Thursday, January 28, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Vugava

"On the island of Issa is a wine produced that no other wine equals". -- ancient Greek historian Agatharchides of Cnidus (2nd Century BC) 

Brac and Vis are two of several islands in the Adriatic Sea, lying just off the coast from Split on Croatia's central Dalmatian Coast.  For two and a half thousand years, the islands have been home to Greeks, Romans, and now southern Slavs with viticulture a common thread. The Greeks began cultivating the Vugava grape variety on Vis (known then as Issa) between two and three thousand years ago - either by propagating a wild species or by importing the vine from another area. That is why Agatharchides may have been referring to Vugava in the quote above.  The grape is also planted in Brac and a few other neighboring islands and sources claim that the wines can be quite different.

 According to Total Croatia News, "the variety ripens rather early and needs to be picked during a very narrow window of time, usually fully by hand. The grapes tend to have very high sugar content and relatively low acids and somewhat overripe aromas, and traditionally have been used to create dessert wine prošek or to be blended with varieties with lower sugars and higher acids, but nowadays some fresh dry varietal wines are also being made".  

Stina means ‘stone’ in the local Brac dialect and reflects the crushed limestone soils on that island.  It also became the name of a brand for the Jako vino d.o.o. Bol that opened in 2009 when Jako Vino rented the historical Agricultural Cooperative building in the harbor of Bol. This structure housed the first Dalmatian Wine Cooperative when it was constructed in 1903.  

When the winery first opened they sourced Vugava from Vis and Emil Mehdin, Jako Vino's Marketing & Sales Director says the "even then Stina Vugava was considered different than Vugava from Vis island producers although the terroir was just the same". This was due primarily to their winemaking techniques such as keeping the wine on its lees for approximately 6 months before bottling.  In 2014 the differences between Vis and Brac Vugava became even more pronounced when the winery's Brač Vugava vineyards matured and reflected the island's crushed limestone soils as opposed to Vis' sandier soils. 

Furthermore, Mehdin stressed that in the vineyard their idea is to reach full phenolic ripeness, and as soon as that point is reached they start to harvest in order to preserve as much freshness as possible in grapes. In contrast, delaying the harvest leads to "very high sugar levels and consequently high alcohol and lack in acidity as well as overripe honey notes".  Now that tastes more like many Viogniers in my past.  And since limestone soils encourage acidity (the hardness and water retention of this rock vary, but being alkaline it generally encourages the production of grapes with a relatively high acidity level --  Tim Atkin - Master of Wine) expect we should expect the Stina Vugava to be fresher than its Vis counterparts. 

Stina For Inspiration Vugava 2018 ($34)
The fact that this wine matured for 6 months in steel tanks sur lie is readily apparent from its depth which consists of a whirlpool of grapefruit, apricots, and minerality. The acidity is even more than expected and lifts the wine to a crisp finish.  Excellent.

This wine and other Croatian wines are available in the United States through Croatian Premium Wine Imports.

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