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Croatia—a new destination for ‘Old World’ wine lovers

August 25, 2022

For most of us who aren’t sommeliers or wine students, “European” wine generally means Italy, France, Germany, Spain—all the main players. Croatia doesn’t often come to mind, but it is an Old World wine country rich with wine heritage and interesting, indigenous grapes.

What I love most about writing about vegan wine and food is talking to the people who make it. Their passion for making something special and unique, their commitment to the earth and the vines, and their love of presenting their creations to new and returning consumers shines through in our conversations. Undoubtedly, I come away from each encounter feeling the truth of that old saying, “you learn something new every day”.

Read Also: Off the Beaten Path: Four up and coming wine regions to watch

I got a quick overview of the history of Croatian wine from Tanya Schmitt, co-founder and managing director of Croatia Unpacked.

“Grapes first reached the Adriatic coastline in the 6th Century BC, thanks to the Ancient Greeks”, she said. “The turbulent history of the twentieth century had a significant impact with independent wine production shut down through the years of Communism, but the rebirth of the independent wine scene is well underway, starting with Independence in the 90s and further spurred on with the modernisation and innovation that followed the succession to the European Union in 2013.”


Testament Winery, in Croatia.

The ancient winemaking traditions have resulted in the majority of winemakers choosing to embrace indigenous varieties. “As a result of the above, the diversity in the wines produced is extremely broad”, says Schmitt. “The flavour profiles are unique and distinct. Some indigenous varieties are reminiscent of other more well-known ones, some are truly unique.”

I had the chance to taste wines from two outstanding, vegan-friendly wineries: Testament, located in Dalmatia, and Kozlović from Istria. I was also fortunate enough to have video chats with both wineries, which are now posted as a individual complementary pieces to this feature. See the links to these video interviews below or click here to find them on our video page.

My first conversation was with Juraj Sladić, winemaker at Testament Winery.

Priya: Most people are unfamiliar with Croatian wine. What are the most common varieties and what can wine lovers expect in terms of flavour?

Juraj: The short answer is that you can expect everything in terms of flavour and style. The most renowned varieties are graševina from continental region, malvazija from Istria and plavac mali from Dalmatia. I would say that every wine lover could easily find his/her favourite international variety counterpart in some Croatian indigenous variety. For example, if you like aromatic white, you should try pošip; if you want a red that is bold but fruity, try babić; if you want light and aromatic red try lasina. 


Juraj Sladić, winemaker at Testament Winery in Croatia.

Priya: Have you always used vegan-friendly winemaking practices or is this relatively new to your winery?

Juraj: Our wines come from a vineyard in Jadrtovac near Šibenik. They were planted intentionally for organic wine production. Our concept of vine-growing and winemaking has always included organic, vegan-friendly practices. In the vineyard we use grape pomace from the previous vintage for fertilizing. To reduce sulfites in wine we use different techniques (fast controlled processing, vitamin C, lower fermentation temperatures etc.). Most of our wines are fermented on native (wild) yeasts, and for bottling we use lightweight bottles that are more sustainable (save on raw material, lower transport cost). 

Click here to watch the full video with Juraj Sladic

In five years, Testament Winery won several Decanter and IWC awards and his wine has been around the world in Serbia, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, UK, Canada and more.

The 2017 Babić was absolutely perfect with the vegan lasagna I made for a friend’s birthday dinner! So rich, fruity and spicy with a heady aroma, it was delightful.

Next, I was fortunate to speak with Gianna Kozlović, of Kozlović Winery who is currently doing her Masters in Oenology in Germany, and who’s parents (Gianfranco and Antonella Kozlović) run the winery.

Priya: Your family has been on this land since 1904, how long have you been making wine?

Gianna: Our family has always been making wine, the only difference lies in why the wine was made. It is in the culture of the region that every family had some vineyards and produced wine. In the beginning this production was only aimed to satisfy their own needs. People were working in the fields and enduring hard physical labour, so they needed the wine as a form of energy to continue working. Whoever could produce more wine than they consumed had the additional possibility of selling it. During the second half of the 20th century our family started selling wine more intensively, but only as bulk- non bottled wine. As the quality of the wine was increasing, we started bottling it. The first bottling dates back to 1994.


Croatia: Gianfranco and Antonella Kozlović.

Priya: Have you always used vegan-friendly winemaking practices or is this relatively new to your winery?

Gianna: The use of vegan practices is relatively new to our winery. It’s part of our bigger effort to be more inclusive as well as respectful of nature. We are also trying to cultivate our vineyards in a sustainable and organic way. Currently we are trying to cultivate all of our plots organically and eliminate all synthetic treatments to ensure a better health of the soil. We are doing it as a trial but hope to also get an organic certificate to confirm our work.

Click here to watch the full video interview with Gianna Kozlovic

There is comfort in familiarity and just as we watch the same movies every holiday season, we like to stick to the wines we know. Yet there’s also adventure in moving outside our comfort zone, such as picking a movie that everyone’s not talking about, or in this case, taking a chance on a new grape or region. I think we all crave a little more adventure in our lives, don’t we?

It may be daunting to try wines from grapes you’re not only unfamiliar with, but that you might not be able to pronounce. As Tanya Schmitt says, “some of the names are tongue-twisters (try crljenak kaštelanski aka tribidrag – i.e. the original zinfandel – or grk for example!) but this is not something that should put one off!”

Wines from Croatia may not be so easy to find but when you do come across one, pick it up and try it. Who knows, you may just end up with your new favourite!


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