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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Radovanović Winery

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