With twelve different wine regions in a country 171 times smaller than America (for comparison, vines are currently growing in 30 US states), Croatia is fast becoming a destination to visit for oenophiles and enthusiasts alike. And while Croatian wines are becoming more well known outside of the country, it’s still difficult for the small country to export. But one of the things that Croatia does differently is putting a major emphasis on quality over quantity. Wineries like Jagunić in the Plešivica region don’t even sell to stores, because they want to ensure their wines are stored properly. Furthermore, the unique terroir of the country gives it an edge over others. With three different climate zones – Mediterranean, continental and mountainous – Croatia has the ability to produce numerous kinds of grapes.
Plešivica, most easily accessible from the capital Zagreb, lies just an hour southwest, and is the only wine region in the country named after the city in which it’s located, as opposed to its geography. And while it’s the smallest of all the wine regions in Croatia, like its inland brother city, Zagreb, it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Also known as the Plešivica Wine Road — the road has around 40 different wineries — this region is most well known for its sparkling wines (about 60% of the wines produced here are sparkling). Located on hilly terrain that gets prime sunlight, the grapes contain a higher acidity and a low pH, making ideal conditions for sparkling wine, and because of the low sugar content in the grapes, the resulting wines aren’t overly sweet.
Similarly, rizling is a popular wine in Croatia, where conditions result in a drier, less sweet version of German-style rieslings. Rosé is quickly becoming popular in the region as well; red wines comprise only 10% of the region’s wine production.
In Plešivica, there are three big name wineries – Tomac, Šember and Korak. Tomac is primarily known for its outstanding sparkling wines, including wines aged in amphorae. The traditional amphora is a fermentation vessel made of red clay that hails from Georgia and ferments wine for six months underground. During the first month, the must is stirred every day to ensure maximum skin contact and extraction. After six months, the wine is transferred into oak barrels where it ages for another year and a half. The resulting amber-colored wine is like nothing else and certainly worth a trip. Šember followed suit and introduced their first amphora wine in 2011, and now offers rhine riesling and pinot noir aged in amphorae.
And while these three are the most well-known wineries in Plešivica, there’s something that they have in common with most wineries in the area. Many of the wineries are family-owned and have been passed down through generations. However, the history of winemaking in Croatia isn’t without its troubles.
Prior to the Croatian War of Independence, only a select few state-run wineries were allowed to produce wine, forcing most vineyards to create their wines under the table for family and friends. Many were forced to sell their grapes to the few legal wineries, where the focus was more on quantity, rather than quality.
Now, however, and since the early nineties, small vintners produce their own wines, revivng their family’s wine-making traditions and bringing them to the people. Most vineyards keep their focus so exclusively on the taste that they don’t even sell to stores. To ensure their wine is stored properly, many wineries sell directly to local restaurants, bars and tourists who stop by to tour the vines.
Sadly, Croatian wines are barely exported, making it hard to get your hands on their unique offerings. Take Jagunić, for example. They produce only 35 to 40 thousand cases per year. This 4th generation family winery is helmed by three brothers, who inherited the property from their parents. Old photographs adorn the brick walls here, showcasing the vineyard’s history. Like Jagunić, many local wineries offer more than just wines. Stop by and enjoy your grape juice with traditional Croatian cuisine, including local charcuterie and cheeses.
Croatian Wines from Plešivica Available in the US:
Ivančić Griffin Rosé ($27)
Šember Qvevri 2011 ($115.04)
Tomac Amfora 2008 ($50.95)
Amanda Mactas is a writer whose food-focused work has appeared in outlets like The Daily Meal and Chase. She currently serves as an editor at Bella Magazine and is the founder and editor-in-chief of the lifestyle blog Manhattan with a Twist.