Off the coast of Croatia lies the isle of Hvar, which is gaining recognition for natural wine from indigenous grapes, thanks to Jo Ahearne, MW, and her namesake winery. English-born Ahearne talks about how she ended up making wine on a small island in the Adriatic.
How did you get started as a winemaker?
I did my first vintage in [Australia’s] Barossa Valley with Charles Melton. He was an amazing person to start learning with. After my first two years studying for my winemaking degree, I went part time and worked full time [as] his assistant winemaker. Then my first actual senior winemaking job was with Jacob’s Creek, also in the Barossa Valley.
When did you start making wine on Hvar?
My first vintage was 2014, but I moved full-time to the island about two years ago. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and…has some amazing older vineyards, great soils and different aspects and altitudes to get different things from the local varieties.
You’re using some unusual grapes, with an emphasis on natural styles of production. Why did you choose those grapes and winemaking styles?
I produce four wines: a rosé called Rosina; two whites, a Pošip and a maceration wine I call Wild Skins; and a barrique-aged Plavac Mali called South Side. For the whites, I wanted freshness and complexity as well as texture. Many of the local varieties can be a little neutral, which is why I chose to macerate these grapes to get as much flavor from the skins as possible. A maceration wine like my Wild Skins could be construed as trendy, but the method is as old as the hills.
Tell us a bit more about Wild Skins.
Wild Skins is a blend of three varieties found here on Hvar: Kuč, Bogdanuša and Pošip. The Bogdanuša (the name translates as gift from God) and Kuč vineyards are on the cooler northern part of Hvar… Both sorts are grown mainly in red soils. The Pošip is planted on the southern side just outside of the town of Hvar itself. I ferment each variety naturally, using only the yeasts found naturally present on the vines before undergoing natural fermentation and aging sur lie for nine months. Wild Skins is sort of like a bit of Hvar in a glass.
Why did you decide to make a rosé?
I wanted to produce a serious rosé; gastronomic with structure and the ability withstand some aging. I chose Darnekuša, a nearly extinct grape variety found only on Hvar, for its spice, acidity and structure… It’s all about the more sophisticated flavours of rhubarb, red cherries and raspberries rather than the normal sweet strawberry background of rosé with this wine. Inspired by and named after my mother, Rosina, this is an elegant, pretty wine with a deceptively strong backbone, just like her.