Slavonia #Croatia – Ancient Vines and Fabulous Wine:
Visiting Croatia a few weeks ago just before they became part of the European Union, I met with both curiosity and hesitant anticipation. Hardly suprising from a Country which gained independence through a bloody home war less than twenty years ago. While many I chatted with were suspicious and unsure whether Croatia would benefit, at the wine cellars at Feravino they were looking forward to the marriage with optimism. In my own case, having managed to run up a mobile phone bill for £40 in three hours just by tweeting(!), I hoped for better roaming rates to come; the wine makers sought a finer dowry with far more significant impact – the ability to distribute their unique wines throughout the European Union without punitive duties was all important.
At the Feravino cellars in Fericanci, Slavonia, our host explained that although their wine is now ‘By Appointment’ and has been selected to be served at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Birthday this year, sales to the UK are still limited. They are hoping that the open European Market will improve international trade, particularly to the UK and Russia. They have two main lines of wine, Dika (standard) and Miraz (about 10% of the total production and retailing for around twice the price). Their Miraz range won two Decanter bronze medals this year for the 2009 Frankovka and the 2009 Syrah while in Croatia their graševina in Kutjevo won seven awards – three gold and four bronze medals.
We tasted a wide range of wines; although Feravino produce graševina, their main wine is blaufränkisch, a red wine grape commonly known as Frankovka in Croatia and they also had a sweet ice-wine, which they explained was made once every three years or so depending on the weather. I have a childish fascination at the way ice-wine is made. The grapes are left on the vine until December and then harvested. The yield is tiny – around 15ml per kg of grapes, compared to normal wine where a kilo of grapes will produce roughly a bottle of wine. So, you can expect to pay a premium for this wine. And hopefully, like me, you will think it is worth the price.
On to Kutjevo, in the Požega ‘golden’ valley, home to the oldest cellar in Croatia. The cellar was built by Cistercian monks, from the French Burgundy who came to Kutjevo to found their abbey and then, in 1232, built a wine cellar and started growing wine.
I was intrigued by the rows of pitch black oval barrels with their white rims. I’m no wine expert but I’ve never seen barrels of this type before, though I was assured they are common throughout Croatia.
And then curious to find that the history of the cellar carved onto the face of a series of barrels.
As any historical cellar, Kutjevo has a rich history and has had many owners. But it’s now a privately owned company producing excellent wines blending the best of modern production methods with the ancient traditions of wine making. Kutjevo graševina wines are drier and later harvested than those I’d tasted earlier in my trip. We were served with a particularly fine 2012 vintage graševina as well as a range of other wines accompanied by traditional Croatian meats (more kulen, pork fat and cured hams) and cheeses. And it felt like a fitting finale for my trip around Slavonia where heritage is such a significant part of every-day culture.
The wines themselves were excellent and there was something quite special about tasting in this most ancient of cellars. Although, there’s a large modern production unit next door too.
We stopped briefly in the shop and tourist centre. Our guide through the cellars had been the new marketing manager at Kutjevo, who Darko, my guide, instantly recognised as one of the country’s leading female klapa singers. She told me that it was almost impossible to earn a living singing so, for now she had two jobs. Wine and Music – what a wonderful existence.
And then we continued, taking a brief look at the famous Abbey which dominates the town. It dates from the 18th Century and was built by the Jesuits, incorporating parts of the original thirteenth century Abbey and the Cellars themselves.
Onward through Slavonia to our next destination. This drive, through country roads, was eludicating – the extent of the damage caused during the home war was sadly still very evident. Burnt out, derelict houses and shell pocked walls. I was suprised. We heard so little about the problems in former Yugoslavia at the time and I really hadn’t anticipated seeing physical signs of the war, which in Croatia ran from 1991-1997. Many of the people had their own war story too. from temporary exile to selling soap powder bought in Germany to be able to earn some money. Until now I’ve hesitated to include anything of in my coverage of this trip. But I think it would be wrong to ignore something that has had such a significant impact on the people who live in Croatia, especially since I found no bitterness – only sadness and hope for the future.
This is a land of great beauty with a proud heritage. I’m honoured to have gained just a little more understanding of the atrocities that scarred the countryside for nearly ten years. And amazed at the resilience of the people I met.
For more information on what to see and do in Croatia, please visit www.croatia.hr.
I stayed at Hotel Osijek which costs from £77 based on two people sharing a classic double room with breakfast. For more information or to book, please see here
I travelled with Easy Jet. One-way flights from London Gatwick to Zagreb cost from £32.99. For more information or to book, please visit www.easyjet.com