Wine Wanderlust: 7 Tour Operators in Croatia

Text and photos by Cliff Rames © 2015

It’s inevitable this time of year. Suddenly you notice passenger planes and the drift of jet trails among the clouds. You linger a bit longer than usual in daydreams. Bird songs awaken dormant desires to let loose and fly. You pine; an unsettled, almost haunting feeling settles in your breast. Call it an itchiness of the soul. You sense subliminal messages embedded in the whispers of warm breezes, summoning you: Go, they say. Make plans. Travel!

P1030272

Paul McCartney once sang of this condition: “Light out, wanderlust…help us to be free…light out, wanderlust…head us out to sea…what better time to find a brand new day…oh, wanderlust away…”

And just as dandelions and pollen are harbingers of the season, so too are the numerous emails that arrive in my mailbox, sent by intrepid people bitten by the wanderlust bug. Any recommendations for winery visits, they ask. Best wine regions to explore in Croatia? Suggestions for wine tour operators?

Read more

Reflections on the 2012 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend – Part I

By Cliff Rames © 2012

Once there was a Big Bang. The resulting release of energy and matter went hurling out into the dark undeveloped universe, where it swirled around aimlessly for a while. Eventually these building blocks organized themselves into neat systems where Life could take root. Order was created. Man was born. Grapevines grew. The hand of Man eventually discovered how to make wine from grapes. An industry arose and prospered. Festivals and expositions unveiled the many ways Man could pay homage to and revel in the magic of wine. Glasses were raised in salute (or is that “salut”?) and song.

In the living yet still nascent system of Croatian wine festivals, three entities eventually emerged as the reigning forces for vinous celebration. Call them the Big Three: Vinistra; the Dalmatia Wine Expo; and the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend.

Founded in 1994 as a platform to showcase the wines from the Istria region of northern coastal Croatia (particularly malvasia istriana), Vinistra is by far the most mature, successful and important wine festival in Croatia. Each year it attracts even greater numbers of international visitors and hundreds of producers (not just from Istria). This year Vinistra will be held May 11-13, 2012 in Porec, Croatia.

The youngest and self-proclaimed “most charming” festival is the Dalmatia Wine Expo. Having just concluded its second annual presentation, the DWE is the only significant wine festival in the Dalmatia region of coastal Croatia, held each April in the lovely seaside town of Makarska. While showcasing a series of seminars, workshops and over 150 producers of wine, olive oil and other delicacies, DWE is (for now) the least “international” of the three events, seemingly more focused on regional participation and raising the standard of quality wine awareness among domestic consumers and home-grown hospitality professionals (which is actually a very good thing, but that’s another subject for another time).

Throughout Croatia a smattering of other smaller, regional wine festivals – such as PosaVina and the Festival Graševine – are equally passionate about presenting their local wines and culinary specialties but none have yet to wield any influence or gain international attraction.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Only four years old, the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend is quickly and forcefully establishing itself as a primary contender for the most “international” and perhaps most important wine festival in Croatia. Not a regional presentation, ZWGW has smartly positioned itself to be the Place where Croatian wines from all wine-producing regions of Croatia can be showcased and put in context alongside quality wines from neighboring countries and better-known regions such as Bordeaux and Napa Valley. The organizers also take great care to invite international journalists, bloggers, and VIP wine professionals from important foreign markets.

(photo by Cliff Rames)
(photo by Cliff Rames)

This year’s Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend was held April 13-15, 2012 and featured over 130 producers of wine, olive oil and other delicacies representing over 200 premium brands. Croatian wineries of course formed the majority of exhibitors, with nearly 70 producers on hand and every Croatian winemaking region represented. Most were pouring their new vintages, although treats could be found on occasion as some winemakers discreetly offered older vintages. Frano Miloš, a poet winemaker from the Pelješac peninsula, made me quiver when he poured me a taste of his 1994 Stagnum Plavac Mali, a wine that beautifully debunked some theories that Plavac Mali is incapable of long-term aging.

Frano Miloš (left)

Interspersed throughout the tasting halls was an impressive assortment of other regional and international wine producers from countries such as Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Italy, Austria, France and South Africa. A half dozen or so distributors were also present.

Let the tasting begin! (photo by Cliff Rames)
(photo by Cliff Rames)

The Organizers

While the brains and brut behind ZWGW is the dynamic team comprised of Dražen Lazić, Festival Director; Tomislav Ricov, Vice President of the Organizing Committee, Ingrid Badurina Danielsson, who was last year’s ZWGW director and has now taken on the role of Director of International Relations, and Irina Ban, International Public Relations Manager.

Official responsibility for the organization went to Digitel Group, a Zagreb-based marketing and communications firm. You can read more about the ZWGW organizers and official partners in this press release.

This year’s event was obviously a massive undertaking and logistical nightmare, and an event of this magnitude is bound to suffer from hiccups and oversights. But in general I give Digitel and their team high marks for a pretty enjoyable festival that was marked by just a few glitches. Most complaints that I heard were – like last year – related to the venue.

Glyptotheque building (photo courtesy of ZWGW)

The Venue

The Glyptotheque building of the Academy of Arts and Sciences was an interesting and okay (I think) venue. It is a sprawling old ivy-covered brick building in the upper reaches of the old town in Zagreb, about a 15-minute walk from the city center and Trg bana Josipa Jelačića square. Inside there were many different room on a number of different floors accessible by lots of stairs. At first it was a bit confusing, and I have to admit that I missed some events and tasting rooms because of wrong turns and distractions along the way. But eventually the layout made sense, although I feel that too much time and energy was spent figuring out where to go.

Masterclass with Ivo Jeramaz of Grgich Hills (photo by Cliff Rames)

What made things more confusing was that key seminars and workshops were located in an annexed space at an adjacent shopping mall, the Centar Kaptol. As perplexing as it seems, it is true: discussions of terroir and other high-brow wine topics were occurring in shopping mall conference rooms and a movie theater. To get to these events, one had to navigate escalators filled with shoppers, meander past Fossil and other luxury goods outlets, dodge the lady who was enthusiastically spraying passersby with perfume samples, and resist the café bar with the alluring aroma of fresh brewed expresso.

It was a surreal experience. But I eventually accepted it all and took it as a challenge: Find the seminar. Don’t get lost. See what is behind this door, up those stairs, around that corner….I felt like I was on a treasure hunt, and indeed there were many treasures to be found once I learned to navigate the various levels and locations.  🙂

For what it is worth, my only advice for the organizers would be this: If you decide to hold the 2013 ZWGW at this venue (which is a good idea for the sake of consistency and proximity to the city center and hotels), everyone should receive a more detailed map as part of the welcome package. While this year’s packet did include a color-coded map, it was small and didn’t really give me a good sense of the relationship between the different spaces in terms of distances, direction, and importance. For example, it was not until nearly the end of the festival that I found the hall where the specialty food vendors were located (and by then I was already half-starved). And judging by the low attendance at the panel discussions and seminars held in the movie theater, it seems likely many people either could not find them or didn’t know where they were, being so far removed from the tasting room halls.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Overall I liked the Glyptotheque venue. It allowed for good flow of the crowds and a diversity of programming (such as a series of wine-related films in the Centar Kaptol movie theaters). Better maps and directions would help to save critical time and hopefully improve attendance at some of the more off-site events.

Food

Maybe it was me. Perhaps I was too busy, too distracted, a little too overly saturated with wine. But I could not find anything to eat at this so-called “wine gourmet” festival. Yes, there were vendors selling fig cakes and hand-made chocolates and rustic cured meats and sea salt. All great stuff! But I needed some wholesome and hearty sustenance. A burger. Soup. Some fried calamari perhaps. Something to ward off the encroaching effects of too much wine.

This week I attended the Wine Spectator magazine “Grand Tour 2012” gala tasting in New York City, where over 200 of the world’s finest wines were flowing. At the back of the main tasting hall was a large area full with buffet tables: cheeses, prosciutto, braised short ribs, grilled vegetables, gnocchi in a tomato cream truffle sauce, Asian dumplings….You get the picture. Where there is much wine, there must also be much food.

Chocolate!

Perhaps hot food vendors should be allowed to set up stands and sell their products at the next ZWGW? Just an idea to consider…. I know I would have happily stopped in between tastings and seminars to pay a few Kunas for a quick bite of something substantive to eat.

You?

(to be continued…)

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Wines of Croatia News Round-Up for March 18, 2012

In case you missed anything, here is a round-up of the latest links to the news articles, blog posts and videos that highlighted Croatia, its wine or wine culture.

1. The Image Pantry.com: On Green Lycra, German Riesling and Other Fashion Victims

March 4, 2012

A review of Bolfan Primus Riesling, included in the Image Pantry’s round-up of “some of the best rieslings central Europe has to offer”. 

2. Grape Experiences: Wine Blogs I Actually Read and You Should Too

March 5, 2012

The Wines of Croatia blog makes the Grape Experiences list of five wine blogs that should be followed.

3. Istria Travel.com: Baptising Wine Among Other Things

March 5, 2012

The Clumsy Traveler learns about colorful local traditions in Istrian wine country.  

4. Total Hvar.com: Where is the Largest Island Vineyard in the Mediterranean?

March 6, 2012

A report about the new Plančić vineyard on Hvar that will eventually produce 2 million bottles of Plavac Mali and Bogdanuša.

5. The Croatian Times.com: Croatian Wines Appreciation Growing on German and UK Markets

March 7, 2012

New data about Croatia wine exports to Europe.

6. Gourmand Awards News: World Cookbook Awards Winners

March 7, 2012

Croatia’s premier food & wine magazine, Iće & piće (“Eat & Drink”) wins Third Place in the “Book & Trade Magazine” category (Page 81 on the slide show) at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

7. Thirst for Wine: Tonight’s Croatian Wine – Thanks to Mountain Valley Wines

March 8, 2012

U.K. wine writer, Robert McIntosh, reviews Pelješac Plavac Mali 2010.

8. The Daily Meal.com: Wine Tasting in Croatia

March 9, 2012

A hop across Croatia to visit some of its wineries on “the road less traveled in Europe”.  

9. IWINETC.com: All Aboard the Orient Express to Zagreb’s Regent-Esplanade for IWINETC 2013

March 10, 2012

Wine Pleasures.com announces that the 5th edition of the International Wine Tourism Conference and Workshop will be held in Zagreb, Croatia in March 2013.

10. Pacta Connect Blog: Tasting Istrian Malvazija

March 12, 2012

As the season of Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija istarska) begins, the team from Pacta Connect provides this primer about Istria’s flagship wine and recommends a few producers for your drinking pleasure.  

11. Total Hvar.com: 21st Century Planting Planting Planting

March 12, 2012

A report about Hvar winemaker Andro Tomić’s Bastijana vineyards expansion project.

12. Istriaficionado.com: Giorgio Clai of Istria Nominated as Wine-Newcomer of the Year by Der Feinschmecker

March 12, 2012

A report about Istrian biodynamic winemaker Giorgio Clai being nominated by German lifestyle magazine Der Feinschmeker as “Newcomer of the Year” in the Wine Awards 2012 competition.

13. Wines of Croatia Blog: Blood from Stone: Stina Wine from Brač – Best New Label Design

March 16, 2012

This new wine label design from JAKO VINO Winery really caught our eye. Find out why.

14. Balkan Travellers.com: Croatian Wine for Beginners

March 18, 2012

A repackaged and republished introduction to Croatian wines by Austrian wine writer, Peter Moser.

P.S. We love to hear from you!

If you have comments or other news to share, please comment on this post or email us at info@winesofcroatia.com

 

News Bulletin: Vinistra to Host the First “En Primeur” Tasting of Malvasia Wine in Croatia

 

As part of an ongoing series of events leading up to the 19th annual Vinistra wine expo in May 2012, the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria  (Vinistra) announced the first-ever “en primeur” degustation of young Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija istarska) wines from the 2011 vintage.

The en primeur event will be held on Monday, February 13, 2012 at the Regent Esplanade hotel in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. It will be open to the trade from 2pm till 4pm and to the public from 4pm till 7pm.

This historical first en primeur exploration of the 2011 Malvasia Istriana vintage will provide members of the trade – such as sommeliers, wine buyers, restaurateurs, and chefs – with the opportunity to assess the potential of the vintage and help facilitate their investment in the wines.

With the example set by this type of event, Vinistra also hopes to further raise the profile and credibility of the Association as a leader of innovative and creative programs that showcase the region’s best wines, terroir and lifestyle.

Ivica Matosević

“The focus of Vinistra has always been on new, innovative and straightforward ways to promote Istrian winemakers and the Istrian way of life”, said Ivica Matosević, president of Vinistra. “I think that with this new approach we can help raise the bar for all the other Croatian wine regions and ensure that we keep pace with the international wine scene.”

Thirty-six Istrian wineries are scheduled to participate and pour their 2011 Malvasia wines, including Agrolaguna, Agroprodukt, Franc Arman, Marijan Arman, Benvenuti, Capo, Cattunar, Commot, Coronica, Cossetto, Damijanić Robi, Damjanić Ivan, Degrassi, Devalentinis, Ferenac, Geržinić, Kabola, Kalavojna, Kozlović, Legović, Matić, Matošević, Meneghetti, Pilato, Poletti, Prodan, Radovan, Ritoša, San Tommaso, Sirotić Dario, Tercolo, Tomaz, Trapan, Vinobile, Vino P&P, and Vivoda.

To register for the en primeur tasting, please go to the Vinistra website or follow this link.

Croatia Scores with Feature Story in Wine Enthusiast Magazine

 

For the first-time ever, Croatia finds itself featured in a prominent mainstream U.S. wine magazine.

Wine Enthusiast, one of the leading wine journals in the English language, published three articles in the September 2011 print and online issues, all dedicated to Croatia and its wines, food culture, and appeal as a travel destination.

The September issue, which pronounces Croatia as “An Historic Wine Lovers Paradise” on the cover page, also includes reviews of 16 Croatian wines, as well as hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations by region.

Encompassing seven full-color pages (in the print edition), the lead story by Wine Enthusiast Contributing Editors, Lifestyle & Entertaining, Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen (AKA: World Wine Guys) is entitled “Croatia – In Living Color”.

In the article the Wine Guys detail their “journey from north to south along the Adriatic coast”, which they describe as an “underexplored jewel by the sea” that “offers rich history, splendid scenery and epicurean delights—starting in Istria, and then down the Dalmatian Coast, with its 1,000 islands”.

The online version of the magazine offers two additional articles. The first is written by Desimone and Jenssen and is called “Exploring Croatia”.

The article provides detailed hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations based on Desimone’s and Jenssen’s experience while traveling in Croatia in October 2010, when they spent a week visiting Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, as well as Istria and Dalmatia on the coast – regions they described as “a wine and food lover’s paradise”.

The online version of Wine Enthusiast contains a third article by Kristin Vuković with the mouth-watering title, “Consuming Croatia” highlighting some of the “gastronomical delights” one can experience in Croatia. Inside you’ll find two scrumptious recipes, one for Palačinke (Croatian crêpes) and one for Grilled Mediterranean Branzino with Blitva (Sea Bass with Chard).

Kristin’s yummy recipes are matched with wine pairing suggestions by Certified Sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia, Cliff Rames.

Wine Enthusiast is a wine magazine, so let us not forget the best part: the wines! The September issue contains scores for 16 Croatian wines in its Buying Guide, including labels from Agrolaguna, Belje, BIBICh, Dingač Winery, Grgić, Iločki Podrumi, Istravino, Korta Katarina, Matošević, and Piližota. All wines were reviewed by Wine Enthusiast Tasting Coordinator, Anna Lee Iijima.

Six of the best-scoring wines are highlighted in the magazine under the headline, “Top Wines of Croatia”. Most notably, two wines were awarded 90-points: Grgić Vina 2009 Pošip and Korta Katarina 2006 Plavac Mali.

 

If you can, we strongly recommend that you pick-up a copy of the September issue and read all about it. Or check it out online (links embedded above). May we also suggest that when you open this historic issue of Wine Enthusiast, you raise your favorite glass of Croatian wine. It is certainly a time to celebrate!

They say that every journey begins with a single step. The publication of these three articles may have been one small step for Wine Enthusiast magazine, but it was a giant leap for the Croatian wine industry.

From this new height the stars on which so many dreams are planted today seem a little closer. To reach them will require much more hard work, a smart and effective marketing strategy, and new investment in people, ideas, tools and material. Beyond the star that is Wine Enthusiast magazine lie many more stars, solar systems and galaxies. Collectively they form the heavens.

Do we have what it takes to get there?

One additional note: We applaud Korta Katarina Winery for having the foresight and business savvy (and resources) to recognize an opportunity. The winery invested some serious cash to purchase a full-page color advertisement in the September issue for its 2010 Rosé. Readers of the magazine – who may feel compelled to seek out a Croatian wine or two – will in the preceding pages notice a very juicy ad for an excellent Croatian Rosé – one that just happens to be available in the U.S. and other export markets.

With that, Korta Katarina became the first Croatian winery to advertise in a mainstream American wine magazine. The bar has been raised; let us strive to leap higher still!

(photos by Cliff Rames)