By Mirena Bagur and Winfried Burke
From the Golden Valley to the most Eastern vineyard in Ilok, we were enjoying Slavonian hills while tasting wine and food, and loving interaction with people. “Nice to See You Slavonia” – we will be back.
With Graševina representing one out every four vines in Croatia and being the most produced wine in Croatia, it felt appropriate to celebrate it by introducing influencing guests from US to the Graševina Festival in Osijek where several Croatian organizations hosted the conference to discuss the past, present and future of the variety.
Hence, we decided to “Head on East Croatia,” the cleverly designed marketing campaign by Slavonia Travel to truly enjoy and explore all gourmet experiences Slavonia has to offer. With three counties, several appellations, and indefinite wine labels later, we can say we were in for a real treat.
Most importantly, the people of Slavonia are to be applauded for not only incredibly warm and welcoming hospitality, but also for their expertise in differentiating this experience from the rest of Croatia, so more visitors would come here. We will be back, what about you?
This is a short overview with just a few photos from the inaugural “Croatia Full of Flavors” trip to Slavonia. The two American writers joining this trip included Todd Godbout of WineCompass, and Richard Auffrey, Passionate Foodie Blog and Sampan, who were initially introduced to us by Luiz Alberto, the American-based wine judge and founder of the #winelover group, a 10-year old community of 30,000 members on Facebook which also holds periodic in-person gatherings in wine regions. Needless to say, Todd’s and Richard’s brief posts while traveling in Slavonia have already reached a huge number of wine lovers.
We hope many other writers will want to visit to get the historical and flavors’ profile of the region and visit Slavonia’s wine roads. We will be writing about each area separately. And, as you can imagine, we are in discussions with various wineries about how to add more Slavonian wines to our portfolio at www.CroatianPremiumWine.com, an online store shipping 70+ Croatian wines to most US states.
Three Counties, Many Appellations, and a Unified Hospitality
When thinking of Eastern Croatia, most foreign visitors don’t realize there are three distinct counties and two wine regions in Eastern Croatia. All are blessed with fertile land for many crops, but in addition to “flatlands” there are many rolling hills where vineyards thrive — hard to imagine without visiting. The focus of our trip was eno- and gastro-offering of the region, but with the assistance from the Tourism Offices that work together from the Požega-Slavonia, Vukovar-Srijem and Osijek-Baranja counties, we were able to get a rounded cultural experience.
We were so full of impressions of indefinite number of wineries and underground cellars – both very old and ultra-modern ones with vertical archives, with the plethora of traditional and gourmet food offerings, and interactions with people of all walks of life, from tourism to winemaking, that it seemed the trip lasted several weeks.
Graševina is an incredibly versatile grape variety and the top- quality of the wines produced in Slavonia today is obviously prevalent. While a lot of table wine is still produced in Slavonia, we have not visited one winery that did not have great top-quality wine. This is a result of the wine making renaissance in Croatia lead by many experts in the academia as well as result of hard work in the wineries where the young generation of winemakers is carrying the torch started by the legends like Vlado Krauthaker and others.
We tasted a lot of Graševina in various forms – from sparkling to fresh or aged, and ultimately ice wine. Our verdict – join the people in the know who are “Heading on East” to get that full experience. It is hard to describe without sharing ratings of various wines and experiences.
Slavonia wine region (Kutjevo, Feričanci)
Our first stop was Kutjevo, and the area is called the Golden Valley, where we visited three large wineries — Kutjevo Winery, Krauthaker, and Galić Winery. From the 1232 wine cellar to the ultra-modern winery, the American wine writers and importers got the front-row seats in exploring Slavonia’s wine routes.
Vlado Krauthaker and his team introduced us to more than 30 wines. And, Vlado also showed off not only his legendary charisma, but also his family – from Martina, winemaker daughter, to Ivan, the business leader nephew with the “prepare your glasses” moto, to granddaughter that gave him a big hug at the family dinner to which we were invited. (Needless to say, we were grateful we had a driver!) And the next day we visited a big winery in Feričanci, formerly known as Feravino which has recently rebranded itself to Enosophia Winery. The new product line is both produced and designed in a modern way. Interesting to note that wines are aged in Slavonian oak and that the barrels are made by the Auric Barrels, company whose entire forest is FCS certified and is just a few kilometers down the road. Talking about the perfect pairing!
Croatian Danube Wine Region (Ilok-Srijem, Erdut and Baranja)
Our travel path from Slavonia took us first to the most eastern area — Ilok-Srijem, where everything seems to be historical and big. One cannot visit Iločki Podrumi without realizing its long and royal history as well as recent ingenuity in saving the archived wines. Then at TRS Winery we witnessed the modern winery built literally on top of historical cellars which are in the process of being rebuilt. And, we had the chance juxtapose the might of the big wineries with the success on the smaller scale – the most eastern winery in Ilok, Papak Winery, is a family winery of the former leader at Iločki Podrumi whose experience has been transferred to smaller scale but the wine is equally superb, and the young lions at the Čobanković and the Buhač wineries who are starting to win awards with top-quality wines.
In the Erdut Danube wine region we visited one of the biggest wineries, including their biggest wooden barrel of 75000 liters at Erdutski Vinogradi, which makes it the largest wine barrel in use in the world. The barrel is always full and there is always Graševina in it.
From the gigantic, we moved to charming — the boutique Antunović Winery is fully in the embrace of the Danube and vines as well as the wisdom, knowledge and persistency of a woman winemaker – Jasna Antunović is the only Slavonian winemaker with a Decanter Platinum for her wine. Yes, platinum!
Lastly, we visited Baranja in its mystical glory. From historical fortification “Tvrđa” in Osijek to the Belje Winery, both old cellars and the new, and finally rural Zmajevac, and the Josic Winery. The alure of this most northeastern part of Croatia is in the combination of their traditional customs with the new twists, and the might and modernism of the winery serving 630 hectars of continuous vineyards as well as the charisma of the village life transposed to rural wine tourism.
2 Days in Slavonia Equals 2 Kilos Gained
In addition to wine, we tasted everything from the very traditional “kulen” to the modern representations of the modern food. Regardless of the lighter touches of the gourmet cuisine, we were told by the charming lady at the even more charming Maksimilian Hotel in Osijek, “if visitors didn’t gain at least two kilos over one weekend, Slavonians didn’t do their hosting well.” In retrospect, it appears we didn’t want to offend them – don’t want to reveal any numbers, but we both gained at least that much. Mission accomplished Slavonia!
Our trip to Slavonia ended with a well-visited Wine & Art Festival in Osijek with artists expressing their talents and wineries sharing their high-quality wines with the public. It seemed the whole Slavonia came to celebrate. As it should. We hope this will make more Croatians and foreign visitors make their plans to visit and taste all the wines and food. Živjeli!
Authors: Mirena Bagur and Win Burke are co-founders of Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc, a company that distributes, retails online, and educates about Croatian wines in the US, and ships 70+ Croatian wine labels to most US states. The initial team of American wine writers included Todd Godbout of WineCompass, a directory for winery, brewery, and distillery locators, and BevFluence, an organization created by beverage content creators, for content creators, and Richard Auffrey of Sampan, the New England English-Chinese newspaper, and Passionate Foodie Blog, where he wrote dozens of articles about Croatia and its wine scene before even heading to this trip.
We wanted to thank all organizations and people who helped us put this tour together – from the Croatian National Tourist Board in the US, and regional tourist boards as well as with Vina Croatia.hr, a segment of Croatian Chamber of Economy, and Graševina Croatica, association of wineries in Slavonia and Danube region.
And as always, we are thankful to the global #winelovers community for helping us navigate the American wine scene before we even started the business. The beauty of the group lies in its members consisting of tradespeople and simple wine enthusiasts, amateurs and pros, serious collectors and newcomers, all share a passion for wine and facilitate communication and education of all facets of the wine industry from vineyard to glass.