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

Friday, 13 November 2020

AROUND ZAGREB VIDEO: Zagreb to Zagorje in a Yugo Car

ZAGREB November 13, 2020 - Continuing our series on things to see and do Around Zagreb, in this video we took a tour in a Yugo car from Zagreb to Zagorje to see some of the sights and sample some Zagorje cuisine

The Yugo is a car that was made in the former Yugoslavia. Zagreb tour guide Antonija Buntak loves these classic old-timers. She now takes people on trips around her home city, Zagreb, and Croatia in a Yugo. We took her Yugocar Adventure tour from Zagreb to Zagorje.

Lying north of Croatia's capital - just 45 minutes from Zagreb to Zagorje by car - in Zagorje you escape into a picturesque landscape of vineyards, traditional agriculture, gently rolling hills, pretty houses, and historic castles like Veliki Tabor. We visited the Old Village Museum of Kumrovec to see how the people of Zagorje used to live. And we tried traditional, homemade Zagorje food at Grešna Gorica. This restaurant specializes in the famous gastronomy of Zagorje and sits atop one of the region's small hills. It is surrounded by nature and has a great view.

“Almost everyone here above the age of 32 drove a Yugo at some point in their lives,” says Antonija. “When I turned 18, it was my first car. My dad gave it to me.”

A professional tour guide for 15 years, Antonija decided two years ago to combine her enthusiasm for these classic cars and her career. She launched Yugocar Adventure and now gives people an informed tour experience from the perspective of these classic cars.

Antonija currently has two different tours of Zagreb available on her website, where she writes a great blog about the trips. She also makes hand-tailored tours upon request and recently took one group on a two-day trip around the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes and the huge abandoned Željava Air Base near the Bosnian border.

118274293_2796918510543230_474001840566622371_n.jpgYou can take a Yugocar Adventure tour around the city of Zagreb, to Pltvice Lakes or to Kumrovec and Zagorje. Experienced tour guide Antonija also designs tailor-made trips in a Yugo upon request.© Yugocar Adventure

“After the Zagreb city tours, I think my second most popular tour is going from Zagreb to Zagorje, to Kumrovec, which is where Tito was born,” says Antonija. “It is not a Yugonostalgic trip. Kumrovec has been turned into an Ethno village, so you find out a lot about farmers lives in continental Croatia, you find out about crafts and traditions, which has nothing to do with communism. Basically, I'm always trying to cover Croatian culture and history. I'm just not focussing on the previous (communist) system. Although, I did get a few requests for a tour of socialist Zagreb, looking at places like the tower blocks in Novi Zagreb, so I'm thinking of writing a blog about that and offering it as another tour.”

People from many different countries have taken tours with Antonija in her Yugo car. She says she is frequently stopped at traffic lights by people with fond memories of the Yugo car, “I had the same one back in 1985!” is the type of comment she regularly gets. Indeed, on our trip from Zagreb to Zagorje a driving instructor in the next car at the traffic lights asked Antonija where he could buy a Yugo from - they're apparently good cars in which to learn driving.

Production of the Yugo car commenced in 1980. Its interiors were made in Split, Croatia and its brakes were made in Varaždin, also Croatia. Originally titled the Jugo, it was renamed Yugo in a bid to sell the car outside Yugoslavia. An affordable family car, the Yugo has sometimes been derided as slow and unreliable, but people who look after their vehicles claim that with the proper maintenance, this is not true. On our trip from Zagreb to Zagorje, we certainly had no problems with our Yugo.

Yugo's production ended on 11 November 2008 with 794,428 cars having been made, of which around 250,000 were exported to other countries.

On these links you can check out the other features in our Around Zagreb series:

Around Zagreb: Meet Zagreb Statues, Dressed for Tie Day

Around Zagreb Mirogoj Cemetery on All Saints

PHOTOS: Around Zagreb Dolac Market with a Michelin-starred Chef

Monday, 7 January 2019

Croatian Wine Regions: Croatian Uplands

January 7, 2019 — In the third article of the Croatian Wine Regions series, TCN unveils Croatian Uplands, the country's northernmost winemaking region.

Hrvatsko zagorje or Croatian uplands is most known for its indigenous white varieties Mirkovača, Moslavac, and Stara krapinska belina (lit. the old Belina of Krapina). The latter is one of the oldest varieties in the world and is considered to be the ancestor of numerous world-famous varieties like Chardonnay, Rhine Riesling, etc. In France and Germany, this Croatian variety is known as Gouais blanc and Heunisch weiss, respectively.

Other notable white wine varieties of Zagorje are Silvanac, Muškat, Pušipel, Kraljevina, and Škrlet, while international varieties include the aforementioned Chardonnay and Rhine Riesling, but also Sauvignon, Traminac (Gewürztraminer), Pinot blanc, and Pinot gris. The cultivation of red varieties in this area mostly comes down to Frankovka and Portugizac.

Untitled Project 2

As the northernmost Croatian wine region, in recent years, Zagorje has been pioneering in the domestic production of icewines but the region is also gaining recognition as a producer of some of the finest sparkling wines.

In particular, the area of Pleševica hills is regarded as the next big thing in Croatian winemaking and is today one of the most important spots on the Croatian wine map. Though it has a continental climate, this small Uplands subregion gets a lot of sun and is producing mainly Chardonnay, Graševina, Pinot blanc, Traminac, Riesling and Portugizac.

For more related content on Croatian wine regions, make sure you're following TCN's gourmet page.