Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Meet the Only Master of Wine Tasting Experience in Croatia: Jo Ahearne MW

July 9, 2019 - The Croatian wine scene welcomed its first resident Master of Wine in 2014, as Jo Ahearne MW moved from London to Hvar. Since then her wines from Hvar grape varieties have been a hit nationally and internationally. Here is how you can taste them. 

It’s been just under five years since Australian-trained winemaker and Master of Wine Jo Ahearne first came to Hvar to start her eponymous winery Ahearne Vino. And what a five years it’s been - her Plavac Mali, ‘South Side’, was voted number five in Decanter magazine’s top Balkan red wines; her rosé, Rosina (named after her mother), was voted both in the top five influential Croatian wines by Saša Špiranec and expert’s tip in Decanter magazine; her amber wine, Wild Skins, awarded 90 points by Decanter magazine and voted in the top ten Croatian wines by Kult Plave Kamenice  while the same publication awarded her Pošip 93 points. 

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Now ensconced in the old co-operative building in the beautiful hilltop village of Vrisnik with four wines under the Ahearne Vino banner, Jo has gone from strength to strength. Exporting Croatian wine to seven countries (with two more coming up soon), she has now prepared the winery to receive visitors this summer. So I thought it was time for the man who was responsible for introducing her to the island of Hvar to see what all the fuss was and go and enjoy one of her in-depth ‘geek tastings’. 

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I’d spoken to Sarah Jane Begonja from Chasing the Donkey blog about the Villa tasting Jo had done in Zadar a few months back and laughed when she’d told me one of the guests hadn’t invited his girlfriend because he ‘didn’t realise how much fun it’d be’. I guess many people would assume a tasting held by an MW (there are more astronauts than Masters of Wine) would be all wordy and worthy with at least one test paper at the end!

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I can certainly concur - Jo has a great capacity to educate people about food and wine by using simple language that normal people can relate to and understand. And if you want to talk football and West Ham United, you have come to the right winery. 

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(Jo in Kyoto on her recent tour of Japan and Australia - she exports her Hvar wines to both countries)

But not to fear, the tasting is full of humour with stories from Jo’s time in Croatia and from her work around the world. We tasted wine from her barrels and tanks while she explained where the grapes came from and how everything is made. She made it seem a lot more straightforward than it probably is! We then moved outside to grab a chair, look at the amazing view of the Hvar mountains and taste through her bottled wines. 

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(Jo relaxing with Split expats last summer after conducting a tasting on board)

Of course, Jo does less in-depth tastings of just her bottled wines and, in recognition that some people just don’t want to leave the pool, she brings the tasting to your villa or yacht. But for those who want to really get to grips with the island and its wines she has a four-wheel drive vineyard tour, tasting and lunch - after that you might even be inspired to start the Master of Wine journey yourself......

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(Jo conducting one of her private villa tastings on Hvar)

And so to the tasting in her winery in Vrisnik, which has a lovely rustic feel, as well as divine mountain views. Vrisnik is an inland village about 3km from Jelsa and 7km from Stari Grad. An authentic and quiet Dalmatian village where you can taste great wines made from Hvar grape varieties crafted by hands from London. All fab. In order to be a bit more useful to the reader, I asked Jo to tell us a little about her wines:

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(Photo credit Mirko Crncevic)

Rosina - made from Darnekuša,  a nearly extinct variety which brings elegance, freshness and complexity to rosé.  Raspberry and cherry flavours with a great structure and texture from 8 months lees contact.

Wild Skins - fermenting local varieties on skins brings more flavour and structure than would normally exist. Quince and pear with a hint of toast and honey. Fresh but textured and complex. 

South Side Plavac Mali - using only fruit from the best sites on the steep, southern hills, this wine is more elegant and perfumed than many Plavac Mali. Relying on gentle, hand extraction and ageing in refined, low key French oak barrels for 18 Months the South Side has supple tannins with raspberry, plum flavours and a hint of chocolate and the aromas of hillside herbs. 

Pošip - lemon and white peach with an underlying toasty note from an element of barrel fermentation in old French barrique. Smooth texture from 9 month sur lie and a gentle kick of spice from a little skin contact.

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A really fun, educational and completely unsnobbish wine tasting experience from the only Master of Wine in Croatia. 

You can contact Jo on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 00385 917664515 or follow Ahearne Vino on Facebook




Monday, 19 November 2018

British Master of Wine Jo Ahearne Exports to Japan from Hvar

November 20, 2018 - Jo Ahearne is the first Master of Wine to make wine in Croatia, and now her indigenous Hvar wines are en route to Japan.

I don't even dare ask how she did it.

Croatian bureaucracy has featured a lot on TCN in recent weeks, as we have been highlighting some of the absurdities of life here, as well as issues foreigners are experiencing trying to get residence permits. But every once in a while, there is a heartwarming tale of success against all the odds, and this one is really worth celebrating. 

I first met Jo Ahearne MW 4-5 years ago at the Dalmacija Wine Expo trade fair, as we ended up sitting on the back row of Sasa Spiranec's excellent masterclass of the 2011 Plavac Mali vintage. Soon after, Jo Ahearne made the pioneering decision to move to the island of Hvar to make wines from the various indigenous grapes of the island, kicking off with a delightful rose from the Darnekusa grape, Rosina. 

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And while it didn't take Ahearne long to become noticed in the world of wine in Croatia, scoring 93/100 with her first ever Posip, and having her Wild Skins included in the best ten wines in Croatia last year, the more fascinating story for me was how she managed to navigate the bureaucracy and wine world in rural Croatia, and still succeed. 

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It was a brave move indeed to move to a country with not a word of the language and head to live on an island, and not even one of the main centres of population. All that would have been manageable, without the additional joys of Croatian paperwork, from permits to say to getting the right labels. Many is the time over the last few years that Jo and I have swapped frustrations over the crazy bureaucracy here over a beer. But while others gave up, Jo Ahearne kept on going strong. I truly hope she starts a wine blog about her adventures here - it would make fascinating and very entertaining reading.  For all the problems, Jo has come across helpful officials on her journey who have helped enormously. 

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Getting the wine into the bottle is one huge milestone, getting it to the market yet one more, but actually managing to negotiate the paperwork for export to Japan (she is shipping Rosina, Plavac and Wild Skins) from her tiny Hvar winery in the village of Vrisnik is a phenomenal achievement, perhaps one that can only be fully appreciated by residents of the madhouse we know as The Beautiful Croatia. In addition to Australia next, exports to USA, Belgium, Germany, Slavonia, Serbia and UK will follow in early 2019.

Congratulations, Jo, very impressive on so many levels. And I do encourage you to check out Ahearne Wines and the sale and tasting options at Ahearne Vino on Hvar - a fantastic experience. You can follow Jo Ahearne's wine adventure in Croatia on the Ahearne Vino Facebook page

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