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The Croatian Wine Journey: Harvesting memories and new learnings

By Mirena Bagur

When a year ago we created the concept for importing Croatian wines to the US, I didn’t know the depth of my ongoing immersion with not just my country, but also with people from my hometown. The people I grew up with. People that know my family. People that are appreciative of the culture and nature of our homeland. This business journey has become my journey home – discovering many aspects of culture and winemaking that I have either forgotten or simply never learned. 

This is the first in a series of adventures I am experiencing this Fall in Croatia, starting with the harvest at the Komarna Appellation, the Dubrovnik-Neretva County.

Tribidrag (Zinfandel) Harvest 2019:  The Grapes Promise a Great Wine

There is no time at a vineyard or a winery like harvest time!  Every single part of the organization is engaged – from winemakers checking the sugar levels in the grapes to people picking them, the cellars with tanks are cleaned, the processing equipment chugs along… all in anticipation of the harvest, and with deep appreciation for nature and the grapes.  

What I envisioned as a short visit turned out to be a real adventure.  I started at the Rizman Winery Rest Stop (highly recommend their coffee and crisp fritule, a version of a donut), and then was driven down toward the Rizman Tribidrag vineyard in Komarna, Dubrovnik county.  The slopes are at least 25% steep.

I decided to contribute to the harvest and pick a few clusters — as well as eat some.  That reminded me of doing the same a long time ago at my grandfather’s vineyard.  (It turns out there are still some of my grandfathers’ vineyards left, but that is a story for another time.)

It’s a good year for Tribidrag!

I was told that it looks like this is a really good harvest — apparently not even half-way down the slope, they realized they will need more baskets.  Wine growers dream! 

At the bottom, people are in a good mood, despite the heat.  I am introduced to them as the “American importer,”  and as I start taking photos, the jokes start (at their own expense), saying they didn’t put make up on for the photoshoot, maybe they should take off the hats to look better, can’t wait to be on the cover of a magazine… Just a great sense of camaraderie on a very hot day. Now this is the spirit of the people I remember growing up here. 

A Tractor Ride to the Lunch Stop

It is time for lunch — on top of the vineyard. Well, riding in a tractor is certainly easier than having to climb up the hill, but that was quite a ride – we were all in the big basket.  I don’t think anyone could have designed such ride on a rollercoaster – the limestone path was not fully cooperating, despite a clear competency by the tractor driver. Yet, it was fun! I got very friendly with everyone.

And then Damir and I go to the winery, the cellar and the processing area.  Damir wastes no time, gives me the apron, and off we go to process the grape clusters. I am told to pick out anything that does not look like a perfect Tribidrag. So much love is put into this, it is no surprise the wine is great!

The Winery’s Hidden Treasure

I had a really exciting day, but the best was yet to come! After a lunch shared with all the workers in the cellar, I start talking with the head of the family — Vlado Stimac. His career spanned business roles in various large organizations, while participating in the wine growing along his father, whose nickname was Rizman, hence the name of the winery. As a kid, I knew him as Mihovil’s father and was pleasantly surprised to see the same spark in his eyes that I remember from many years ago.

Vlado proceeded telling me stories about his travel to California and his observations of the Croatian community there.   He also shared his initial vision for the vineyards at the Komarna Appellation — he is clearly proud of what he and his sons have accomplished. Damir, the youngest of three sons, is leading the operation, but make no mistakes, Vlado is involved.  Every day he comes to the winery for a bit and then works along with everyone else.  I wish I taped the conversation to remember all details. Perhaps the Stimac brothers will write the family history?!

Author:

Mirena Bagur, Co-Founder and VP/Brand Management, Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc., www.croatianpremiumwine.com, was born and educated in Croatia.  Always up for adventure, after college years in Zagreb, Croatia, she traveled around the world and settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where she had a career in technology marketing.  She is thankful for her parents who instilled in her appreciation for the Croatian community and culture, for her children who love the Croatian culture, but mock her accent, and her husband who is her partner in crime.

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