Croatian wine story
Climate and location are everything when it comes to growing good grapes and Croatia has both.
Have you looked at the map of Croatia and thought it looks a bit like a horseshoe?
A small country of 56,594 sq km (21,851 sq miles) and population of 4.4 million, Croatia boasts an unusual and unique geography, characterised by a mixture of mountains, plains, forests and a long coastline. Croatia has two very different climatic regions, Continental and Mediterranean.
The ‘wine roads of Ilok’ is in Eastern Croatia, on the map look for the Osijek-Baranja region.
Zagreb, the capital of Croatia is app. 280 km. from Osijek town. With good roads and a motorway this a pleasant 3 hours journey by bus through the countryside for a day trip. Osijek has a local airport 10km. from the centre with direct flights to and from some European countries. A member of the European Union, a visa is not currently required to visit Croatia.
The wine road of Ilok is particularly interesting and different from what is considered typical of a wine road as all the wineries are concentrated in the town. The smaller older winemakers and family run wineries use old world production methods making their wine in the traditional way. Friendly, helpful people who are keen for you to taste their wine and show you around their old cellars in the hills or beneath their homes.
An interesting and different area to visit with lots to see and do, especially late summer when the weather is warm and just right for strolling along the wine road.
The Croatian interior, which includes the cities of Zagreb and Osijek, is separated from the coast by the Dinaric Mountains.
Here, summers are warm with the average temperature in July at about 22°C although strong heat waves have become more frequent with temperatures reaching 40°C.
Winters get cold, with the average temperature in January ranging from 0°C to -2°C. However, the temperature can drop as low to -27°C. The Velebit and Medvednica (near Zagreb) mountain ranges of Croatia are cooler and get more rainfall. Snow is common at the higher elevations, hence skiing is a very popular sport.
The Croatian Adriatic coast stretches for 1,880 km and includes 1,244 islands which add a further 4,398km of coastline. It enjoys a Mediterranean climate, although it is usually several degrees cooler in the northern Adriatic than in the south.
In the summer, the average temperature is between 24°C and 26°C along the coast with a maximum temperature recorded at 39°C. In winter, the coast has a mean temperature of 2°C in the north and 9°C in the south.
Croatian islands can be very dry. For example, the island of Vis averages only 557 mm of rainfall per year while the island of Brač averages 952 mm. The sunniest island in Croatia is Hvar, with over 2,700 hours of sun per year. Snow is a rare occurrence anywhere along the coast.
Wine is at the heart of everyday life in Croatia and grown in almost every region of the country.
Although many Croatian wines remain undiscovered internationally, wine production is not new in this part of the world. Croatian wine dates back 2,500 years to the ancient Greeks and possibly earlier with the Illyrians.
The plains of Stari Grad on the island of Hvar are a listed UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the oldest continuously cultivated vinicultural site in the world dating back to the 4th century BC.
Croatian wine is not as well-known here in the UK mostly because of their recent history. Under the communist system of Yugoslavia, many famous vineyards were nationalised and wine production centred on large cooperatives. Private ownership of vineyards was discouraged. Quantity rather than quality became the main focus. The Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990’s saw many vineyards and wineries once again destroyed.
In recent years, the Croatian wine industry has returned to the tradition of independent producers who have re-established the varieties and stepped up the quality of the wines to a point where they are now acclaimed internationally.
Known locally as ‘vino’, Croatian wines are once again competing with the best in the world wine market.
According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, in 2015 there were 45,357 wine producers in Croatia and 20,393 hectors of vineyard.
Altogether, 259 different cultivars of vine were officially recognised in 2016.
It is truly rare to find so many grape varieties and types of wine in one country, making Croatia a jewel of the wine industry.