As wepreviously announced here, the third Vina Croatia Grand Tasting 2015 of the Wines of Croatia will be held on February 24, 2015 at Astor Center in New York City. This is a TRADE ONLY event.
Twenty-five (25) Croatian wineries will be present for the walk around tasting, each with a minimum of two staff members – including winemakers from most wineries– on hand to explain the wines and answer questions.
The Sommelier Journal, recently re-launched and re-branded as The SOMM Journal, just published its October/November 2014 issue (Vol. 1/ No. 3), which includes an article entitled “Zinfandel – A Sort of Homecoming”, written by Wines of Croatia founder, Certified Sommelier, and regular contributor to this blog, Cliff Rames.
The article’s teaser, or subtitle, reads: “Croatia’s Prodigal Grape Finds Its Roots. Can It Go Home Again?” – alluding to the article’s focus on the search for and discovery of Zinfandel (AKA Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Tribidrag, Pribidrag) in Croatia, and the subsequent efforts to repatriate the grape to the vineyards of Dalmatia.
This is Part II of our two-part report. For Part I, please click here.
The VIP Guests
Each year the organizers of the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend (ZWGW) make an ambitious attempt to draw international visitors and VIP guests to the festival. Without doubt this is a wise and positive thing for which to aim. Croatia is an exciting emerging winemaking country and it should be blowing its trumpets and utilizing all its tools and resources to draw attention to its fabulous winemaking history and culture.
This year’s lineup was especially exciting, as the guest list included many interesting and important VIPs from the international wine trade and media. Among them, George Taber, author of several wine books, including “Judgment of Paris”; Bernard de Laage de Meux, Commercial Director of Chateau Palmer; Ivo Jeramaz, Vice President of Vineyards & Production in Grgich Hills Winery; Sarah Kemp, Editor of Decanter magazine; Lynn Sherriff, President of the Institute of Masters of Wine; David Gates, Vice President of Ridge Vineyard in Sonoma, CA; as well as the entertaining Flying Culinary Circus, four Norwegian chefs who take catered food service to new heights with fun and innovative performances.
Check out this video from the festival, in which David Gates speaks about his impressions of Croatian wines:
To choose just a few highlights from ZWGW is nearly impossible. I enjoyed every minute of the festival. Such was the abundance of activities and rich schedule of events that I often found myself torn over which ones to attend. My entire 3-day stay at ZWGW was a whirlwind of dashing from seminars to workshops to tasting tables and then off to panel discusses and back to the tasting room for more swirling and sipping….It’s all a blur now. But a few things do happily stand out in my memory.
Rather than point out individual wines that really sang to me (some of these may be revealed in later posts), I think it’s important to note that there were very few bad wines. Technical quality is certainly getting better and better each year. But technically correct wine doesn’t always mean interesting or compelling wine. Oak has been a pervasive and often invasive, overdone fad in Croatia in recent years, especially with certain plavac mali and malvasia istriana wines. I was happy to see some of the slathered wood tamed and/ or eliminated in some of the wines this time around (although there are still some wines that I think could benefit from less or no wood, or at least being held in cellar longer before release to allow the oak to better integrate; and a small few could benefit from more oak treatment).
Teran, a red grape variety from the Istria region, continues to demonstrate great potential as an affordable, food-friendly, and terroir-expressive wine that does not need oak to achieve an earthy, animal complexity.
While I spent a little time revisiting some old favorite producers (sadly, there were some I missed and regret not seeing), my focus was on wines that I never before tasted, especially those made from native grapes from lesser-known producers. And of course I am always on the look-out for the Holy Grail: those serendipitous wines that reveal true soul, tell a story, and sing a song!
On that note, I have to admit that I was disappointed to find no grk or škrlet producers represented, as well as a few key winemakers absent from the fair (e.g., Clai, Matošević, and Roxanich). But overall there was a satiating amount of wine to taste, and it was loads of fun comparing the various different styles of graševina (young & fresh; oaked and cellar aged), malvasia istriana (young & fresh; macerated & developed), and plavac mali (unoaked; field grown grapes; oak aged; single appellation and single vineyard), as well as babić, crljenak kaštelanski, debit, maraština and pošip.
I even discovered a new grape variety: ulovina! Ulovina is an ancient white variety indigenous to Istria and used as a blending component (along with malvasia istriana and muškat momjanski) in Benvenuti’s sublime “Corona Grande” sweet dessert wine.
Workshop: Zinfandel. Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski: Ten Years After
By now many of us are well aware that the origins of zinfandel trace back to Croatia, and that California zinfandel, Italian primitivo, and Croatian crljenak kaštelanski are all the same grape. However, the opportunity to taste all three of these distinct vins de terroir side by side at one sitting would be a rare and fascinating occasion. Thanks to the ZWGW, the opportunity presented itself at this workshop, one of the truly “do not miss” events in the program.
Guiding us through the comparative tasting was a number of key individuals from the world of “ZPC” (zinfandel, primitivo, crljenak): George Taber, author of Judgment of Paris, the now famous account of the 1976 Paris tasting organized by Steven Spurrier that rocked the wine world and put Napa Valley on the map; Ivo Jeramaz, Vice President of Vineyards and Winemaking for Grgich Hills winery in Rutherford, CA (Mike Grgich was the person who first suggested that California zinfandel and the red wines that his father used to make in Croatia were very similar in character, and he was an early supporter of the research that lead to the ZPC discovery); Professor Edi Maletić and Professor Ivan Pejić from the University of Agriculture in Zagreb, two of the leading researchers behind the ZPC discovery; David Gates of Ridge Vineyards, an iconic California producer of single-vineyard zinfandel wines; Gregory Perrucci, an Italian producer of Giravolta Primitivo; and Croatian crljenak producers Zlatan Plenković (Zlatan Otok); Nevin Vuina (Vuina Štafileo); and Nikola Nikša (Mimica) from Kuća sretnog čovjeka.
My quick impressions of these expressions of the same grape from three different countries?
The Ridge 2008 Geyserville zinfandel was a huge wine, round and richly layered and extracted, viscous and full of black raspberry, plum, licorice and chocolate – a style that is much revered among disciples of zinfandel. The Grgich 2008 was a bit more refined with lighter red fruit and floral notes. The Giravolta 2010 Primitivo was soft and fruity with velvety cherry and raspberry character; a nice wine but quickly forgotten once the crljenaks arrived.
Okay, I know I am a little biased. But the three Croatian crljenak wines really struck my chords and made music with those old familiar notes of dried fig, Adriatic sea salt and roasted herbs, black plum and cherry, accompanied by a little Dalmatian funk.
With crljenak in glass, suddenly I did not miss the rich extracts of California zin.
The 2008 Zlatan Crljenak was the most extracted and a little too tannic yet still fresh; “rough and rustic” I wrote in my notes. The 2010 Vuina ŠtafileoCrljenak was too young and closed up but showed refreshing acid and good tannic structure; slightly alcoholic on the nose, it would benefit from some more time in neutral wood. The third wine was my favorite, the Mimica 2008 Pribidrag (aka crljenak) from Kuća sretnog čovjeka – or, in translation, the “House of the Happy Man”. What a great name for a balanced, delicious wine with ripe Dalmatian fruit character and enduring freshness! Indeed I left this tasting a happy man.
Workshop: Wine of Grace – Graševina
Making me even happier was seeing this event on the schedule: a vertical tasting of graševina wines – vintages 2011, 2010, 1994, 1985, 1970, 1963, 1960 – from Kutjevo winery. To say that this was a rare opportunity to examine the five decade progression of a white wine from Croatia would be imprecise: this was an extraordinary experience during which those of us lucky enough to be there got to taste fifty two years of history in a one hour seating.
Even more astounding, graševina is not a variety that is noted for having a noble pedigree or ability for long-term aging. In Croatia and in many other regions along the Danube River basin, graševina (aka welschriesling) is a simple table wine meant for everyday quaffing and even mixing with mineral water to create a summer sipper called “gemišt”. Often a maligned workhorse grape, when not properly managed in the vineyard it can wildly overcrop and produce thin, acidic wines that are sold on tap, in one liter bottles with metal crown caps, or as boxed wine. In better examples, it is normally a 2-3 year wine that expresses apple and tree fruit character, a piquant finish, and refreshing acidity.
But here it was, dating all the way back to 1960, getting deeper gold in color as the years retreated beyond my date of birth, evolving along the way into richer, nuttier, honey and candied fruit aromas. The 2011 from Kutjevo was fresh, lively, and savory with a delicate apple blossom note. At the other end of the spectrum, the 1960 was starting to show signs of being tired and past its glory. But in ensuing years between, magic was brewing.
My favorite by far was the 1963. I first tried this “Archive Wine” last year at the winery and was blown away. I cried. Cried from happiness. Overwhelmed by the mysteries of the universe; by the inexplicable ways that wine evolves in bottle; by the time that has passed, leaving its marks on my face and in this beautiful wine.
While that graševina laid quiet in that old cellar in Kutjevo, many things outside happened: the Beatles conquered America and the planet; I was born; the Vietnam war; Korea; Jimi Hendrix; Led Zeppelin; Watergate; Space Shuttle missions to space; the first Apple computer; mullet haircuts; Michael Jackson’s lifetime; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the break-up of Yugoslavia and the war in Croatia; cell phones; 9/11; endless wars in the Middle East; Facebook; the first African-American U.S. president…to name a few.
The point is, all of that history – like wrinkles and wisdom – was somehow sewn into the wine’s fabric, with almost no fraying or fading. Judging from the mesmerized faces and stunned reactions of others at the tasting, drinking this treasured wine was truly an enchanting and righteous experience. Thank you Kutjevo winery for sharing!
I will try to write more about this tasting in a future post in order to do each wine justice. For now, suffice it to say that events like this one are an effective selling point for ZWGW and will certainly entice me – and hopefully more international visitors – to keep coming back.
Okay, despite my strong desire and best efforts, I was unable to attend any of the film screenings that were part of the weekend’s schedule of events. A pity! But I was told by people who attended that it was a nice respite from the surge outside and the films were well done. I like the dynamic that this dimension added to the program, and hope that the organizers keep it next year. For a full list of all the films shown at the festival, please consult the ZWGW website.
Meeting Trevor Long and Judith Burns
I have to admit, prior to arriving at ZWGW, I heard about and frequently came across on social media the husband and wife team who operate Pacta Connect and import Croatian wines into the U.K. and Ireland, Trevor Long and Judith Burns. However, I had never met them personally or knew them well enough to understand their motives and mission. Frankly over the years I have grown weary and disheartened by random so-called “experts” who present themselves as authorities on Croatian wine after just one or two trips to Croatia. Some of these folks do more harm than good to the Wines of Croatia brand through misinformation, less-than-transparent agendas, and shoddy business practices.
To be clear: Trevor, Judith and Pacta Connect do NOT fall into this category. Trevor and Judith are two very passionate and professionally-minded people who take the business of importing and promoting Croatian wines very seriously. Not only do they take great pleasure and care to represent the wineries in their portfolio with enthusiasm and coherence, they have also invested years of time and resources in the pursuit of learning more about each one by visiting the vines and spending days and weeks at a time with the winemakers. They hand select each wine for their portfolio based upon a criteria of artisanship, sustainability and authenticity. They also possess a keen understanding of their market and sharp sense for marketing and connecting with potential customers.
At the moment Pacta Connect is perhaps the most important and trending importer of Croatian wines in the U.K., and Trevor and Judith are certainly leading pioneers and worthy colleagues in our joint mission to tell the story and share the love for the wines of Croatia. It was a true pleasure to meet them at ZWGW and to hear their stories (Trevor used to manage rock bands!), their vision, and their love and respect for the wineries they represent.
Pacta Connect’s Twitter page (@pc_wines) says it best: “Living & breathing & loving good wine! Importers of great Croatian artisan wines, grappas & oils to the UK & Ireland. Social media fans.”
If you haven’t yet had the chance to follow Trevor and Judith’s endeavors, please do say hello. They are working hard to make a difference, and I for one am amazed by and grateful for all they have done.
When asked by the organizers of ZWGW to moderate a two hour session devoted to Twitter, I have to admit that my blood went cold. As much as I enjoy Twitter and understand its mechanisms and benefits, two hours is an awfully long time to talk about it, even if we would be adding a live blogger tasting of three wines to demonstrate one of Twitter’s many and livelier functions: the Tweet-up. A Tweet-up is a gathering (usually at different remote locations) of Twitter users, all tweeting about a common subject (in this case wines that they were tasting).
Our ZWGW guest panel of “twixperts” (Twitter experts) and winos included Lada Radin and Nenad Trifunović of Taste of Croatia. Our guest star was to be Marcy Gordon, an experienced travel and wine writer from California who operates the excellent Come for the Wine blog. Sadly, Marcy ran into a series of unexpected and unfortunate travel glitches that resulted in her having to cancel her trip after spending nearly 12 hours in the airport. We certainly missed her and hope she can make it toCroatia again soon!
At ZWGW Marcy planned to share her story of how she discovered Wines of Croatia through Twitter, which led her to Frank Dietrich at Blue Danube Wine Company in San Francisco, which inspired a successful blogger tasting of Blue Danube’s portfolio of Croatian wines, which resulted in Marcy being invited on a press trip to Croatia last year, and served as the basis for which she was invited as a VIP guest to ZWGW this year.
Marcy’s “twittertrail” experience – following the threads and connections of contacts on the social network – was the perfect example of the magic and power of Twitter. With over 175 million users, Twitter offers businesses, wineries, importers, wine writers, wine sellers, and PR and marketing agents a huge opportunity to reach large numbers of potential customers. To reveal and explain that benefit was the message and purpose of the Twitter tasting at ZWGW.
To show Twitter in action, we asked several U.S.-based wine bloggers to taste along with us the same three wines we tasted at the session inZagreb: Krajančić 2009 Pošip, Terzolo 2009 Teran, and Miloš 2008 Plavac. As they tasted, the bloggers tweeted their impressions and comments; their tweets were projected onto a big screen in the auditorium in Zagreb for ZWGW participants to see and read. To track the action, we employed a hashtag (a # symbol) before the key word that flags the term and makes it easier to search and track. The hashtag was #WoCroatia (for Wines of Croatia).
Other hashtags that we threw in for good measure were #winelovers and #zwgw. And in the heat of the action, a new hashtag (thanks to Nenad Trifunović) was born: #teranslut.
The session was fun and hopefully useful to the attendees. I was disappointed that more winery personnel did not attend. Many Croatian wineries do not use Twitter, and this session was mainly designed to encourage them to discover Twitter and start using it to market their wines.
For any Twitter users out there, here are the user names for the panel and blogger participants at the session. Please follow us!
Despite a few glitches and the acclimation period required before you can successfully navigate your way to the many hidden tasting rooms and off-site seminar locations, ZWGW was an educational, interesting and exciting wine event – one not to be missed if you are serious about discovering what Croatia has to offer.
Each year ZWGW gets better and better, and I applaud the organizers for listening to feedback and attempting to address the issues and adjust the plans for the next year’s fair. This willingness to avoid a “cut and paste” process and repeat the same show over and over again is encouraging, keeping things fresh and pushing the boundaries further outward towards discovery – and hopefully less hungry bellies!
The focus on drawing an international audience is essential, especially in light of the need to brand Croatia and a complete tourist destination, not just a wine destination. Perhaps an idea for the future would be to invite representatives from tourist agencies that operate in the corresponding wine regions to present the other features and offerings of those regions – the hotels, the restaurants, the tourist sites – to create a full immersion impression of the area?
Overall, the 2012 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend was an excellent and enjoyable event. If this is the blueprint going forward, then the ZWGW will surely continue to rank as one of the most important annual wine events in Croatia. At least until the next Big Bang. 😉
For more photos from ZWGW, please check our Facebook page HERE.
We leave you now with the official video produced by ZWGW showing some of the action. Enjoy!
In its Winter 2011 issue, Ensemble Vacations® Magazine features the wines of Croatia under the headline, “Worldly Delights”. The author, Alison Kent, goes on to describe Croatia as a “vibrant viticultural region” and a “country steadily gaining international recognition”.
Ensemble Vacations is a member-sponsored travel organization that “brings you a world of opportunity, presenting…experiences to spark your imagination and whet your appetite”.
To read a PDF copy of the article, please click the link below. Enjoy the article and feel free to leave your comments.
As it happened, I was home grilling fresh squid on a wood fire. Suddenly the ground shivered and rolled like a small ocean wave had just passed underfoot. I felt momentarily dizzy. Then it was over.
At that moment I thought sun stroke had cause the vertigo, not a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled much of the northeast United States. As I later discovered, other than some minor damage in Virginia and a famously tipped-over chair in Washington D.C., the east coast earthquake was no big deal – despite my panicked neighbors and the media hype.
But what was a big deal was the news that I discovered as I surfed the earthquake coverage on the web. That same afternoon Gary Vaynerchuk aired Episode 89 of Daily Grape, the video blog that took the place of Wine Library TV. Under a headline that read “The Final Grape”, Gary announced that he was fully retiring from online wine video production.
Talk about the earth shaking! As things like this often do, the news made me reminisce and think about Gary’s impact on the wine world and Croatia in particular.
As many of you know, during the five-year lifespan of Wine Library TV (WLTV) Gary produced two episodes devoted to Croatian wines, numbers 553 and 798.
Episode 553 aired on October 7, 2008, a time when few people knew that Croatia produced wine (Wines of Croatia was founded a few months later). As it turned out, the star of that episode was Zlatan Otok 2004 Plavac Mali Barrique, the wine that brought “thunder” to WLTV and Gary called “sensational”.
You can watch WLTV Episode 553, “A Croatian Wine Tasting”, here:
In late 2009 I happened to meet Gary at a wine tasting and told him about my work with Wines of Croatia. It was evident that he was very interested in Croatia, and he promptly invited me to be a guest on his show.
Episode 798, “Tasting Wines from Croatia”, aired on January 11, 2010. You can catch it here:
The response to my appearance on WLTV was overwhelming. I received dozens of emails of support and inquiry, and the number people following the Wines of Croatia page on Facebook doubled overnight. For this I am forever grateful to Gary. With that gracious invitation, he provided me a golden opportunity to share my love and passion for Croatian wines with a far wider audience than I was able to reach on my own.
Sadly, on March 14, 2011 Gary ended WLTV at Episode 1000, a milestone number and a respectable achievement. At the time he said that he was taking a break to work on new initiatives but that his regular appearances on WLTV were more or less over.
But then rumors of a new project surfaced, and on March 14, 2011 Daily Grape was launched. Suddenly all seemed well again in Garyland. The next chapter in a seemingly unstoppable quest to dominate wine-related social media content had begun.
Over the course of 89 Daily Grape episodes, Gary introduced his viewers to an array of funky grape varieties and geeky wine regions. He paired wine with doughnuts.
He also initiated a new feature called “Behind the Grape” which included guest appearances by heavy-hitter wine gurus such as Andrea Robinson MS, Cameron Hughes, Dr. Stephane Vidal, Evan Dawson, Daniel Johnnes, and an excellent appearance by “The Juiceman” and Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer.
But the highlight for me was the much-anticipated episode devoted to Plavac Mali, Croatia’s most-important native red grape. Although his review of the wines didn’t knock off any socks, the important message was that Plavac Mali has arrived and the wines are unique and people should pay attention.
You can see Daily Grape Episode 86, “Plavac Mali from Croatia”, for yourself HERE (sorry the embed function wasn’t available for this episode).
On August 23, 2011, after a few weeks’ vacation with his family, Gary returned to Daily Grape to announce – with little fanfare and obviously toned-down energy – that the end had arrived. Daily Grape Episode 89 would be his last.
As I watched Gary explain his decision, the ground of my perception of the wine world heaved and shook. Can this be? Who – if any one – can fill the void left behind by Gary’s absence from wine videos? Will he still be around to inspire? To provoke debate, ire, laughter? Will anyone ever again be able to get away with saying a wine smells like a “zebra”? Or dare to find out what wine pairs with Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereals?
Alas, I know we must go on. But today I feel that the broadband universe is a much lonelier place; the virtual wine world a tad less cool and sassy….
Say what you want about Gary (his style and personality have been the source of much divided debate), he undoubtedly made an impact on the wine industry. Over the years his internet broadcasts reached countless viewers in the U.S. and abroad (I can attest, Gary has near rock star status among many wine geeks in Croatia).
More important, he introduced a new generation of wine consumers, many of them from the coveted “Millennials” demographic, to the magic of vino and grape varieties with crazy names like Debit, Graševina, Malvasia Istriana, Plavac Mali and Teran. If it were not for Gary, many “Vayniacs” and others would still be in the dark about Croatia and its wines. For that he deserves credit and a huge note of thanks from everyone involved in producing, importing and promoting Croatian wines.
Love him or hate him, one could not ignore Gary while at the same time claiming to be serious about understanding contemporary trends in social media and wine marketing and consumption. Whenever Gary “sniffy-sniffed” and described wine, tweeted, or posted a Facebook comment, online conversations erupted and debates simmered and sometime exploded.
And presumably somewhere along the way, a bottle of wine was sold. After all, Gary transformed Wine Library from a $4 million mom & pop wine shop into a $45 million internet sales-driven business, as well as a physical destination for Gary gawkers, Wine Library TV pilgrims, “Cinderella Wine” value hunters, and serious wine geeks.
After my January 2010 appearance on Wine Library TV, the wine that Gary most liked on the show – Clai 2007 Ottocento Crno – disappeared from the shelves of the Whole Foods store on the upper West Side of Manhattan. I know this because that is where I got the bottle that we tasted together. There had been about 10 bottles on the shelf when I purchased it. When I went back a couple days after the episode, the Clai was sold out.
Today it is hard for me to conceive a world void of my regular fix of Gary Vee on TV. Yet in my disappointment and sadness, I sense that there is reason to be excited. Gary will surely explore new avenues for his intense ambition, energy and creativity. “It was never in the cards for me to spend my entire career for me to be a wine critic”, he said. “I love wine but I am an entrepreneur first. I am ready to do some new things.”
No matter what he decides to do next, it is clear that Gary Vaynerchuk has forged a stunning trajectory towards success. While he said that he hasn’t completely closed the door to doing occasional video blogs in the future – which would be great, it doesn’t matter. He had a great run, and we have many episodes in the WLTV and Daily Grape archives to revisit from time to time. What comes next is (for now) just happy fodder for the imagination.
And to Gary I say this: Thank you for all the fun, the passion, for keeping it real, and for leading us off the beaten path to mysterious wine lands, where much vino was shared among friends and strangers alike. I wish you nothing but happiness, continued success, good health, a lot of love, and of course many more bottles of Croatian wine!
I look forward to seeing you again somewhere out on the field of dreams.