handel Market Research report for Croatian wine.

Export of Croatian Wine

2004 = 52.802hl

2006 = 31.311 hl

2008 = 28.564 hl

Besides exporting a lousy 2,800,000 litres, especially devastating is the fact that export figures comprise only 4.5% of all Croatian wine distribution.

The culprit behind this failure is not far away: the lion’s share of the blame falls on the winemakers themselves because they don’t know how organize and approach the government with a united voice.

I’ve been following the conflicts in our winemaking scene for two decades. First it was about “big against the small”. Then it moved to the regional level, when one region belittles the other one and vice versa. Later it finally ended up at the local level, with one winemaker quietly wishing for his neighbor’s demise instead of his success.

Still it is important to remember that another country, a close regional neighbor – Austria, went through hardship greater than anything Croatia could imagine: during the 1980’s, Austria was hit by the so-called “Antifreeze Affair”, whereby a number of Austrian winemakers ended up in jail for adulterating wine with chemical additives (rather than doing the hard work in the vineyards to grow good grapes) to boost profits.

As the result the reputation of the Austrian wine industry was ruined. Nobody would buy Austrian wines after news of the scandal broke. Today’s wine crisis in Croatia is just a small baby compared to Austria’s consequences: several years of zero sales.

However, Austria today has re-emerged as one of the most progressive wine regions in Europe. Their wine marketing activities and branding strategies are some of the most positive, sophisticated and effective campaigns in the world. In twenty years they have risen from the ashes to become a star.

Lesson 1: Looking for shortcuts and fishing in troubled waters is not only a Croatian specialty. As we can see, it happens to advanced nations too.

Lesson 2: It is never too late to get your act together. When you are last, you have the least to lose and the greatest possibility for improvement.

Therefore the current crisis and Croatia’s nonexistence on the global wine market is not a problem. Let’s get together, put all our money in a pile, and jointly launch an organized world campaign. It is not a mission impossible.

Trends are indeed going our way. Consumers are getting tired of the usual grape varieties and they are looking for something new. Maybe Croatia is the very thing they want. What is more important, so far the reactions from wine critics and connoisseurs have been sympathetic – they like us.

 

With assistance from the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, Croatian winemakers recently participated in several important wine expos, including the World Wine Symposium in Lake Como, Italy, and the London International Wine Fair, which are annual gatherings of the world’s biggest wine experts, journalists and wine buyers.

 

These events were very successful and many in attendance highly rated the quality of our wines. And important questions were asked: Where can we find these wines? Why are they not more present on foreign markets?  

Steven Spurrier, the legendary 70-year-old British wine critic and editor or Decanter magazine, offered the same message. After 40 years of constant wine tasting all over the world, at the Lago di Como wine expo he said: “You know, this is the first time that I have tasted Croatian wine. I didn’t have a chance to try it before.”

 

Postscript from the editor: Mr. Spurrier tasted Croatian wines for the second time on May 25, 2010 at the London International Wine Fair, where he spent a significant amount of time at the Fine Wine Croatia grand tasting chatting with winemakers and sampling the selections. He reported that he was particularly impressed by Malvazija, Teran and Pošip. More impressive, he took a bottle of Saints Hills 2008 “Nevina” (a blend of Malvazija and Chardonnay from Istria) home with him.

Steven Spurrier at LIWF. Photo courtesy of Ernest Tolj

As the old adage goes, “Every journey begins with a single step”. We’ve started to move. Now it’s time to go and conquer some springs.    

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