Friday, 22 January 2021

22 January: Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia

January 22, 2021 – January 22 is Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia. Marked significantly in continental winemaking regions, its folk traditions pre-date Christianity and are celebrated with food, wine, music and merriment

Nearing the end of January, it's not uncommon to see snow on the fields of Croatia. The ground can be hard, brittle, frozen. There's little to be done in them right now. And yet, on 22 January in Croatia, winemakers traditionally head to their vineyards. They do this not to undertake a day's work – for today is a day of rest. Instead, they go there to mark the tradition of Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

Croatia_Baranja_Belje_Vineyard_0184_1.jpgSt. Vincent's Day in Baranja © Romulić & Stojčić

Vinceška, Vincekovo, Vinkovo, Vincelovo, Vinceće - St. Vincent's Day

As a name, Vincent has many variants, Vinko being one popular in Croatia. Similarly, Vincekovo is also known by several different names. For example, St. Vincents Day in Baranja is called Vinceška, in Erdut it's Vincekovo, in Ilok it's Vinkovo, but you can also hear it called Vincelovo and even Vinceće.

Vincekovo_GVT-2019-14a_1.jpgVincekovo marked with wine and meat in traditional folk costume in Varaždinske Toplice © Grad Varaždinske Toplice

Vincekovo is mostly marked in the northern continental area of the country and throughout the entire far east of Croatia - eastern Slavonia, Baranja and the Croatian part of Syrmia, around Ilok. In these places, it is a day inextricably linked with the production of wine. That people seem to associate St Vincent as 'the wine guy' seems reasonable – Vinko and vino (the Croatian word for wine) are almost the same, right? Well, not quite.

The related name Viktor (also used in Croatia) actually gives us the best example of the meaning of the name. Vincent comes from the Latin word 'vincere' (to conquer or to be victorious). But, although it looks similar in Latin, the word for wine is much, much older. And it may have an entirely different root.

Ilok2020.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2020 © Youtube screenshot

Why we say 'wine'

Nobody is really sure where the word 'wine' comes from. The ancient Greek word 'oinos' certainly pre-dates the Latin but its true origins have been lost in time. This provides an entertaining mystery for today. Fascinatingly, we find a common origin word for wine in several completely different language groups.

You can trace the historic use of the word 'wine' through a vast territory. In ancient times, the name was used in the area of what is today southern Russia and nearby in the Caucasus. Although they belong to a different non-Indo European language group, peoples in what is modern-day Georgia used the same word. In the western Semitic languages of the Levant (Arabic: wain, Hebrew: yayin) it is the same. In Mediterranean languages like Latin and Greek, it is also virtually the same word. Travelling back up to the territory of modern-day Russia, this time through regions where ancient Slavic and Germanic languages were spoken, the word is still the same. It seems that ever since people learned how to cultivate and ferment grapes, they have somehow all referred to the end product using the same word.

Who knows? Perhaps there is a shared origin for the words? As any winemaker will tell you, to make good wine, you do need to conquer the vines. DNA testing proves that the vines from which we grow grapes originally come from varieties that grew historically in the wild in an area that is today Russia and central Europe. Yet, the earliest traces of wine production are found in more southerly regions, where the climate is warmer. This journey itself is a conquering act of cultivation. In early Indo-European languages, the root 'wei' means to turn or to bend. Could the word wine be referring to human manipulation of the wild vines?

The earliest evidence of grapevine cultivation and wine production comes from the South Caucasus, present-day Georgia and dates back at least 8000 years.

1275px-Barry_capitaine._F._25._Grand_vase_pour_la_conservation_du_vin_en_Kacheti_Géorgie._Mission_scientifique_de_Mr_Ernest_Chantre._1881.jpgA Georgian man in traditional dress stands alongside a qvevri, a clay pot used for making Georgian wine in 1881. Once filled, the clay amphora are buried beneath the ground, which helps regulate the temperature of the fermenting wine. Evidence of winemaking in the region is the oldest in the world - it goes back 8000 years  © Public domain

Saint Vincent aka Vincent of Saragossa (Vinko iz Zaragoze)

Vicente_de_Zaragoza_by_Tomás_Giner_14621466_1.jpgVicente de Zaragoza by Tomás Giner

Although several saints share the name Vincent, the Saint Vincent we celebrate on 22 January is Vincent of Saragossa. Born to a well-off family in Saragossa (Zaragoza), north-eastern Spain, Vincent devoted his life to the church and became deacon in the Church of Saragossa. He was tortured under the persecution of Christians demanded by Roman Emperor Diocletian. Vincent was asked to renounce his faith - which he refused to do. Subsequently, he was martyred around the year 304. We mark St Vincent's Day in Croatia and the western Christian world on 22 January as this is presumed to be the actual day of his death. Vincent of Saragossa is not only the patron saint of winemakers but also of vinegar makers. This may come as a comfort to some less able wine producers.

Basilica_del_Pilar-sunset.jpgCathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and the Puente de Piedra bridge on the Ebro River in Saragossa, the birthplace of St Vincent © Paulo Brandao

Quite why the midwinter period of 22 January should be significant to winemakers poses some questions. “I have no idea!” one Dalmatian winemaker told TCN when asked to explain the significance of the day to his craft. “But, you know those Slavonians are all crazy, right?” And, on the surface, his unknowing is quite understandable. There is little happening in the frozen fields right now. But, it is possible that this celebration pre-dates not only St Vincent but also Christianity itself.

History of 22 January as Saint Vincent's Day (Vincekovo)

Vincekovo-slika-Likovna-Republika.jpgA Croatian painting tellingly shows how traditions of St Vincent's Day in Croatia have little changed over the years © Tourist Board Jestrebarsko

Everyone's favourite ancient God at the party, Dionysus had a wide portfolio of fun stuff to look after. He was the Greek God of wine, the grape harvest, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre. He was traditionally celebrated in the period from the 11th to the 13th of anthesterion - which in today's calendar corresponds to the period between late January - around now - and the start of February. On the wild feast of Dionysus (who is sometimes called Bacchus or Liber, as in liberty, freedom), barrels of new wine were broken open. The celebration marked the impending arrival of the new season – spring. And, this too is how people mark St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

1775px-Cornelis_de_Vos_-_El_triunfo_de_Baco.jpgThe Triumph of Bacchus, a 17th-century painting by Cornelis de Vos © Public domain

Several saints' days in Croatia and Europe correspond to significant points in the agricultural calendar. This tellingly reveals their pre-Christian roots. Another of those corresponding to winemaking is Martinje – St Martin's Day in Croatia (which you can read about here). However, Martinje is traditionally a more proletarian festivity – it comes at the end of the harvest when there is no more hard work for all the manual labourers to do. Vincekovo is a day more traditionally associated with their boss - the vineyard owner. It is also traditionally a more testosterone-filled affair – a sausage party, perhaps. Well, you could say that, and in more ways than one.

Vinceška-Vina-Belje-2019-21-960x640meats.jpgKulen and other sausages, hung traditionally beside the vines on St Vincent's Day - the company that made these, Belje, is one of the best and most famous in Croatia. They trace their history in the Baranja region back to the year 1697. In Baranja, you'll most likely hear this day called Vinceška © Belje

Music, food, theatre and wine - traditions of Vincekovo, Saint Vincent's Day in Croatia

Around this time of year, vines within the vineyard will be cut back. There are a limited amount of nutrients that can pass down a vine. This cutting back ensures the nutrients are concentrated and helps guarantee a limited but good crop. Whether this cutting back has actually taken place in days prior, on Vincekovo vineyard owners are charged with visiting their vines. Whatever the weather, they will march into the fields and ceremoniously cut back a vine. Usually, it's one with at least three new buds on. Traditionally, this vine is then brought into the home and placed in a watered jar. The progress of the buds supposedly predicts the next season's crops. Many other folk traditions associated with Vincekovo also serve the same purpose of 'predicting the crops'. Melting snow, rain and sunshine on Vincekovo are also regarded as predictors of a fine harvest. Although, some believe that water dripping from the eaves on Vincekovo could mean the year will be wet.

Pavlomir_Novi_Vinodol_Primorsko-Goranska.jpgVincekovo celebrated in Pavlomir, Novi Vinodol, Primorsko-Goranska County © Youtube screenshot

Again following Dionysian traditions, Slavonian people are famously gregarious. They rarely make the trip to the vineyard alone. Neighbours, family, friends and even musicians might make the journey with them and join in the blessing of the vines. In Croatia today, you can still see some people undertaking this ceremony in traditional folk costume.

Vinkovo_in_Ilok_2019.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2019. Brrrrrr! © Youtube screenshot

The vine that has been pruned is ritually sprinkled with old wine. Song and drinking accompany the ceremony. Both old and new wine may make an appearance. No Slavonia or Baranja party is complete without kulen, their king of sausages. And, on Vincekovo, it is traditional to hang kulen and/or švargla (another monstrous portion of preserved pig product) from a post. Supposedly, this theatre is done in order to encourage the next season's crop to be as fertile and bountiful as these sizeable sausages.

1626px-Sacrificio_a_Baco_Massimo_Stanzione.jpgSacrifice to Bacchus by Massimo Stanzione c. 1634 © Public domain. Some of the folk traditions observed on St Vincent's Day in Croatia probably pre-date Christianity

Hearty snacks usually accompany the celebration in the fields. After the ceremonious part is taken care of, people now think to return indoors. Although, not necessarily to your own home. Because now is the traditional time to march around the locale to visit the wine cellars of your neighbouring growers. If you're a winemaker of a Dionysian bent, you'll probably take along some food with you like kulen, a roasted pig or even the tamburica musicians who came to the fields with you. Croatians rarely arrive at a party with empty hands. If such treats are not taken to the event, probably they'll already be waiting in your neighbour's cellar. Although, you might have to pace yourself. If you live in an area of traditional winemaking, there could be quite a lot of neighbouring wine cellars to visit. Subsequently, celebrations on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia - can extend well into the night.

fishp.jpegFiš paprikaš is a spicy river fish stew, richly red from paprika. It is popular in Slavonia, Baranja and Syrmia. Along with the wild meats stew čobanac and whole šaran (carp), butterflied and cooked outside over an open flame, it is a warming and popular dish to eat in eastern Croatia on St Vincent's Day © Romulić & Stojčić

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Ludbreg's International Young Wine Exhibition Held

The town of Ludbreg hosted yet another edition of the International Young Wine Exhibition Vincekovo 2020 last Friday, and the international jury chose the best young wines of the year. 

It was the 28th edition of the festival, and for the first time, the jury was international, consisting of wine experts (oenologists and sommeliers from Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia), including Croatian Siniša Lasan, several-time Croatian Sommelier champion, and Decanter judge.

Varaždinske vijesti write about the exhibition: Zlatni trsek, the highest form of recognition of excellence (translated as "the gold vine") this exhibition gives to their wines, was awarded to 94 wines. The silver vine (Srebrni trsek) was awarded to 285 wines, and the bronze vine (Brončani trsek) to 106 wines. The champions of the Vincekovo 2020 exhibition are Sauvignon by the Kopjar family from Novi Marof in the white wines, and Tomislav Nadić's Syrah from Nadin (near Zadar!).

The ceremonial opening of the exhibition, which included the presentation of the awards for the best wines, was held on Friday night. Varaždin County Prefect Radimir Čačić said at the opening that the wines of Varaždin county and the Ludbreg region had started to showcase their excellence on the international stage of late and that it's something that needs to be continued.

The county is supportive of the winemakers and of the exhibition itself, and the winemakers need to take full advantage of that, either through education or through going to the most significant international exhibitions. He pointed out the pumpkin seed oil from Varaždin County as an example of how to brand the highest-quality product, which managed to create a fully recognisable brand within two years. The same can be achieved with wines, the Prefect said, but you need to improve and learn, as learning from the best is the only way to show progress.

Ludbreg mayor Dubravko Bilić said that the exhibition, while 28 years old, is still young enough (as young as the young wine!) to adjust and change: "The imperative is to be excellent, and to have the wines from the Ludbreg vineyards among the most recognizable in Croatia!"

Friday, 24 January 2020

Ludbreg Hosting Croatia's Largest International Young Wine Exhibition, 28th Edition

24 January, 2020 - Ludbreg winemakers will host the 28th edition of what has become the largest international exhibition of young wines in Croatia at the end of the month.

It is almost four years since I visited the small town of Ludbreg in northern Croatia, a town like no other in the country. Its name translates as 'Crazy Hill' and it is best known in Croatia for being 'the centre of the world.' As you can see from that initial trip report, Ludbreg has so much more to offer than its famous geographical location. 


And with each visit (it is now only half an hour from my new home in Varazdin county, new discoveries. I learned about the Vatican-authenticated Eucharistic Miracle of Ludbreg on my first visit, but it was only later that I realised that this is, in fact, the only authenticated miracle in Croatia, and you can visit it. It is an incredible story of three churches, one of which the Croatian Government promised to build a church of thanks in the miracle town in 1788 if God stopped an approaching plague. While God kept his side of the bargain, it took Croatia more than 200 years to build the church, as recently as 1994 in the middle of the Homeland War. It is a fascinating story, and there is a certain irony in that an increasing number of Polish pilgrims spend the night in Ludbreg (the authenticated miracle town), en route to Medjugorje, where nothing has been officially acknowledged. 

Coming from Dalmatia, the home of superb wines, including the original Zinfandel, I was surprised to find such a vibrant wine scene in places like Ludbreg. Or one so organised. While Dalmatia, despite its huge potential, still does not have a proper wine road, its winemakers far from united, Ludbreg boasts its own little wine road, as well as excellent cooperation between the winemakers, which manifests itself in the Ludbreg Wine Association, Trsek.


I was in Ludbreg on Thursday, where I learned another interesting fact about this unusual town - it has the biggest international exhibition of young wines in Croatia. E-Varazdin reported on the press conference in Ludbreg promoting the exhibition, a translation of which is below.

The 28th International Young Wine Exhibition titled "Vincekovo 2020", the biggest young wine exhibition in Croatia will be held on January 31st in Ludbreg.

The exhibition opening will be held at 5 pm at the Crnković hotel, after which the medals and awards will be presented. The visitors will be able to enjoy over 500 samples of young wine from all over Croatia, but also from Slovenia and Hungary, including those wines which have received the highest grades from the jury. The show was presented in the Crnković hotel by County Prefect Radimir Čačić, Ludbreg mayor Dubravko Bilić and President of the winemakers association from Ludbred Branko Kežman. This is the first year the exhibition will be titled "Vincekovo", and it will receive strong support from the County and the town of Ludbreg. 

ludbreg-wine (2).jpg

County Prefect Čačić said that around 500 samples of wine remain in the competition, after a fierce selection, which shows that the competition is strong, and the exhibition relevant. This is a region where modern, fresh wines of low alcohol and higher acids are made, and such wines are currently a global hit. Varaždin County is not a significant wine producer, as only between 1.5 and 2 per cent of Croatian wines are made in the County. However, the wines produced in the County are high-quality, which have recently been recognized on the global level, and Čačić said he expected around 10 to 15 wines made in the County to appear in the international competitions. And he also expects this exhibition to grow, and within 5 to 6 years it should be the best the County has to offer on Croatian and European level.

ludbreg-wine (3).JPG

Ludbreg has always been connected to wine, and in the last 20 or so years people find the ways to make money and present their region by making good wines, mayor Bilić said. This exhibition was a learning experience for many local winemakers, who have learned in the past 28 years how to make excellent wines, and now the time has come for the winemakers to get together and start creating a brand of Varaždin County wines. Ludbreg exhibition of young wines has become international, so this is another opportunity for the winemakers to create the tourist story that lasts throughout the year, that will benefit everyone. It's an opportunity for them, as tourists are looking more and more towards continental Croatia, and there is the potential to provide enjoyment for all the senses. Mayor Bilić confirmed the Prefect's words, that while they are small, they need to be excellent at everything they do.

ludbreg-wine (1).jpg

(TCN with Varazdin County Prefect Cacic and Ludbreg Mayor Bilic)

Almost thirty years ago, when the first exhibition was held in Ludbreg, the winemakers were in charge of grading the wines. These days the top experts do that work - enologists and sommeliers from Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia. Most of the wines at the exhibition are blends, and varietal wines are mostly Graševina, Rajnski Riesling and there's an increasing number of Moscatto wines, Branko Kežman from the Winemakers association from Ludbreg explained.

To follow the latest from Ludbreg, check out the dedicated TCN section