The strong back of mountains on the one side, sparkling blue of the sea on the other, gentle hills, lush green, cute donkey, and vineyards in between. Our late summer worldwide wine tour leads us to the Croatian Istrian Peninsula, a real holiday paradise with its lonely bays, picturesque seaport townlets, romantic mountain villages and the home of several outstanding wineries. Vineyard estate Kabola from Momjan is one of them. The vines are cultivated with utmost care to let nature take its course in the cellar. Winemaker Marino Markezic has only to set the direction – a philosophy which is successful in producing kvevri wine since many years. We asked him how did he come to this production method, what does bio mean to the Croatian wine community and what’s the Istrian sparkling wine all about.
Mr. Markežić, please tell us a little about the history of your winery. When did you and your family start to cultivate wine in Momjan und which varieties have you specialised on?
MM: Markežić family’s wine story dates back to 1891 and the Muscat of Momjan. I am the third generation to pick up the tradition of wine production and I’m creating the Kabola brand. Although few bottles of Muscat of Momjan vintage 1891 are still to be found in our archives, we consider 1981 to be the founding year for the Kabola brand. Back then wines were simpler; the production was not as sophisticated as it is today.
Our vineyards are located on a hill called Štancija and in the vicinity of our winery in Kanedolo, Momjan. The soil is clay rich in marl which adds certain characteristics to our wines. We are located at Istrian peninsula’s north-west, at 275m altitude. The view stretches to Alps and Dolomites on one side and green landscapes and sea panorama on the other.
All this encouraged me to continue the tradition and to create a well-known Kabola brand. Kabola winery has 20ha of vineyards and is producing 11 different wine labels going from sparkling to dessert wine. Istrian Malvazija comprises 70% of total wine production in Kabola winery. Three different styles are being produced from this indigenous variety; fruity and fresh Malvazija, aged Malvazija and Malvazija from Amphorae. The basis for our sparkling wine is also Malvazija. Two more indigenous varieties are used; Muscat of Momjan and Teran. Oaked red is produced from Teran as well as rose called Rosa and one red from Amphorae which is yet to hit the market. Next to a well-known and well-accepted Muscat, there’s a dry version; Secco, and a dessert Muscat; Dolce.
When visiting your website, the first eye catcher is, that you’re working with amphoras. How did it come to you? Is there a market for that kind of wines in Croatia or is it rather a kind of hobby?
MM: Both wine and amphorae were always present in Istria. We take much pride in our amphora wines. Through an extended fermentation in amphorae and resting on skin and sediment until late spring, Malvazija acquires a whole new dimension. We are among very few winemakers in Croatia to do these prolonged macerations. We believe that Malvazija can give a serious and complex wine with great longevity and a different overall taste. When wine is being produced in amphorae it stays in contact with skin and sediment for up to 7 months. Clay vessels of various sizes are placed outside. Our first amphora wine was back in 2005. We are trying, to the best of our knowledge, to make wine as close as possible to the wines ancient Romans and Greeks used to make. When we first started this, it was a novelty in winemaking. Today it is recognized and the market seems to be interested in this type of wine.
I had strong faith in prolonged maceration even before I went into this venture. Maceration adds complexity and a different feel opposing those fresh and fruity, floral wines. They have elegance and longevity and the aftertaste is extraordinary and quite long.
Another question regarding your customers: Do you produce mainly for the Croatian market or does export play an important role for Kabola wines, too? If so, are you cultivating different wines for different markets?
MM: Kabola brand is well recognized in the domestic market and neighbouring countries. It is a common choice among demanding and informed customers in retail as well as in restaurants and hotels. Export and foreign markets positioning, on the other hand, is still something we work on very hard. We are present in 15 foreign countries with 25% of our production going to export and it’s still growing. We believe that all our wines are top quality and that our winemaking philosophy and terroir distinction can reach everyone regardless of which country of export they live in.
Your wines are eco-certified. Do you see a tendency towards ecological vinification in Croatia?
MM: Comparing Croatia and countries we export our wine too, there’s a long way ahead of us. Eco production in Croatia is still in the background. Consumers are still not buying a wine because of its eco-certificate, they choose the brand or the price. This is why we still have to educate our customers, teach them what exactly are they getting when buying eco-wine and equally important what is the benefit for the environment. This should be the task of eco-producers in Croatia.
And finally: We found a sparkling wine in your portfolio, which is rather rare in Croatia. Is there a reason for the fact, that Croatian sparkling wine is mainly found in Istria? We have heard of this old love story….but there’s probably another explanation, isn’t there?
MM: Sparkling wines are close to my heart. This is why I wanted to prove you can make decent bubbly in Istria. This idea came to me during my visit to Champagne. After going through all the details on the production of sparkling wine, I realised that I have certain micro-locations suitable for sparkling production.
One year after I tried to prove this by making first sparkling wine mainly from Istrian Malvazija variety, I wasn’t very pleased with the results, so next year I decided to add 10% of Chardonnay and 10% of Pinot.
This time, the result was good and our “natural sparkling wine Re” came into being. Few years after the first batch we received the silver Decanter for Re. We took this as a final confirmation that you can make top sparkling wine in Istria if you have the right locations.
Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Markežić. We wish you the best of luck and success and are excited about the next Kabola vintages.