There are countless reasons to consider Istria, Croatia as a travel destination. The scenery is amazing, the prices are low, the wild asparagus in the spring is delicious, the white truffles in the winter are to die for and the locals are as friendly as can be. At the top of the list however has to be the local wine.
With two distinctly Croatian varieties, Malvazija (Mal-vāz-e-ă) a floral white and Terran a hearty red, being brought to the table, I was lucky enough to sit down at several meals with some of the regions leading wine producers to discuss wine, Istria and the respectfully humble goals they all share.
I asked Mladen Rožanić, the owner of Roxanich wines and aptly self-titl ed ‘wine designer’, “What drove you to start making wine after another, already successful career?” The answer was simple, direct and immediately apparent as I tasted varieties from his vineyard; “I’ve tasted lousy wine, I just wanted to make a wine that was good”. It’s this mentality that seems to permeate the local wine producers.
Quantity is not the goal. You won’t be able to find wines like Roxanich (a name derived from his traditional, old family name) Teran in your local supermarket’s wine section. Money is not the aim. A bottle of the fine wines I’m talking about will run you about 10 Euro in a Croatian wine shop or 20 Euro at an Istrian Konoba (the local term for a tavern/restaurant). And besides most of these guys had plenty of money before even entering the wine biz. It is producing a quality product in an organic, small scale and traditional way with a passion for that special wine that comes from Istrian grapes.
Peter Poletti, the 6th generation owner of Poletti wines which has won gold medals for both Malvazija and Cabernet Sauvignon at the biggest regional wine show, Vinistria, clearly explained this mentality to me during a dinner in a local Konoba; “We run a family business, to expand would mean diminishing our quality and this is always the question…do you want to have the quality or the quantity? For me, and many of my colleagues, it is not about the money. I do this because I love wine; I love to work with wine. It is not something we just woke up one morning and decided to do. We do it because it is Istrian tradition. Since Istria is a small country we must compete with larger countries with what we have and what we have is quality wine. Without an emphasis on quality we can not compete.”
And in every glass and every conversation with the wine producers (and drinkers) this is apparent. These men love Istria and work hard to cultivate what the region has to offer at its finest. Even touring the local wineries drives this point home. The production is relatively small. Small cellars in unassuming country homes house stainless steel and/ or oak barrels where the passionately cultivated grapes ferment and mature. “Hygene, time and temperature are three of the most important components in a winery” says Dr. Ivica Matošević, owner of Matošević wines, “getting the right temperature when fermenting wine is like making a good soup. You can use a pressure cooker and cook the soup in 10 minutes but it does not have the flavor. You can make a much higher quality soup with much more flavor if you cook it slowly.”
As the president of Vinistria 2009 Matošević knows that producing a consistent, quality wine is important for the region. “Each of my colleagues has his own recipe. Some prefer the less accented flavor of wines like those that come from Australia or South Africa and don’t use brand new oak barrels…others [like himself] do and only use new oak barrels for aging. The key is to provide consistency. The people who like my wines expect the same standard every year.”
The passion for what Istria has the innate potential to offer is not only apparent when tasting these wines but even more so when in the presence of these men. Their business may be wine but their lives are fully devoted to Istria.
Many of the wineries on the wine roads in Istria are open for tours, lunches and wine tastings. Seeking out the websites of the individual wineries will often provide you the information needed to set up a visit. Also, if interested in a tour of Istria which can include such visits and much much more feel free to contact me to help you through the process.