Updated: Jan 7
Although we are shorter in February for two days, tourist journalists had the privilege and the pleasure to fully compensate it with the multiple oeno-gastro pleasures thanks to generous hosts from the golden Požega valley and organized by the Tourist Board of Požega-Slavonia County, led by director Maja Jakobović Vukušić.
Symbol of Croatian continental wine culture with eight centuries of tradition offers top quality, recognizable wines that are increasingly traced on the world level, gastronomy that meets the most delicious tastes, relaxing, unspoilt nature with sunny vineyards and fertile fields. Above it, all stands the highest peak of Papuk, which is the territory with the only geopark in Croatia that got its status because of the exceptional geological heritage of Papuk and Krndija and it is also included on the map of the UNESCO site. All these are important details that characterize this Slavonian region and fully justify the ancient Roman name of the same - VALLIS AUREA i.e. Golden Valley with Požega as the central place. As we headed to our first destination - the Schön Blick restaurant and accommodation, we passed through Kaptol. I knew that everything our hosts will give us would have blessed, and so, accidentally blessed, we start our wine and culinary adventure and memorable two days (if it lasted longer, the liver of the author of this text would not endure).
In the village of Vetovo, on the road Velika - Kutjevo, there is a restaurant with thirty years of tradition - Schön Blick (beautiful view). Near Požega, just an hour's drive from Osijek, this place is ideal for a day out, weekend getaway or an excellent lunch. Traditional Slavonian cuisine, with an emphasis on freshwater fish, which are found in abundance here, and specifically carp, as well as international cuisine enriched with top quality Slavonian wines of Kutjevo wine-growing region. The cheerful hosts led by Anita Miličević Marić welcomed us with a huge amount of food on their large tables. And they are indeed large…
Our hungry eyes crawled on the cold plate, as a nice view of kulenova seka sausage, greaves, slices of bread spread with lard and sprinkled with paprika, cheese, bacon emerged in front of us… It was a kind of foreplay to what was just following. The unavoidable fiš paprikaš, a speciality of the house - a drunk carp - is prepared in a way that carp is soaked in Graševina wine and then is baked in a pan, just to be followed with additional touch in the oven. There were other different meat specialities, and for dessert, we had traditional poppy seed (makovnjača) and walnut (orehnjača) cakes, and pancakes in the wine chateau. It was all paired with the Kutjevo Graševina and Krauthaker Zelenac, and we ended our feast with the excellent selection of Graševina by winemaker Branko Jakobović. One relaxes with all these delicacies and it would be a shame to go straight onwards, especially as near the restaurant there is a romantic lake with five bungalows for rest and tastefully decorated rooms heated with a wood-burning stove. And the fishermen will come here because they can fish directly from the terraces of the cottage. In all of this, accommodation for two is for just 260 kunas, breakfast included! In fact, it's so nice that you can enjoy yourself alone.
As part of the project "I Love Croatia", the Croatian Tourist Board has implemented the action "Green Flower" in 2011, in which the best-designed tourist destination became the restaurant Schön Blick, which is also the holder of the Taste of the Golden Slavonia brand. On the first day, the hosts, fully believing in our capacity, organized a visit to the two well-known winemakers - the winery Jakobović and Krauthaker. Vineyards are a long tradition of this region, which has yielded numerous quality and top quality wines, recognizable in Croatia as well as in the world. It is also important to point out that the vineyard extends along the 45.3 parallel which links most important vineyards: Istria, Piedmont, Val du Rhone, Bordeaux and Oregon.
Tradition is the word with which we can present the winery of Mr Branko Jakobović from Vetovo. The same family has been producing wine for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the old barrels, photographs and the many recognitions you will see in their tasting room. There are seven premium wines - all white varieties, followed by black cuvee and select harvest - in their offer, and Mr Jakobović modestly comments that this is due to the position of their vineyards on the south, always sunny and airy slopes of Papuk, at an altitude of around 260m, above the village of Vetovo, which is the centre of the best quality Croatian vineyard, Kutjevo Wine Cellar. One "sip before we go" in the winery Jakobović we left for the second visit, as the sign at the tasting room says: "U Vetovu kod Brane, putna se pije kad se pane" (In Vetovo, at Brane’s, the sip before we go is drunk when one falls down, in free translation) and our legs were still holding on the ground. But not for long because ... we went to Krauthaker winery ...
The Decanter World Wine Awards, the Chardonnay du Monde, the Challenge International Du Vin, the MUNDUSvini Great International Wine Award, the International Graševina Festival ... are the prestigious world competitions where the Krauthaker winery regularly wins the prizes and summarizes all the core, essence and philosophy of the cellar presented, which was launched in 1993 with only one hectare of vineyards. In 2019, Krauthaker winery owns 42 hectares of vineyards, buys additional grapes from another 75 hectares and produces 650,000 litres of wine annually, making Krauthaker one of the most important Croatian winemakers. In the name of the host, Krauthaker winery welcomed us at the door in the person of Zdravko Ketović, tracing us through the cellars and story of winery production, history, the creation of labels, the micro-location of vineyards and finally, Krauthaker's wine tasting of ten labels!!! We started with the most famous wine of this region – Graševina from the Vidim and Mitrovac positions, and continued among others with Chardonnay Rosenberg, Pinot Noir, enjoyed in Kuvlakhe Zelenac and finished with dessert, complex and refined Graševina made of select harvest and with dried berries. As I personally know Vlado Krauthaker, I will never forget the first impression he left. A true gentleman, simple and humble, which is a gift to the great people. Great as its wines, where every gold drop is combined with tradition, knowledge, experience and nature. Vlado, thank you very much and thanks for your sincere hospitality!
Seriously shaken and above all looking forward to our wine route, we go to the last station that evening - the beautiful estate of the Akademija Graševine, which combines hotel, catering and wine-making, located in the vicinity of Kutjevo. The restaurant within the facility offers a variety of choices of top seasonal delicacies prepared with homemade food, and visitors can enjoy a walk in vineyards, bicycling, children's playground and accommodation in one of the ten rooms. Friendly hosts took care that the food would be very good after the wine cellar adventures, and they prepared the homemade bread with flavoured lard, pasta with bacon and fresh cheese, and for the main course pork medaillon stuffed with dried plums on white and yellow polenta. The dessert story was especially effective when the waiters served it on glass panels about two meters long.
The next morning the road took us to the "world capital of wine and the Croatian capital of Graševina". Namely, with these words, Mayor Josip Budimir welcomed us in the centre of Kutjevo. Among other things, he mentioned that the town of Kutjevo has enormous tourist potential and can even head the continental tourism in Croatia but currently the biggest problem is insufficient accommodation capacity. It is indicative that we had a conversation in front of the beautiful, newly-restored Kutjevo Castle building, which would greatly contribute to accommodation issues with thirty high-class rooms but it is registered as a closed-type heritage hotel.
After visiting the castle, we enter the oldest Croatian wine cellar dating back to 1232, built by the priestly order of Cistercian. The basement is owned by Kutjevo d.d. which is the largest wine producer in the region, and can boast with the second largest wine barrel in Croatia, 53.520-litre Slavonian oak barrel. Here the wine has been drinking for more than 750 years, says sommelier Drago Humski, while introducing us through the story and into the depths of the romantic and mystic-inspirational Kutjevo wine cellar. It's perfect for resting soul and body, feeling the spirit of old times, and the complete relaxation is certainly accompanied by the lack of cell phone signals. And more than the relaxation, according to the legend, took two famous personalities, Emperor Maria Theresa and Baron Franjo Trenk. Namely, after they had been "touched" by the selected wines, they dispersed the servants and the cellar workers, and on the central table of the basement, they left their common trace in the form of recesses. Anyone who puts their hands on the table, if they think of a fiery love wish, one will soon realize it. I'm sure your hand will be in the right place of the legendary cellar that you should definitely visit.
The opposite of Kutjevo is the ultra-modern wine cellar Galić. Already on the outside, the new building shows modern style, and such a modern industrial architecture continues with the entry into the winery and basement that is like the commanding bridge of Spacecraft Enterprise. Top quality is a space where you can do almost everything about wine from verification, processing, production, bottling and tasting, which I warmly recommend in the glazed barrique basement with 152 barrels of red wine in which always plays classical music. In modern tongue - definitely "must see".
In the very centre of Kutjevo, there is also the winery Tandara with its basement partially buried in the hill due to the isolation and control of fermentation wines. The interesting thing for this producer is that it is dominated by women, so we have been welcomed by the wine queen Nikolina Tandara with her young Graševina, and since 2003 they produce Rhine Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend.
After a total of five guided tastings, we spent so much time in the wine cellars that we personally started competing with fine archival wines and it was high time to learn more about the charms and beauties of the open space and the green idyllic Papuk Nature Park at Novo Zvečevo where we had a rich lunch and homemade šljivovica brandy welcome by the head of luxury villas Montis Aurea, Mr Igor Salak. A total of four representative buildings located at an altitude of 447 meters in the vicinity of pristine nature and pure mountain air are enough motives to go with one’s family or company to this geopark. Whether you want to relax after cycling, hiking, and recreation in the forest areas, you can do it in the pool, Finnish sauna or Jacuzzi with a beautiful view of the greenery that surrounds you.
As everything good always comes to an end, so did we too. While reading these lines, someone else enjoys the full benefits and beauties of this famous wine district, sips a glass of golden Graševina while looking at the many Slavonian delicacies prepared with love and served with sincere and great Slavonian hospitality. So do not wait for this journey to the Golden Valley because the old proverb says that we will not be here, but the good wine will certainly be enjoyed in.