Thursday, 11 November 2021

Martinje - Saint Martin's Day Celebrated Across Croatia

November 11, 2021 – Saint Martin's Day is today celebrated across Croatia. It's a time to be thankful for the successful harvest that will tide you through winter. We take a look at Saint Martin, his close connection to Croatia and the distinct traditions here that mark his day

Saint Martin or Martin of Tours is one of the most recognised of all Christian saints. He is the patron saint of beggars, wool-weavers and tailors, soldiers, geese and the country of France. He is also the patron saint of innkeepers and winemakers. He is celebrated all over the Christian world on September 11, the day of his burial (Saint Martin died on 8th November, 397, and was buried three days later).

wine-259876_1920.jpegAcross Europe, the long-held celebration of Saint Martin's Day is closely associated with the autumn harvest - in Croatia, particularly the wine harvest in continental regions

The feast of Saint Martin began to be celebrated in France, where he died, before spreading all across Europe and the Christian world. In the northern hemisphere, Saint Martin's Day coincides with a key time of year. It is the end of harvest time, the beginning of natural winter. It is the time for food to be conserved for the forthcoming colder months, the time for animals to be slaughtered and vegetables to be preserved. It is also the time when the year's first new beer and wine first become ready to drink. Depending on the local crops and climate of the country, Saint Martin's Day can be associated with different foods and drinks. But there are recurring associations, in particular throughout Europe. In the great winemaking country of Croatia, Saint Martin's Day is often most closely linked to that particular agricultural endeavour.

Louis Anselme Longa, La Charité de Saint-Martin Huile sur toile. Eglise de Saint-Martin d'Oney.jpgSaint Martin depicted in Louis Anselme Longa's, La Charité de Saint-Martin Huile sur toile

Saint Martin feels at home in Croatia. And well he might. Martin of Tours was born less than 90 kilometres from today's Croatian border, in Pannonia, present-day Hungary. His father was a tribune in the Roman army and, being the son of such, Martin was required to follow in his footsteps. At the age of 18, he was stationed in Amiens, present-day France, probably as an elite cavalry bodyguard of the Emperor, who accompanied the leader on his travels around the Empire. We actually know quite a lot about the life of Saint Martin. So important did he become to the spread of early Christianity in the region, that many details about his life were recorded by a biographer, Sulpicius Severus. Not only did Severus live within Martin's lifetime, but also he actually met him.

Martinje-visit daruvar.jpgA previous celebration of Saint Martin's Day in Daruvar © TZ Daruvar

While Martin was still a soldier, it is said he experienced a vision. One day, as he was approaching the city of Amiens, he met a beggar. Martin instinctively cut his military cloak in two, so he could share his clothing with the poor man. That night, Martin dreamed Jesus was wearing the half-cloak he had given away.

Martin's cloak became a famous relic and was preserved in the Marmoutier Abbey near Tours. During the Middle Ages, it was carried by the king into battle and used as a Holy relic upon which oaths were sworn. When it was not in use, so important was the cloak that it was assigned its own military priest who would watch over it. He was called a cappellanu, his title taken from the Italian word capella, meaning cloak. This is the origin of the word chaplain that we use today to describe a priest assigned to the military. And it is the origin of the word chapel, meaning small church, which comes from the building assigned to house Martin's cloak.

Saint Martin and the Beggar by Anthony van Dyck.jpgAnother depiction of Martin splitting his cloak for the beggar - Saint Martin and the Beggar by Anthony van Dyck

Opinions about the length of time Martin spent in the army vary, as he is said to have renounced violence - in keeping with the Christian faith he had adopted before joining. However long he spent in service, it is to a life of religious devotion he entered upon his departure from the ranks. He travelled back home and is said to have converted his mother in Pannonia to Christianity. Thereafter, he returned to present-day France with his mentor, Hilary of Poitiers, where he helped establish a building that would become the oldest known monastery in Europe, Ligugé Abbey. From there, he toured the region preaching Christianity, spreading his religion and, perhaps unwittingly, also his name.

graddugoselo.jpgIn this picture, the local clergy bless the full harvest in Dugo Selo on Saint Martin's Day © Grad Dugo Selo

Being a renowned Holy man, Martin was asked to attend a sick man in the city of Tours. The request was a ruse. Christians within the city wanted to have Martin as their bishop and had lured him there. Reticent to take up the position, Martin is said to have run away and hidden among a barn full of geese to avoid his persuaders. This is where the association of Martin with geese comes from. In many countries, the cooking of a goose is traditional on Saint Martin's Day, including Croatia. Not everyone has always been able to afford such a grand bird - poorer families have traditionally served duck, turkey or, more recently, chicken on Saint Martin's Day. The traditional accompaniment in Croatia is layers of pasta known as mlinci.

mlinci.pngMlinci, sheets of thin pasta, traditionally served as an accompaniment to a roasted bird in Croatia, especially on Saint Martin's Day

As bishop of Tours, Martin had a much greater responsibility and area to minister over. In these early days of Christianity, it was all too common for force and the military to become involved in the conversion of non-believers. But, Martin had renounced violence. He used an alternate method - the power of persuasion. Martin is said to have been such a formidable opponent in discussion that royalty would often refuse to grant him an audience for fear he would inevitably leave with the terms he sought. He regularly campaigned for the forgiveness and freedom of prisoners, even those whose religious views he opposed.

kutjevo2.jpgSome of Croatia's best white wines come from Kutjevo in Slavonia - it's no surprise to see them go big for Saint Martin's Day © Kutjevo doo

From the late 4th century to the late Middle Ages, a 40-day period of fasting starting the day after Saint Martin's Day was observed over much of Christian Europe. This long period eventually relaxed and receded, becoming known as Advent – the time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. However, what remained was the great feast enjoyed just before the fasting commenced - Saint Martin's Day.

visitmedimuje.jpgA typical scene from St Martin's Day in Medimurje © Visit Medimurje

Martinje or Saint Martin's Day in Croatia

In Croatia, Saint Martin is the patron saint of Beli Manastir in Baranja, Virje in Koprivnica–Križevci County and Čepinski Martinci in Slavonia. Each has a church named after Saint Martin. These are far from the only places where Saint Martin's Day is significant in Croatia. In Istria, as work in vineyards would come to an end, winemakers would often come together to taste the fruits of their labour together. Saint Martin's is celebrated across several days there, from village to village, and tradition holds that the new wine most liked on Saint Martin’s Day will be the best wine next year.

3bc7aa7f337d2b6d218588b9fca9e94f_L.jpgCelebrating Saint Martin's Day is a long-held tradition in Croatia, as this old photo from Požega City Museum attests

Like Istria, northern and eastern continental Croatia have an extremely strong reputation for producing great white wine. It is the harvest of the white wine grapes that most closely coincides with Saint Martin's Day, so it's little surprise to see it marked so significantly in these regions. In particular, Sveti Martin na Muri in Međimurje, all of Koprivnica–Križevci County, Požega and Kutjevo in Slavonia, Daruvar in Bjelovar-Bilogora County, Velika Gorica, Sveti Ivan Zelina and Dugo Selo in Zagreb County are big fans of Martinje. But, many other places where white wine is made also celebrate Saint Martin's Day, such as within Šibenik-Knin County. In the more easterly parts of Slavonia, they traditionally celebrate their wine with a blessing of the fields on Saint Vincent's Day (22 January).

purica_4-maja-danica-pecanic.jpgTurkey and mlinci is a dish commonly served on Saint Martin's Day in Croatia. Both the turkey and mlinci of the Zagorje region are protected by the EU for their distinct place of origin © Maja Danica Pecanic / Croatian National Tourist Board

Within these regions, in particular, the folk custom of 'Baptising' the wine, to purify it, is a part of proceedings. In many places, this is even done by a real priest. The ceremony frequently takes place on town squares and is enthusiastically attended by locals. After the lighthearted formalities, the celebrations are usually extended with food, music and, of course, wine.

grad daruvar.jpgAnother scene from a previous Saint Martin's in Daruvar © Grad Daruvar

Outside of continental regions, the island of Korčula is one of the few places in southern Dalmatia where Saint Martin's Day is seriously celebrated. The party there starts the night before, with children making a procession with lanterns. This is a commonplace way to celebrate Saint Martin's Day in The Netherlands, some parts of Germany and Belgium. Indeed, so significant is the day in western Flanders, Belgium, that children receive their annual gifts on Saint Martin's Day instead of December 25th. They don't go that far on Korčula, but they do make special foods for the occasion and celebrate Saint Martin's Day, like many places in Croatia, with joyous song and dance.

47_KUTJEVO3.jpg© Kutjevo doo

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Croatia Wine: ”Every Visit Is A Voyage Of Discovery”

August 9, 2020 - Meet Marc Hough, a former international DJ who became a wine importer after visiting Dubrovnik and trying Croatia wine. In 2020, he returns for his 20th summer.

Situated in the north of England, about halfway up the island called Great Britain, the city of Manchester is famous for its football and music. Mancunians are proud of this. Two members of TCN are from the city, and when someone local asks “Odakle si?”, usually we say “Ja sam iz Manchestera” (I am from Manchester). We don't say "I'm from England" or "Great Britain". Everyone knows where Manchester is.

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Marc Hough, a former international DJ. His passion for the Plavac he discovered in Dubrovnik turned him into a wine merchant.

20 years ago, Marc Hough was a high profile member of Manchester's famous music scene. He counts members of bands like The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays as close personal friends. As longstanding DJ to New Order (the band that was once Joy Division), he toured the world playing the music of Manchester to many. But, no more.

“I reached the age of 40 in 2010 and thought, what am I doing with my life?” Hough told TCN over the phone, as he was preparing for a trip Dubrovnik. “DJing and the music business is a young man's game.”

And so, inspired by an enthusiasm for Croatia wine, he turned his back on a high profile DJ career and became a wine bar owner and wine merchant.

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One of Marc's 'Cork Of The North' wine bars / stores near Manchester © Cork Of The North

“When I started, I was literally just selling wine out of the back of my car. I only had five customers and three of those were my dad, my brother and me!” remembers Marc, who has built his independent business considerably since then. He is now a wholesaler, recommending and selling wines to top bars and restaurants in the north of England. He has also opened two of his own wine bars 'Cork Of The North' (which are also wine shops), in Sale and Heaton Moor, near Manchester.

“Croatia plays such a big part in the story,” stresses Marc. “I've been visiting Dubrovnik for over 20 years. I had a friend from there who I met in Manchester. She came to live here for a while to escape the war. After it finished, she went home, invited me to Dubrovnik and I just fell in love with the place.”

“There was a wine bar in the Old Town called D'Vino, run by a half Croatian half Australian guy called Saša. After I saw what he was doing there with Croatia wine, I thought that's exactly the kind of place I'd like to have in Manchester.”

Already passionate about wine thanks to his grandad, that first trip to Dubrovnik made Marc curious to return. On his next visit to Croatia, he travelled further than just the Pearl of the Adriatic and went to the source of some Croatia wine itself.

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Part of the Pelješac peninsula, which features heavily in Marc's 20-year affair with Croatia wine © Anto

“I came back on a sailing holiday with Bernard Sumner (guitarist of Joy Divison and singer of New Order),” Marc recalls. “He loves sailing and he has his own boat. We went all round Pelješac, Korčula, Brač. I fell in love with Dingač. Since then, I've travelled all of Dalmatia and through Istria learning about the wines. I've been to Bosnia to try their varieties like Vranac. But, for me, the most recent, amazing discovery has been Slavonia. They make some incredible white wines there; Graševina, Cabernet Franc, Traminac.”

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New Order, the band that was once Joy Division. Marc Hough toured the world as their DJ © RL GNZLZ

“For me, it's always half holiday, half work,” Marc tells us, as he packs for his 20th annual trip to Dubrovnik, which begins on Sunday 11 August. “Amazing views, amazing people, amazing food and amazing wine. But, the wine always inspires thoughts of work. I can't help myself. I love visiting the vineyards, meeting the winemakers. It's not the same as when you do it in other countries. In Croatia, you'll often be invited into the kitchen or onto the terrace of the winemaker's home. You'll leave with arms full of different bottles - some gifted - and you can even be sold fine wine unceremoniously in a plastic bottle. I love that informal, homemade feel of the experience. It's charming and honest. When I go on buying trips in France, Spain and Italy, it's rarely like that.”

Dubrovnik's tourist season has this year stalled in response to COVID-19. Its visitors' reliance on charter air and cruise ships has proved inflexible. Yet, a little further up the coast, in Makarska and Omiš, the city centres are now full of families who drive to these places every year. Dubrovnik's offer is more once-in-a-lifetime, less loyalty. Unless, of course, it's the wines and not the walls that call you to Dubrovnik.

“It's inevitable that I'll find something new that I want to bring back with me,” Marc says of his impending trip. “Every visit is a voyage of discovery. This time, although I'll again be based around Dubrovnik, I'm determined to go to Slavonia to look at some Graševina and Cabernet Franc, which thrives in the terroir there.”

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Marc Hough with just one of his famous friends from the Manchester music scene. Bez, of the band Happy Mondays, is now a customer at Cork Of The North © Cork Of The North

“I wanted to start importing Croatia wines years ago but, for someone at my level, it was so difficult before Croatia became a full member of the EU. Tariffs were payable on the borders and if you wanted to move wines from south Dalmatia - Dubrovnik and the islands - you'd have to go through the border with Bosnia. I lost several whole shipments to the Bosnian police, who said my paperwork was incorrect (it wasn't). It's much better these days. But, there's still very little Croatian wine in the UK, even though the interest in Croatia wine is massive. There's a big demand from people who are really passionate about wine, but also people who come back from holiday, have enjoyed Croatian wine, go searching for it, and just can't find it.”

Cork Of The North varies its selection of fine wines throughout the year. At the moment, Marc stocks Kozlović Teran and Kozlović Malvasia from Istria and Septem Pontes Plavac Mali from Pelješac.

“For an independent like me, I buy an export pallet for each wine I want to bring back. That's 600 bottles of each wine.,” he says, “and as my own personal passion right now is for Graševina, I expect at least one of those to be filled with Slavonian wine on this trip.”

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Marc Hough on one of his Croatia wine buying excursions

Monday, 28 May 2018

The Indigenous Grapes of Korčula: Pošip

May 28, 2018 - Continuing our look at the grapes of Croatia - a white wine synonymous with Korčula - Pošip.

Korčula island has several well known and respected indigenous varieties of white wine, and Pošip is among them. It is mostly grown in the sheltered fields in the central part of the island, Čara and Smokvica fields and around them, where most of the work in the vineyard is still done by hand, because of difficult approach. This is probably the variety of wine with best researched history, that goes back to the exact year (1864) and location when the first vine was discovered and started spreading in the fields of Čara and Smokvica.

The genetic analysis performed on the variety has shown that it comes from two less known varieties, Bratkovina Bijela and Zlatarska Bistrica, both varieties present exclusively on Korčula, so it is certain that Pošip was not brought to Korčula by sea (supposedly, by the Greeks who started growing vines on the island). In the last 30 or 40 years (in the sixties Pošip wine was the first white quality wine officially given that title) it has been cultivated elsewhere on the Croatian coast, on Pelješac, islands of Brač and Hvar and as north as Ravni kotari close to Zadar. The name of the variety has interesting story behind it – actually, it has two. “Pošip” either comes from a local word that describes the specific shape of the berry, or because the original vines were grown next to and around the pomegranate tree (šipak), which grows abundantly in the area.

The grapes are picked relatively early, and are unusually sweet for such an early variety, with adequate acids. One of the things wine-lovers almost never do is eat the grapes fresh, off the vine, but with Pošip – if you ever get the chance, go for it, it’s delicious to eat! Once the leftover grapes that haven’t been eaten are turned into wine, it is golden yellow in colour, very viscous in the glass, dry, it has relatively high alcohol content (sometimes over 14 percent) and the aroma is very fruity, reminiscent of apricots, citrus fruits, almonds and figs. Aged Pošip wine is best served at 12 – 14 °C, and should be had with grilled white fish or any type of seafood, white meats and stronger cheeses. Younger, fresher wine goes excellent with shellfish and as an aperitif. Some of the producers age the wine in oak barrels and then in the bottles, and Pošip from an oak barrel will be best friends with the octopus.

Traditionally, dessert wine was also made with Pošip grapes, but these days not a lot of desert Pošip wine can be found. Many local producers create excellent Pošip, and probably most famous is PZ Pošip Čara. One very famous wine-making name is also making some wonderful Pošip wine: Mike Grgich in his Pelješac winery, and so is the Korta Katarina winery from Orebić. On Korčula side of the channel there are other excellent producers of Pošip, Intrada Krajančić winery, Šain-Marelić winery and Kunjas winery headed by a very young chief oenologist, making some breakthroughs. Outside of the Korčula area Bibich is producing Pošip in his vineyards around Skradin, Plenković has vineyards near Makarska and his Pošip won Decanter awards, showing that there is great potential for Pošip beyond Korčula. Additionally, if you ever see a Pošip made on Brač, called Pošip Stina, you will recognize it as it has one of the most notable wine labels in Croatia.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A Wine Road for the Island of Korčula

May 22, 2018 - Famed as the birthplace of Marco Polo, the island of Korcula has many other reasons to visit these days, including the fabulous white wines of local varieties Grk and Pošip. A virtual wine road of Croatia's most important white wine island. 

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Pošip Days in Smokvica

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Wines of Korčula

The story of winemaking in Korčula is an ancient tale, dating back to the Greeks, but these days it can be summarized into two major winegrowing regions, and three most significant wine varieties grown on the island.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Wine Tasting

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Agrotourism Bačić

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

PZ Korčula Winery

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Milina Winery

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