If you were unable to attend Croatia’s 2016 Dalmacija Wine Expo in April, don’t dismay (but start making plans for next year!) and instead check out these exclusive photos for an insider’s look at the festivities. For a full report of the event and more photos, check out our recent post by Cliff Rames: “Dalmatia Wine Expo 2016: Three Things I Learned”.
Sensory overload. That is how I would describe any one of my whirlwind visits to Croatia.
I mean it in a positive way. The country is simply brimming with vinous, culinary and natural delights. Gnarly old grapevines improbably clinging to sun baked seaside slopes. Nearly 1,200 islands sprinkled like seashells on the impossibly blue Adriatic. Countless villages and hamlets of seminal charm nestled in coves and on mountainsides. Fresh caught seafood and farm-to-table produce so succulent and cooked to perfection. The warm faces of family, old friends and new acquaintances (and an occasional donkey). Swoon-worthy views and secret spots where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature that – to this New York City boy – are so intimate, pure and wonderful.
And then there is the wine. Indigenous grapes, local producers. Most of it delicious and distinct. So this is what all this beauty… this land…this Croatia tastes like, you may be inspired to declare.
“I make high quality wine, and along the way I have fun too.” –Juraj Sladić
In the village of Plastovo, the Sladić family (http://www.vinasladic.com/) has been making wine for generations. With the passage of time this time-honored tradition has been handed down from family member to family member. Now the time has come for a new beginning, a fresh infusion of youthful energy.
For Marinko Sladić, the current winemaker at the Sladić estate, the time has come to pass the torch, and the decision about who shall inherit the land is easy: Juraj, his eldest son, has been helping out in the vineyard and cellar for years.
For Juraj, a student of the University of Agriculture in Zagreb with just one exam left before graduation, there is no doubt: he is ready to return to his family’s vineyard and make his father proud.
“As soon as I learned to walk, my father led me to the vineyards, and I immediately gabbed onto a hoe”, Juraj remembers with a smile.
He openly admits that attending the University of Agriculture wasn’t his first choice; he wanted to study languages.
Knowing that his father carried all the weight of the family’s wine production responsibilities on his shoulders, Juraj decided to listen to his wisdom and do something that would eventually help him.
Soon Juraj found himself sitting in a University classroom listening to lectures about fermentation, bottles and casks, and grape varieties. Before he knew it, he was daydreaming about the labels that would one day grace his bottles and celebrate the family’s Debit and Plavina wines.
“I wanted to take the family tradition to a new level, higher heights. So I decided to study agriculture. This job is a dream come true. It combines heavy physical work, which actually relaxes my mind. Besides that, it’s a profession in which you can travel a lot and meet many different people.”
Juraj then showed off the new label that he conceptualized and designed with his younger brother, Ante. It is for a wine that will be called “Juran”.
His brother Ante has chosen a similar path. Once he finished electrician school, he plans to turn his attention to winemaking.
We were curious to find out who learn from whom, sons from father, or father from sons.
“From my father I learn the practical, hands-on stuff”, say Juraj. “From me he learns the theories.”
Younger brother Ante then adds: “I learn from them both and keep quiet”.
The Sladić family jewels are four indigenous grape varieties – Debit, Maraština, Plavina and Lasina – that number 8,000 vines in total. Juraj, beaming with boundless enthusiasm and love, drew a map and showed us where each and every one grows.
“Maraština grows in the youngest vineyard; we plan to fully convert this vineyard to natural growing techniques. As for Debit, we are determined to return it to its former glory. Over the last 50 years, Debit became an underrated and underappreciated variety because of the way the big wineries treated it, basically making cheap blends from it”.
In regard to the red varieties, Jure tells us how Lasina was nearly a forgotten variety, yet it shows great potential.
The quality of Sladić wines was given credibility when Croatian-American sommelier, Cliff Rames, recently tasted them and gave a positive review to the 2009 Debit. (Editor’s note: the review is included below.) Now bottles of Sladić wines are highly sought all over Croatia, from Rijeka to Split.
Even though Sladić wines seem to shine with something special, this is not an accident, but clearly the result of three generations’ worth of love and passion invested in the vineyards and the final product.
Sladić 2009 Debit
“A nice example of what a fresh style Debit should be – light, refreshing, with just enough aromatics to make it interesting but not enough to interfere with delicate seafood and other light foods that it can accompany. The crisp acidity and bitter note on the finish made it an excellent palate cleanser, and the combination of sea salt, citrus and floral notes make this a very attractive and delicious wine. A clean, straightforward and very refreshing style that should be served very cold. Best when paired with oysters, white, delicate fish, and green salad with fresh goat cheese.” (Cliff Rames)
Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer, also shared his tasting notes of the Sladić 2009 Debit on Twitter: “Indigenous central coast grape of Croatia. Seashell, lemon a touch of bitterness. Can taste the sea! Albarino-like!”