Once upon a time, there were white-cloaked knights roaming the valley of Mirna river in central Istria. They made a monastery and a church, had vineyards and olive groves. With small ships, they transported the goods through the Lim channel to the open sea and traded it for funds used to finance the war in the Holy Land and to sustain these homesteads all over the Europe. Yes, Vižinada, a small town in the centre of Istria, was also the headquarter of Knights Templar. Marino Rossi, one of the leading wine makers in Istria, named his prestigious wine the Templar Malvasia, first of its kind in Croatia, which is rich in Templar historic artefacts, places and traditions.
We met Mr. Marino in mid-December, when most works in the vineyards fade. His position in village of Bajkini is blessed with spectacular view of the Mirna Valley and the famous Motovun forest. Here is a large wine cellar and a traditional Istrian tasting room, where Marino works together with his wife Ines (she is an oenologist from the first generation of students on the well-known regional Poreč institute) and his three sons. His vineyards are positioned on the western and south-western slopes of Vižinada hills, exact historical position of Templar vineyards. Thus, the wine is indeed of Templar soil!
The Rossi family has indeed a long tradition. They make wine since 1885, when the family came here from the Italian Udine. Rossi's are famous for its Malvasia, but they also take pride in making Teran, Chardonnay, Yellow Moscato, Cabernet Saugivnon, and Merlot. But it was not wine that made the Rossi family known in Istria. it was brandy – rakija! In the regional wine festival Vinistra in 1998 they were awarded with two golden medals for rakija, a point well taken by the family. Rakija is still important part of the production. The distillery consists of a large professional distiller, which gives easy, soft and aromatic product.
The family makes its brandies exclusively from the grape pomace, itself a by-product from the wine production. Pomace is fermented for a month time and then is distilled. The end product is komovica – the brandy of kom (grape pomace), and a basis for all the other Rossi brandies. It is four times re-distilled to round up the body and elegance of the flavour. The same process is made for the grape brandy made from Muscat. Rossi makes traditional Istrian brandy biska (made from mistletoe), Erba luigia (traditional komovica with citrus), medenica (honey), teranetto (from Teran wine sort), travarica (herb), Malvasia, and Muscat. Additional specialty is Nostromo Wine Gin, the first Istrian gin, unique as it is distilled from Malvasia with addition of special spices from five continents. The true connoisseurs will be happy to try the XO (extra old) brandy made from the authentic Istrian Teran. Its name is Šovran – Istrian name for a ruler or a king (sovereign).
We had a quick tour of the wine cellar with Marino. He tells us the interesting story of his family. Federico, Marino's grand-grandfather, was born in 1865 in a small place between Udine and Tolmezzo in a poor family with many children. The only salvation from the hunger that parents saw was to give a small child to an orphanage in Trieste. At that time, the orphanages were full of abandoned children. Also, when a village was struggling to make money, the Austro-Hungarian government decided to encourage the adopters to make money. Thus, Federico was adopted by a woman from Vranje Selo who, as a widow, barely raised her own child, and her financial support offered for adoption by Federico was of great help. In his new family, Federico grew up equally with his new brother. Later, when his stepmother died and the late brother went to Italy, Federico remained working for food as a servant to the richest family in the neighbouring village of Bajkini. He met there their maid, who was alone and orphaned. The two instantly fell in love, but the masters did not have a good heart, so the pregnant servant was thrown out from the house, together with Federico chased them out of their home. Federico's wife gave birth in a farmhouse of straw and mud, while the snow was falling outside.
Astonishing life story continues. Nearby, in today's Rossi's home, a couple of elderly people with poor health lived without care, nor were they able to maintain their possessions themselves. As Federico took care for them, they offered accommodation to his young family. The Federico sustained them until death and then inherited the house and some land. The first vineyard, as stated in the official contract on land purchase, Federico bought in 1885 and then it all started. Federico's family had five children. Still difficult to make the ends meet, Federico's son, Marco (Marino's grandfather), continued to plant grape vines, but also corn, beans, potatoes, salads, radicchio and everything else needed for life. Everything was done manually, without the help of oxen, cows, or carriers as they did not have it. This family heritage is extremely cherished and remembered in the hard-working family.
While we sit in a beautiful tasting room next to the fire from a traditional fireplace, we taste excellent prosciutto and cheese while enjoying Moro, a great blend of red sorts. Rossi wines are specific also because of the terroir: in a very small and narrow area one can find all four types of soil characteristic for Istria: red, grey, black, and white. Every of the four soils gives a special note to every wine sort. And not only that; dry years give better grape from the white and grey soil, while the red soil is better for rainy seasons. With the use of modern technology and massive inox barrels, the Rossi family makes some 100.000 litres of wine annually. If you don’t think you could drink all in one day, you can stay in one of the rooms provided by the family.
At the same time, we see how deeply in love the family is with the Istrian wine and its terroir. They virtually enjoy every step of the process and love when people from home and afar are happy with their wines. Often modest, they smile whenever we praise another glass. A special limited wine is the Templar Malvasia, a true Grand Cru of the Rossi Family. It comes from the vines 50-130 years old, cultivated at the Finida location. These hills are close to the God's Field (Božje polje), a place where Templars lived and cared for their own wines. Indeed, a visit to Rossi's is a pure pleasure, not only because of the wine, but also for the historical experience!
Gallery (photos by Rossi & Taste of Adriatic)