A Paradisal Peninsula: Pelješac, Croatia

If Pelješac is not a pure example of a terroir-driven region, I don’t know what is. A peninsula located in southern Dalmatia, this area fascinates with vineyards everywhere you turn, from Orebić in the northwest all the way down to Ston. Even though the winemakers here have potential to grow many different world-famous grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc., they find little sense in that because of the double I Plavac Mali – iconic and indigenous. There are some plantings of Rukatac, Pošip and Crljenjak, but these are either very limited in quantity or are reserved for other sub-regions such as Korčula and Komarna where winemakers are much more dedicated to exclusively these varieties.

Iconic micro-locations, Postup and Dingač, give birth to colossal age-worthy red wines made from Plavac Mali. These wines are deep ruby red, high in alcohol with structured tannins and aromas of red and black fruit with subtle hints of earth and Mediterranean herbs. If aged in oak (happens most of the time), they will be reminiscent of baking spices, black olives, cigar box, dried fig and leather. Everything you’re looking for is in the batch – New World style, fresh, rustic and experimental. Translated literally, Plavac Mali means “little blue”, coming from the appearance of the grapes themselves. The variety’s origin is utterly confusing for the average consumer, but even for many professionals. For decades it was thought to be genetically identical to California’s Zinfandel, but comprehensive DNA research revealed that Zinfandel and Dobričić (local grape from Šolta) are actually PM’s parents. And you thought you had a tough childhood.

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Plavac Mali grapes

The two geographically protected appellations, Postup and Dingač (granted in 1964 and 1967), hold the secret of Dalmatia’s majestic red wine. The steep rocky south-facing slopes have no mercy for man-made machines and that is why the winemakers here blindly rely on their faithful assistant, the donkey. The animal was so helpful that it became the icon of the region (you will see many labels with its silhouette). On these positions, the vines are constantly exposed to the Mediterranean warmth and sea breezes, leading to ideal balance between sugar and acidity in grapes. In addition, the rocky soils act as natural solar panels, reflecting heat during the day and distributing it through the soils after nightfall. The main difference between the two positions is the altitude and the angle of the slopes (where Dingač is higher and steeper).

The guiltiest man for presenting Pelješac and Plavac Mali to the world was without a doubt Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, a legend who kicked ass at the Judgement of Paris in 1976. So, team blue were the French and team red were the Americans. At the time, our protagonist was working at California’s Chateau Montelena. At the blind tasting, he presented the 1973 Chardonnay and won the race, leaving the Burgundians stunned out of their minds. A few years later, he opened his own winery in Cali (Grgich Hills Estate) and in 1996 he created Grgić Vina on his own turf in Trstenik, Croatia. Today, he is considered the epochal producer of Plavac Mali in the wine world.

Other Pelješac producers to keep an eye on: Vicelić, Madirazza, Skaramuča, Miličić, Violić, Saint Hills, Križ, Miloš, Matuško

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Got my lazy ass up to the top (almost)

Written by Aleksandar Draganić.

I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad

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