Situated on the southern Croatian island of Korčula, Negotians Vinarius is a collaboration between the Marinovic family, local organic farmers led by a father in his 60’s, and Marko Kovac, the founder of Austria-based Karakterre wine salon. The story is one of inspiration by historic Korčula winemaking, as well as of building the island’s agricultural future through natural terroir-driven winemaking.
“Marinovic family has two vineyards – just over a hectare in total – of local Pošip and Plavac varieties. They are organic farmers out of conviction on an island that’s still finding its way to organic agriculture. They used to make wines in their garage for themselves, and then sold some at the door to those that passed by – never really actively or outside the island itself,” says Kovac.
Kovac engaged with the project in 2019. He altered the initial winemaking process by picking earlier (end August-early September), eliminating any additions at fermentation or during the vinification process, as well as lowering overall sulphur. “The family saw a return to tradition in what I suggested. We agreed quickly.”
The vineyards are located in a sun-soaked valley of Smokvica. This is a well-known Croatian vineyard site rich with underground water thanks to its history as a lake in Jurassic times. The soil here is one of terra rossa mixed with sandstone on a base of dolomite limestone. The visual and the feeling is one of deep a Mediterranean, warm climate. The island capital is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At Negotians Vinarius, following short skin contact, grapes are hand-pressed in an old, restored mechanical press. The juice is then vinified, racked and kept in stainless steel for somewhat less than a year.
The goal is to use historic wine knowledge in making natural wines that honestly express the local varieties.
The labels are paintings kindly provided by Kovac’s friend, Matt McClune, an American artist and coffee roaster based in Saint Romain, Burgundy. “I’ve asked Matt for permission, as the labels reminded me of what was in the bottle.”
Winegrowing on Korčula predates Christ. In fact, it was one of the key islands of today’s Croatia to supply the Roman court with grapes and wines at the height of the Empire’s rule. The traders of wine between the islands and Rome were called Negotians Vinarius.
Kosovec is located in the small rural town of Popovača in one of the smallest Croatian wine regions called Moslavina, in central continental Croatia, about 50 kilometers southeast from the capital, Zagreb.
Ivan started in the winemaking business when he was just 18 years old, in 2003. He went into oenology school in Istria and that same year, with the support of his family, he bought 4 hectares of pristine land. After some clearing and deforesting in 2005, he planted 3 hectares of vineyards with a total of 18,000 vines in one of the finest sites in the Moslavina region.
Grape varieties include Škrlet, an autochthon white variety only grown in Moslavina. There is less than 100 hectares planted in the entire world. Other varieties are Chardonnay, Zweigelt, Frankovka and Pinot noir.
Their philosophy of viticulture is based on a maximum natural approach – so they farm their vineyards organically, encourage small yields with the use of only minimum quantities of copper and sulfur for fungus protection, without the use of any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides and a lot of manual work. They do not use any kind of mineral or foliar fertilizers – only organic fertilizers, humus, and green manuring when possible.
The winemaking is based exclusively on the natural quality of the grapes with respect to the terroir and vintage. There is little to no intervention with the grapes, must, or wine – no added yeasts, enzymes or any other enological additives or preparations. No fining, filtering, and the use of sulfur is down to a minimum.
With this kind of philosophy and approach, they want to make true, live, and terroir-driven wines which showcase the specific and unique characteristics of Moslavina’s geography, variety, and climate.
Following the success of his first winery, Podrum Franjo, Kreso Petrekovic brings his second passion project to life —Vinas Mora. This co-op winery focuses on producing natural wines from Primošten, a historic and UNESCO-protected area in coastal Croatia, near the city of Split.
Kreso, a former somm, wine professional, and importer in New York, found himself in his coastal house in Primošten at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Passionate about the area, its unique terroir, and Babić grape variety, Kreso always advocates drinking wines made by the local farmers who have no or very little commercial success. This zeal is how he found Josipa and Neno Marinov, a local couple producing wine from Babić, “as their elders did 100 years ago, with some improvements” a few years ago. The pair was selling wines in plastic bottles on the side of the road.
Together with Neno, they discovered nearly abandoned winemaking facilities of a local co-op. This site is where most of the growers in the area would sell their grapes. The closing of the co-op would have devastating effects on the entire local wine-growing community. The opportunity to take over was too good to pass on, and it was also necessary to keep the tradition alive. Joined by another friend and wine professional, Niko Dukan, the three of them founded Vinas Mora, with Kreso at its helm.
A play on words in Croatian, the winery name means “wines from the sea” because of the vineyard’s proximity to the Adriatic. Most of the growers involved farm vineyards only a few meters above sea level, where Babić vines literally grow in the rocks. However, the previously rocky, hardly accessible terrain saw incredible transformation through extreme human effort into agricultural land by manual clearing. Dry-stone walls separate the tiny plots with only three to four plants each, making it extremely hard to farm and harvest here, not to mention impossible to use any machinery.
The primary soil, crvenica (better known as terra rosa in Carso), created by the dissolution of limestone and dolomite, is hard and tight, with very little humus. Nonetheless, the clay component allows it to absorb and keep the water long enough to keep vines hydrated during the long, hot, and dry Mediterranean summers.
The winery is a testament to the Babić variety, but Vinas Mora produces wines from other local varieties, both red and white. The whites include Debit and Marastina, while reds include Plavina and Lasin. While the first wines from Vinas Mora include these varieties and the young Babić vines, in the coming years, the high-end cru wines will make their debut in the market.
Barbara Jurin and Petar Cota
“Established in 1911, our wine cellar was built on hard ground by our great grandfather, Marko, with his family. He came back from America and started planting vineyards and developing a wine story. My dad and mom planted 6 hectares in total of different local and international grape varieties. I am the 4th generation in this story.
Natural and traditional ways are the only way we know. Knowledge acquired throughout the decades of winemaking, makes our wine usually gone in seconds. Our vineyards are located in a small picturesque place in Croatia, not far from the Dalmatian coast. Almost all of the territory is in a national park, River Krka, with beautiful scenery. We have a natural annual overlap of three different climates – mountain, continental, and Mediterranean. Breath taking nature… Visit us any time!”
Sv. Vicenco is located in Croatia on the island of Lastovo. Croatia has over 1,000 islands – amongst them, Lastovo is furthest away from the main coast, and is actually closer to Italy. The island itself is very small, with lots of greenery, and is less rocky than nearby islands. Only 500 people live on the island. Schoolchildren travel by boat to get to attend classes.
Around 20 years ago, Arsen returned to Lastovo after spending time working at multiple wineries in Alto-Adige. He desired to make wine with his own input, realizing he wanted to return home.
Arsen farms 1.80 ha of native varieties Plavac Mali and Plavina, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines range from 20-40 years old, and are planted over terra rossa and limestone. He farms with very low intervention, and only adds a small amount of sulfur a few weeks prior to bottling.
Josipa Marinov and Neno Marinov
Josipa’s and Neno’s vineyards are situated just a few meters above sea level on a mixture of karst and crvenica soil. Crvenica (terra rossa) is a type of soil characteristic of the subtropical and Mediterranean karst regions. Hard ground, tight, and with little humus. However, it easily absorbs and keeps the water long enough to allow grapes to survive during the dry, hot, and long Mediterranean summer. This type of land is created by the dissolution of limestone and dolomite and represents its irrepressible residue. It is clayey and mildly structured.
Babić is an indigenous Croatian varietal, grown only in North Dalmatia, especially around the town of Primosten. It is planted in dry stone pools with only 3-4 plants , very hard to farm, and inaccessible to machines.
Josipa’s approach in the vineyard and cellar is not organic or biodynamic, rather than a real traditional way of winemaking, or as she calls it “as our elders did it 100 years ago, with some improvements.”
Kreso is a familiar face to anyone involved in the natural wine world as he was one of Zev’s first reps and whose passion for all things food and wine is legendary. Winemaking is very much a tradition in the part of Croatia where Kreso comes from and the family always made a little wine for home consumption. After years of selling wine, visiting wineries, and drinking countless epic bottles, he realized just what amazing raw material he had back home. These were mostly farmer wines, with no interventions, and so the potential was laid bare.
Now he spends his time between selling wine in New York and making wine in Croatia. He sources from old vines in Plješivica and lower Styria (Slovenia) from farmers who are longtime friends of the family. Some of the grapes like Riesling and Pinot Gris are familiar, while others such as Sipalj, Stajerka, Kraljevina, Smarnica, and Plavec are much more localized to these central European terroirs. These are wines that show off the quality of these incredible and mostly unknown sites as well as Kreso’s ability as a winemaker to balance minimalist, non interventionist winemaking without sacrificing sense of place.
Most are co-ferments, macerated whites, or a combination of both! In other words, these are also very easy to drink.
“Our business lies in Krasica, village in “white” Istria, 40 km across the Croatian border from Trieste. It is a family business encompassing 8 hectares of vineyards and 3 hectars of olive trees. Our wine-growing approach respects the nature in its fullest and is inspired by the principles of our grandparents. The geographic and climate situation is particularly propitious: the air from the Ucka mountain and the sea air that goes up the river Mirna meet here and create an ideal microclimate to cultivate vines and olives. Our principal goal is to enhance our terroir. We produce no wine out of international grape varietals alone. Our 6 labels are wines made of native grapes – Malvasia, Refosco and Muscat – or their blend with international varietals.
Our work in the vineyards is all about quality, not quantity. The density of culture system is high (5,700 plants / hectare) and the yields are kept low. The fertilization is minimal and occasional, using only organic and natural manures.
We do not use any systematic treatments – herbicides, insecticides, commercial fertilizers…
After coming to our cellar, the grapes are vinified in a natural way, with spontaneous fermentation on the skins and without the addition of enzymes, added yeasts or malolactic bacteria. The wines are mellowed in wooden barrels of various sizes, with a long stay on the lees. After nearly a year the wines are bottled without micro- or sterile filtering.
We believe that no year is “good” or “bad” if you work in a natural way – the vintages are just different. They depend on seasonal climatic factors that determine the absolute value of the wine: its quality.”