Croatia - one of the world's great wine countries producing some of the most exciting wines in Europe.
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THE WINE STORY
The New York Times heralded Croatia as one of its “five hot destinations” due to the country’s rich history and culture, delicious food and wine, and gorgeous natural landscapes. TV watchers and movie buffs alike can see Croatia’s stunning beauty represented in some of their favorite shows, including Game of Thrones, Mama Mia II and Star Wars, to name a few.
The book Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor Friendly Guide—authored by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan and published in 2017—is one of our favorite resources to learn about the history of wine in Croatia and the wineries and indigenous grape varieties that grace these lands. Wind & Wine Croatia is grateful to the authors for permitting use of the following excerpts from their book. Thank you also to contributing author Saša Špiranec, wine critic and founder of Vinart, for his support and commentary.
“How do you approach a wine country that you are unfamiliar with? With respect, curiosity, enthusiasm, openness, and above all, love for the country and its people.” At Wind & Wine Croatia, we couldn’t agree with the authors more!
Introduction to Croatian Wine Country
Located in southeastern Europe, Croatia’s modern culture primarily represents a blend of Austro-Hungarian, Mediterranean and Slavic influences. Even though Croatia’s cultural heritage is one of the oldest in Europe, it is a young country as independence was declared in 1991. Production and consumption of wine in Croatia precedes its political timeline. Wine is deeply rooted in the culture, and Croatia’s viticulture is believed to date back to at least 500 BC.
Croatia is truly one of the world’s great wine countries and is producing some of the most exciting wines in Europe.
A Brief History of Croatian Wine
Many people have never heard of Croatian wine before stepping foot in the country. A question we often get is: “How long has Croatia been making wine?” The answer is more than two millennia. In fact, Croatia has the oldest continuously planted vineyard in the world. The Stari Grad Plain on the Hvar island has been planted with vines for 24 consecutive centuries and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.
Viticulture in Croatia as an agricultural branch began with the Illyrians in Dalmatia, during the Bronze age. In the 4th century BC, the Greeks arrived on the islands of Hvar, Korčula, and Vis, thereby officially marking the beginning of wine production in Croatia.
After Greek times, winemaking flourished under the rule of the Romans, and following that, the Ottomans, Venetians, and Habsburgs took hold of the land of what is known as Croatia today. They all left their mark on Croatia on many fronts – instigating development or damage to viticulture – but the 19th and 20th centuries brought along the most drastic changes to wine production.
During that time, Croatian wines – especially Dalmatian wines – were sold mainly to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the early 1890s, a trade contract dubbed “wine clause” was introduced between Austria-Hungary and Italy, allowing the import of Italian wines to Austria-Hungary with low duties. As a result, Croatian producers suffered from this competitive pricing.
Only a few years after the introduction of this trade clause, the pest phylloxera, which devastated vineyards throughout Europe, arrived in Croatia. Many vineyards in Croatia were annihilated. The wine growers who were already impoverished suffered further. Some individuals and families decided to risk a life in other parts of the world and began to migrate.
After the phylloxera crisis, a new challenge to wine production emerged: the rise of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Between 1918 and 1991, Croatia was a state in Yugoslavia. During the socialist era of Yugoslavia, the government discouraged people from setting up their own wineries. The farmers had to sell their grapes to state-run cooperatives where large quantities of bulk wine were made. The grip of socialism began to loosen when Croatia gained independence in 1991. Private wine producers started to emerge and farmers were producing wine under their own private labels; small wineries that focused on quality appeared throughout the country.
In 2013, Croatia joined the European Union and the new membership brought along subsidies for private producers, which aided in raising the overall quality. All this, along with new private investment and modern technology, has spurred a quality revolution in the past two decades.
Today, Croatia has a total vineyard area of 21,184 hectares. There are over 1,620 producers accounting for 843,000 hectoliters of wine per year. Two-thirds of the production is white wine, with Graševina being the most widely planted grape. The remaining one-third of red wine production is led by Plavac Mali.
Perfection in Imperfection and Shangri-La for Native Varieties
In Dalmatian wines, you can often find tiny imperfections. But the power and the luxurious flavors of the reds and the mineral, sea aromas of the whites will overcome the negatives. As you journey with Wind & Wine Croatia, you may find wines that taste of pure perfection. Coupling this with beautiful nature and the deep blue Adriatic makes for a wine lover’s paradise.
The king of Dalmatia is Plavac Mali – the mighty red wine, most common variety in Dalmatia, and most planted red grape in the whole of Croatia. Every wine discussion in Dalmatia starts and ends with Plavac Mali. However, Dalmatia is far more than one grape.
The islands are the Garden of Eden with countless endemic varieties; but one: Pošip from Korčula island is experiencing its finest days. Pošip wines enjoy the status of being the most popular white in Dalmatia. Vugava, another promising white, is waiting to be discovered on the island of Vis.
The wines of Dalmatia are for the wine explorers and curious people who are looking for new stories and unique flavors. The ages of Dalmatian varieties are measured in centuries and sometimes in millennia. Looking for something new in wine? Look no further than Dalmatia.
Saša Špiranec , author, Wine Critic, Founder of Vinart