Tuesday, June 21, 2022

A Tasting To Remember at Krauthaker Vineyards and Winery

Wine lovers are well aware of the 45th parallel North - the line halfway between the equator and the North Pole - that runs through many of the world's predominant wine regions: Bordeaux, Rhine Valley, Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Oregon, and Michigan. Less well-known is that this demarcation runs through Croatia at the Istria peninsula and at our current focus: the Požega Valley in Slavonia. Winemaking has occurred in this valley near Kutjevo since the Illyrians, Celts, and Romans and continues today through the efforts of the Krauthaker family through the endeavors of the legendary Vlado Krauthaker. During our recent visit to the winery, we gained an even greater appreciation for their operation through a tasting and dinner which lasted over five hours and reached 33 wines and brandy from the tank, bottle, and barrel.

In 1976, Vlado Krauthaker came to Kutjevo from Slovenia and began working at the historic Kutjevo - Winery 1232 - today the largest producer in Croatia and also claims the oldest working cellar in Europe. For 18 years (14 as the chief oenologist) he worked at this wine-cooperative championing Graševina and Slavonian wine. Eventually, he left the comfort of that position and planted one hectare of vines and launched Krauthaker Vineyards and Winery. Although he still admires Slavonian Graševina (Grape Spotlight: Slavonian Graševina with Krauthaker Winery) he has planted 43 other grape varieties and expanded the estate to 50 hectares while also operating and overseeing 65 hectares of cooperative vineyards. 

These vineyards are located on the southern slopes of the Krndija Mountain at elevations of 200 and 300 meters. The slopes and the Požega Valley were recognized as a winegrowing land by the Illyrians and the ancient Romans called it the "Golden Valley" (Vallis Aurea). This golden valley is known for viticulture not only because of the angle of the sun at 45 degrees longitude; but also because the valley was part of the Pannonian Sea and consists of sandy soils containing fossilized sea creatures. At Krauthaker, they fertilize this nutrient-poor soil with manure and work the vineyards using horse labor as has been the tradition for centuries. 

Whereas Vlado continues to oversee the vineyards, his daughter Martina is now responsible for the winemaking and together they have accelerated innovations in the cellar. Vlado had introduced the use of amphora in the mid-2000s and now they utilize egg-shaped wooden barrels to allow the lees to circulate in the wine without any dead spots. They also innovate in the vineyard, planting 44 grape varieties with many used solely for experimentation in the cellar. That being said, Graševina has the largest share of total production at 22%. 

During our visit, we are initially greeted by Martina and her cousin Ivan - both having been raised in the vineyards and cellars and understanding the complete history and processes of the winery. We first visited the 12-year-old new production area and cellar - housing thousands of liters of wine settling in stainless steel, amphora, and various-sized barrels. Tasting a few Graševinas from the tank allowed us to attest to their freshness, minerality, almonds, and bright fruit profiles. 

We then traveled to their tasting room and initial cellar to start the marathon tasting. Ivan had pulled a lineup of wines starting with the refreshing and aromatic charmat-made Julija 2021 - a sparkling wine blend of Muscat Ottonel and Zelenac (Rotgipfler). This last grape (a natural crossing of Traminer and Roter Veltliner) was the basis for a most interesting wine - the 2020 Krauthaker Zelenac Kutjevo (82 HRK).  It is green and nutty but the slightly bitter profile is complemented by strong floral notes and significant tannins.  Later that evening, Ivan introduced us to the 2016 Krauthaker Kuvlakhe - an amber wine that rested 90 days on its skins in amphora. In 2009, this had been the winery's first amphora wine and the first label on the Croatian market free of sulfur. The 2016 has a great mouthfeel, structured, with a solid tannin backbone 

As for Graševina, we started with the 2021 Podgorje Graševina (65 HRK), which is bright with almonds and green apples, but was overshadowed by the savory 2020 Graševina Mitrovac (77 HRK). The grapes for this wine were harvested from the estate's oldest vineyards (35-55 years old) about two weeks after the Podgorje. The wine sits 10 months on lees developing complexity, texture, and showing more stone fruits. Over dinner, we sampled two more Graševina wines starting with the 2020 Krauthaker Graševina Kasna Serba (100 HRK) - a late harvest wine with layers of apricots, honey, and candied fruit. This was followed by the 2019 Krauthaker Graševina Izborna Berba Prosušenih Bobica (100 HRK) - another delicious dessert wine made with botrytis grapes.

There were plenty of red wines as well -- not surprisingly a few Frankovka and Pinot Noir. More unanticipated was a Nebbiolo, Syrah, Muskat riza (Red Muscat), Mercs (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend). These were all excellent wines, truly representative of the respective grapes and region. 

It was not only a pleasure meeting Vlado Krauthaker - but a lifetime of memories of spending so much time with the wine-making legend as well as Martina and Ivan. We will be posting quite often in the future about these wines and any we find through Croatian Premium Wine Imports. They currently have the 2019 Podgorje Graševina in stock. 

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