Talking Croatian Wine with Dolores Racic of Vina Milicic Winery
As I transcribe this wine-infused interview, the bus grinds to a halt and the Bosnian border control officers climb on board. The Bosnian border, which claims a brief 12.4 miles of coastline, cuts right through Croatia's otherwise massive and uninterrupted Dalmatian Coast. Token coastline or not, passports are checked and mental borders are rearranged; the Dingac region, possibly Croatia's most important wine-producing region, is just a few miles south. Had things gone the other way when Yugoslavia disintegrated, might I be writing about Bosnia's greatest red wine?
The Dingac region produces mostly red wines made with the plavac mali grape. This wine was iconic of the region even when the region was part of Yugoslavia. Chances are, if you've ever pass through, you've seen the iconic wine label, which features a donkey. Check out these retro Yugoslavian wine labels from 1984 and *shock* 1954:
The Dingac growing region is located on the Peljasac peninsula, and the donkey is the wine's icon because the Peljasac peninsula's primary geographical feature is one giant hill: donkeys were the lucky creatures used to transport the grapes over the hill. The southern, coastal hillside has the ideal conditions for growing grapes: the grapes get sun from above as well as below, the light reflected off of the waves of the Adriatic Sea. This coast side of the hill is Dingac, whereas the inland side of the hill is the Postup growing region and the flat land that leads up to Postup is the Plavac growing region. The slopes in the Dingac region are sometimes so steep that vineyard workers must wear ropes. This handy map that I picked up at D'Vino Wine Bar provides visuals (sorry about all the tasting notes):
"Today, there’s a tunnel that you can drive through," said Dolores, "but the donkey is still featured on many bottles. Dingac is the most important of all nearby regions. Right before you reach Orebic, where the ferries leave for the island Korcula, you’ll see the village of Potomje. Let’s say that this is the hometown of the winemakers who are Dingac masters. The most important grape in the region is plavac mali, and the name means little blue. It's called this because the berries are small and grow in very tight bunches. In the Dingac area you only get ½ kilo of grapes from one plant, and that’s why a Dingac wine is typically full bodied, rich, and spicy. The soil is mostly composed of limestone and it is very hard for the grapes to grow their roots. This makes good wine.
“Dingac wines can be up to 16% of alcohol yet still dry. People don’t believe it, but the wines really are dry, with fruitiness and a very long finish. It really seems to be surprising people [see Wine Enthusiast]. If I tell you that I taste blueberries or raspberries, you might not agree because everyone’s palates are different. Even with all I've said, there’s no guarantee that you’ll like this wine. You might think that I’m talking about fairy tales or something. But it is something that we are very proud of. Even in Yugoslavia it was very important."
M: Do Dingac wines age well?
Dolores: Yes, very well. This wine right here is 2007 and you can drink it now, but it will be even better in five years. And, perhaps, if it stored correctly, Dingac can be aged much longer. It can surprise you.
M: If I just rented a car could I go wine tasting?
Dolores: Yes, there are wineries everywhere. But I have to warn you that if you go there you cannot drink.
M: That’s right. Croatia has a zero alcohol tolerance. You cannot even drink one glass of wine then get behind the wheel. I wish I could get there on this trip!
Dolores: I would like to drive you there! I really want you to go, but I think that my boyfriend is working the night shift and he has the car. I want to take you because I want people to understand that it isn’t all about French and Italian wines—with all due respect—and Croatia is something new. It is the new old world. We’ve had winemaking here from the Illyians and the Greeks.
M: Yeah, it’s similar to Puglia, one of my favorite wine regions, where it’s a new style of wine coming from a very old winemaking region. I love emerging wine regions. We’ve had enough French wine.
"With wine tasting in Dingac in general, do you have to make appointments in advance and are there tasting fees?"
Dolores: Every day except Sunday is like a holiday there—during the summer season. To me, it doesn’t make sense to charge for a sip. At least I hope they don't.
M: I agree. In Napa Valley it’s become a business within a business. They charge a lot just for a small taste.
Dolores: It doesn’t make sense to me because you have to taste it to know what you’re buying.
For more on wine tasting in the Dingac region, check out my list of recommended wineries located at the bottom of this article. If you're in Dubrovnik, definitely stop in and say hello to Dolores. She'll teach you everything you want to know about the local grape scene and her store has one of the best selections of local wines in the city. The shop is right on the main street: Od Sigurate 2, Dubrovnik, Croatia.