Croatian Wine on the Rise
As this Old World wine-producing area comes together as a young nation, the quality of its wines is rapidly improving.
By Jeff Jenssen
If asked to name the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia, most Americans would be hard-pressed to answer. But if they could, Croatia would likely top the list.
With 1,118 miles of stunning coastline, more than 1,000 islands and regular visits from cruise ships to the pristine walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia is an increasingly well-known travel destination for adventurers with a love of history, culture and dramatic scenery.
Now, it’s also becoming known for its high-quality wines.
Croatia’s winemaking history began around 2200 B.C., when Illyrian tribes made wine in the area now known as Dalmatia. Greek colonization in 390 B.C. helped spread the craft, while the introduction of Christianity under the Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D. firmly rooted production for sacramental purposes.
Winemaking flourished in Croatia for centuries. However, it was curtailed by myriad events—Ottoman invasions, phylloxera, world wars, the rise of communism and, most recently, conflicts between former Yugoslav republics.
To aid the resurgence of winemaking after all of this adversity, the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria (Vinistra) was created in 1995. In 2010, the Croatian Chamber of Economy established the Association of Croatian Wineries.
For years, Croatian wine production was simply divided into two designations, Coastal and Continental.
However, in 2012, a group of Croatian winemakers, sommeliers and wine experts created a new system that highlights four regions: Dalmatia, Istria & Kvarner, the Uplands, and Slavonia & Danube. These have been divided into 12 subregions, with 66 appellations.
Croatia boasts 64 indigenous grape varieties, resulting in a wide range of wine styles. Wine is also made from “international” varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay.
Despite Croatia’s relatively modest size, it boasts 17,000 registered vine growers with vineyards totaling over 59,000 acres, growing grapes for over 800 wineries. White wines account for 60 percent of production.