Sipping Crljenak in Kaštela

Although the Kaštela Riviera is promoted under the slogan "Seven reasons to visit" - alluding to the seven Kaštelas (Štafilić, Novi, Stari, Lukšić, Kambelovac, Gomilica, Sućurac) there are at least eleven reasons for wine lovers, how many autochthonous wine varieties are in this area (ljutun, dobričić, glavinuša, ničuša, babica, mladenka, rogoznička, vlaška, plavac mali and maraština) The most famous among them is, of course, Crljenak Kaštelanski, known by the synonyms tribidrag, pribidrag, zinfandel, primitivo and kratošija.

The history of growing grapes and drinking wine in the area of ​​Kaštela goes back to antiquity, and the evidence for this can be found in Vitturi Castle - the museum of the city of Kaštela. Valuable Megara glasses tell the ancient Kaštela wine story. In the western part of the Kaštela Bay, during the investigations of the Hellenistic period of the Sikuli settlement, numerous objects of relief ceramics were found. In the Museum of the city of Kaštela, the wealth and variety of relief ceramics and amphorae in which wine was stored, as well as luxurious ceramic tableware such as the so-called Megara glasses, which were used for daily wine drinking, are shown.

In the area of ​​Kaštela, the Putalj Document or the so-called Trpimir's grant from 852 was found, by which Prince Trpimir donates the church of St. George in Putalj, together with the associated vineyards and serfs. The significance of this charter is that it is the first written document in which the name Croat is mentioned, but also the document in which Croatian winemaking and viticulture are mentioned for the first time. The southern slopes of Kozjak abound in vineyards, whose marly soil and sun-drenched steep positions enable the cultivation of vines and the production of, mostly red, wine. The owner of Putalj winery, Anton Kovač, states that, in the time before the World War II, 95% of the families in Kaštela were engaged in viticulture and winemaking.

Post-war industrialisation started a trend of abandonment of agricultural holdings and mass employment in factories. In addition, the post-war factory production of wine favoured high yields over quality, which did not go well with the autochthonous and domiciled varieties of this region. Thus, in 1946, 20 million vines were planted in Kaštela, while today there are less than half a million. Crljenak Kaštelanski - today's star - was then forgotten and almost completely disappeared.

In 1997, the Californian scientist Carole Meredith from the University of Davis, California, communicating with her colleagues - among whom was the famous Californian winemaker of Croatian origin Miljenko Grgić - doubted the accuracy of the thesis that advocated that zinfandel, by then already widespread and fam ous in USA, is of original American variety. The discovery of a document indicating Austrian origin leads them to Europe, but at the same time it confuses them, since the relatively cold Austrian climate does not suit this variety at all. Later it turns out that, together with numerous emigrants from Austria-Hungary, Crljenak started his "search for a better life across the ocean" from the imperial nursery in Vienna, which nurtured a collection of all wine varieties of Austria-Hungary, including Croatian ones. The further search for the origin of Zinfandel takes the researchers to Italy, specifically Puglia, where Primitivo is widespread. Here, genetic identity is established, but it turns out that primitivo is grown in Italy for a shorter time than zinfandel in America. In the summer of 2001, the research finally moved to vineyards in our country. In cooperation with prof Maletić and prof Pejić from the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, in the vineyards of Ivica Radunić from Kaštel Novi, samples of Crljenak indicate 100% genetic identity with zinfandel. In addition to 11 vines of Ivica Radunić, 16 remaining vines were found in Mimice near Omiš.

Today, the production of Crljenak Kaštelanski is increasing, but still in very small quantities. It is difficult to find a winegrower with more than 2ha of land. Therefore, most bottles are sold on the doorstep of the Kaštela wineries and in some restaurants. Twelve associated producers of Kaštelanski crljenak received the high-quality mark of the RERA institution called "True Kaštelanski crljenak", and catering facilities and wine shops that want to display the Zinfandel friendly label must fulfill as many as 22 conditions, among which are knowledge of the history of the variety and the method of growing the vine and wine production. Crljenak Kaštelanski in a glass, according to sommelier Toma Jakopović, is a pleasing, substantial and characterful wine that exudes strength, but also freshness.

In addition to the wine tales for hedonists, there is also a rich and varied gastronomy, and after various delicacies with a glass of wine in one hand, you can also enjoy a cigar in the other. Cigar club Mareva, led by multiple award-winning cigar ambassador Marko Bilić, produced the first Croatian cigar called Spalato. Packed in a box that is an imitation of Diocletian's Palace marble and is a nice souvenir.

More information about Kaštela at www.kastela-info.hr.

Photos: Nikola Zoko and Vinarija Putalj

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