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

Monday, 26 October 2020

22 Decanter Medals for Ludbreg and Varazdin Vineyards

October 26, 2020 (Press release) - Decanter 2020. – 22 medals and 11 recommendations for a modern, fresh, low-alcohol wine

Ludbreg and Varaždin vineyards deserve to be on the Croatian wine map

The new premium wine region is located in Varaždin County, the region of modern, fresh, low-alcohol wines. At the 17th Decanter World Wine Awards 2020 in London, the world’s most prestigious wine evaluation, 11 wineries from Varaždin and Ludbreg vineyards creating wines with a lot of passion and love, won as many as 22 medals and 11 recommendations.

Silver and bronze medals were won mostly by family wineries that can cope with the best in the world in terms of quality, which has now been confirmed by the world's most respected experts.

varazdin-vineyards (2).jpg

This is a great success, especially if it is known that, with the encouragement and support of Varaždin County, they sent a significant number of wine samples for the first time for a prestigious evaluation in London. More precisely, 35 samples were personally selected by the Croatian sommelier champion and Decanter judge Siniša Lasan.

"After the first 'scan' and conversation with the winemakers, I saw a tremendous potential that is now proven by the results of the most rigorous, but also the highest quality exhibition. This is a big step, but we need to work harder and better to finally seriously include these two vineyards, Varaždin and Ludbreg, on the wine list of Croatia. Results like this will help, and I believe that next year we can reach gold," Lasan pointed out explaining that this year wines were evaluated only by the UK judges, and autochthonous varieties were preferred.

varazdin-vineyards (4).jpg

Among the 11 members of the Decanter wine national team of the Varaždin County, the most successful one was Kopjar Winery, winner of one silver (Graševina) and four bronze medals (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Yellow, Rhine Riesling). The judges vividly described their Graševina as a wine "with an intense taste of poached pear with an indication of acacia and tea leaves".

The highest score was given to Košćak Winery for its Sauvignon, which they could not resist even in London.

"Lively and upbeat Sauvignon with fresh green notes and a long finish," the judges described.

Among the winners is also the Kotolenko Wine Temple, for which wine production has been the main source of income for more than half a century.

varazdin-vineyards (1).jpg

"Look for wine where it is created by human hands," is the motto under which the Kotolenko family creates Pinot Gris, Muscat Yellow, Sauvignon, and other top wines on the fairytale hills of Varaždin County.

"Our goal is to produce a good wine of continuous quality every year. With a lot of work, commitment, love, and knowledge, nothing is impossible. Evaluating at the Decanter is proof that we work well and that we go the right way. It is now our responsibility to be even more committed to quality and to spread the wine story beyond the borders of Varaždin County. Because a day without wine is like a day without sun," concluded Slavko Kotolenko, still under the impression of success in London.

Wines from the Varaždin and Ludbreg vineyards deservedly enjoy the interest of the wine public, which is not surprising, given that Varaždin County is the second most successful in Croatia in terms of the number of medals, awards, and registered samples at Decanter. As many as 35 samples were sent, out of which 22 wines received medals and another 11 wine recommendations. With this, they achieved an incredible, 95 percent success rate at the largest wine competition in the world with more than 16,500 entries from almost 50 countries around the world!

Wine promotion and branding activities continue at an even stronger pace.  Awarded wines have a 'Decanter' label as a quality guarantee, a special catalog with a detailed presentation of all awarded wines has been printed, and it is planned to have wine workshops with caterers and distributors throughout Croatia.


All medals of the Wine national team of Varaždin County – Decanter 2020.

Silver medals were won by Košćak Winery for Sauvignon Blanc, Mežnarić Wines for Pinot Noir, Kopjar Winery for Graševina, Najman Winery for Rhine Riesling, and Makar Winery for Graševina.

Bronze was won by Košćak Winery for Rhine Riesling, Mežnarić Wines for Muscat, Kopjar Winery for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Yellow, and Rhine Riesling semi-dry, Najman Winery for Pinot Noir, Makar Winery for Manzoni White, Kežram Winery for Rajn Riesling, Kotolenko Wine Temple for Pinot Gris and Muscat Yellow, Šafran Winery for Graševina and Manzoni White, Lovrini Vineyards for Brut Nature sparkling wine, Stručić Winery for Chardonnay, and Maruševec Castle for Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Recommendations were given to Košćak Winery for Cabernet Franc, Mežnarić Wines for Sauvignon Blanc, Najman Winery for Sauvignon Blanc, Kežman Winery for Muscat Yellow, Kotolenko Wine Temple for Sauvignon Blanc, Šafran Winery for Traminer White, Lovrini Vineyards for Sauvignon Blanc and Rhine Riesling, Stručić Winery for Rhine Riesling and Graševina, and Maruševec Castle for Sauvignon Blanc.

Thursday, 16 March 2017