Croatia has the right tools of a wine-producing region and with entry pending into the EU, it's redefining its international wine image.
With a rich history of winemaking that goes back to the fourth century B.C. and a blank canvas on which to rediscover itself since gaining independence 20 years ago, Croatia seems poised for success as a quality wine-producing region.
Add in a Mediterranean climate, indigenous grapes growing in stunningly beautiful landscapes, and a romantic history. Pending entry into the European Union further accentuates its image as an emerging wine region.
Croatian wines are generating a lot of buzz recently. Much of it stems from the social networking and promotional activities of Wines of Croatia, an organization founded in 2009 by New York City-based certified sommelier Cliff Rames. In recent months Croatian wines have been featured at the first ever Wines of Croatia Grand Portfolio Tasting in New York City, at the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, and in a full-color spread in Wine Enthusiast magazine. This year, several wineries partnered with the Croatian Chamber of the Economy to establish the first ever Association of Winemakers of Croatia. The mission of the association will be to support Wines of Croatia and further develop ongoing promotional activities and events to showcase Croatian wines.
Sommeliers, including Chantelle Pabros, owner of Chicago-based VINERA wine consulting company, are spreading the word about Croatian wines. For Pabros, it was love at first sight. In fact, the name of her company originates from the sailboat she was aboard during her first visit to Croatia in 2007.
“Once you have it, you can never forget it,” Pabros says. “When you are a sommelier, you are an ambassador to the farmer. You appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that go into every wine that is made.”
The paradoxical advantage for Croatian winemakers is starting from scratch after gaining independence in 1991, but also having an extensive history. Young winemakers are traveling the world to discover modern technologies and apply them in Croatia. Experimentation with winemaking, such as oak usage or concrete egg fermentation tanks, is allowing them to find their unique style. Indigenous varieties, such as Plavac Mali, thrive in the parched limestone soils of the coast, providing a strong sense of terroir.
Most red wine production is on the southwestern coast and Dalmatian Islands, where Plavac Mali (pronounced plah-vahtz mah-lee) grapes cover the steep slopes overlooking the crystal turquoise blue sea. The narrow, mountainous Pelješac peninsula is four miles wide at its broadest point, and 40 miles long and home to Dingač, Croatia’s first protected wine region since 1961. Hvar Island is known for lush vineyards, rocky terrain, abundant olive groves, and endless fields of lavender. Its wine complements some of the freshest seafood that the Mediterranean has to offer.