Friday, January 16, 2009

Winemaking in Croatia

Most people are not aware of the fact that wine has been produced in Croatian lands since the times of Antiquity. There is a whole range of Greek and Roman quotations connected with wines from the Dalmatian islands. And the fact that in the last 100 years Croatian wine makers have had an exceptionally significant impact on the world wine stage is also not so well known.
When, at the end of the 19th century, phylloxera, commonly known as wine pest, struck the Istrian and Dalmatian vineyards literally decimating local wine production, a mass exodus of Croats from those parts of the land to overseas countries resulted. And so it was Croats who were among those who established the wine industry in New Zealand, where the houses of Nobilo and Babić are now running very successful businesses and are enjoying the benefits of a serious international reputation. Another New Zealand Croat is Jim Vuletich, author of the very expensive and almost unobtainable cult red wine, Providence, which is justifiably ranked among the very top of the world wines from the New World. The most famous of the Croatian wine producers in the world is undoubtedly Miljenko Mike Grgić who, following his brilliant career in California, built a winery in Trstenik, near Dubrovnik, in the mid-1990s. Mike Grgić, a short-statured, elderly and exceedingly self-confident gentleman who speaks slowly but energetically, began his career as a winemaker for the great Robert Mondavi, the man who created the modern-day wine industry of California, and whose empire has been expanding for over thirty years. Having left Mondavi, Grgić began producing wines for Chateau Montelena, another very prestigious producer from the Napa Valley in California. In 1976, on the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution a tasting competition of the best French and Californian wines was organized in Paris.

The winner in the category of white wines was the 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay, thus beating the immensely more expensive Montrachet, and on their own home ground. Thus, Mike Grgić earned his place in history. Subsequently, Grgić founded “Grgić Hills Winery” in the Napa Valley which he manages in tandem with his daughter. For years now this has been where, with standard reliability, elegant and restrained wines are produced, stylistically very different from until recently the trendy Californian production with high alcohol content. In addition to Grgić Hills there is Dobra zemlja, another winery in California founded by a couple from Croatia in the second half of the last decade. In South America, in Chile, many years ago the late Androniko Lukšić, a multi-billionaire originating from Croatia, bought the large, successful and highly rated San Pedro winery. World successes achieved by wine makers of Croatian origin are the best testimony of how deeply imbedded, and immanently natural are both viticulture and wine making to Croatia.

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