How would you introduce yourself in a few words, I asked directly the peculiar Radoslav Bobanović from Polača, halfway between Biograd and Benkovac in Middle Dalmatia. Are you a politician, olive and fig grower, entertainer, horse aficionado, winemaker, all of this together or something else? Radoslav answered immediately, firing from the top of his head:
“I am a man in love with Dalmatia! With the karst, barren land, stone. Within this love I searched for something that would represent a flower to bloom and support me with its scent and confirm that my love is still strong. And I recognised this love in grapes, olives and figs, they are the three graces of Dalmatia! With all due respect to “lower” cultures, I am simply in love with cultures from the waist above,” began Radoslav.
“It is well known I participated in the Homeland War and was promoted to the chief of Polača District in 1993, as well as being an important persona in the returnees community when Croatian legislature was being formed… People recognised me as a hospitable workaholic willing to help at any moment, morning or midnight. But, most of all they recognised in me a hardworking soul, tolerance, the tenacity of a bull and believed in everything I did. And I didn’t let them down, as I created the best and highest quality renewal in Croatia, more people returned to Polača than were exiled. At some point I felt the people were tired and could keep up with me so I said to them: Enough, I am going back to my calling. It was either starting a marketing company and having issues with payment or working for an institution where they welcomed me with open arms. When people saw that I was leaving the District, they were not glad, nor were the people in the County. On the other hand, I never wanted to go to Zagreb, but since I had arrived to Dalmatia, wanted to create a core of something wonderful here,” said Radoslav.
Although he entered his wine story, together with partners Željko Uzelac and Milenko Zagorac, in 2005, describing the beginning as “the creation of added value under the open sky,” Radoslav remembers as the key date which began the wine revolution of the area, the celebration of St. Marin in 1995. It was then that Radoslav revolutionarily copied in Dalmatia the St. Martin celebration custom, customary to continental Croatia, and organised a tasting of local young wines.
“It was a fuse that moved even the not so distant Stankovci which, a year later, also took on celebrating St. Martin… Can you even imagine what it meant to introduce to Dalmatia at the time the celebration of Martinje and Vinkovo? It was a space age move for an area which, 20 years later, went from several run down vineyards in Nadin to producing three million bottles of mostly superior wines per year. In the circumstances asking for new vineyards, then came the Vinfest in Benkovac, the tasting of aged wines in Stankovci, with new added value created by Badel in the Korlat area, Royal Vineyards, Šime Škaulj, Tomislav Glavić, Božo Bačić, Degarra Winery, Duško Jokić… There was a story that only need to be marketed well.
Whatever Radoslav talks about, he cannot avoid love. For him love is everything, and “love, love and only love,” he claims, is the only thing that helped him persevere in everything he does.
“When my partner Željko Uzelac and I started this story, him being an engineer, and when I saw with what love he describes everything he sees around us, I said to myself out loud: ‘Look here, another flower is blooming around me!’ And then I said we would raise all of it to a higher level which will be a challenge. And we predicted everything well except that the state administration would be such a diarrhea, the legislature merciless torture, not only a knot in the stomach, but non stop diarrhea, you can’t do anything, as you keep running to the toilet. Luckily, we had in ourselves enough energy and strength and friends who knew to stop us in time before we drowned. And we did everything because of love, which in part went from me to him, as well as the other way,” describes Radoslav.
The start of today’s impressive 60 hectares of ecological grape, olive and fig plantations, says Radoslav, was “not even in gear,” planning to have a hobby with 2-3.000 litres of wine for his own needs, and another 1.000 litres of olive oil. It was all to be just another Radoslav’s game with which he wanted to prove to others what can be done well in Ravni Kotari. Just like he, in spite of everyone, and slightly against the law, made a hippodrome without the necessary permits and organised for years horse races which became a must in the annual schedule of any lover of the sport in Croatia.
“When I returned after the war to Polača, I said: Everything is burned and destroyed here, we have one watering hole, let’s make a spectacle everyone will hear about! Said-done. The Oluja Horse Racing Cup, which we organised at our hippodrome each August, lasted for 18 years, Ravni Kotari finally found a place in calendars. I realised nothing is missing in Ravni Kotari compared to areas protected as something God-given. The only thing missing here is a critical mass of fools like me who will push things along,” Radovan explains.
He claims his life goal is to find a challenge connected to nature, as “nature always made him laugh most!”
“Now you may wonder - how? Well, when I returned home from my studies, I would usually meet my mother in the field. I would ask her why she smiles all the time and she would tell me: ‘Look how this salad and this vineyard are glistening!’ Then I realised that, in fact, one can’t relax anywhere like in nature while you watch the seeds you planted grow. When I started with my Dalmatian graces, people around me knew I had nothing, as my house was burned and destroyed. But they all knew of my love for the homeland which would not let me rest and this respect allowed them to bear me in all my undertakings, although they all said I was completely crazy. The result of it all is that we all get along well here today, I can always lend a hand directly or through acquaintances… Right now I’m participating in changes to the Agricultural Land Law, I am active on oil regulations which will treat domestic and import oils equally… I like to call myself a man who altruistically entered into something the system does not understand!”
Unlike the south of Dalmatia, where indigenous varieties prevail, in Ravni Kotari and in Radoslav’s vineyards are mostly vines of varieties imported from France.
“When we began the wine story in Ravni Kotari after the war, there was no material to plant from indigenous varieties. On the other hand, although Šibenik and southern Dalmatia are close to us, the climate here is different than there. It should be known we had some pre-war experiences with French varieties that were excellent here. This climate is much better for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah than in some parts of France where we went to get the vines for our vineyards. When we got there, the first thing I asked was if they have Zinfandel, which I really liked on my three-month study tour in America. When I heard upon my return from professor Edi Maletić that Zinfandel is the topic of his doctorate paper, originating from Tribidrag or Crljenak, I said I would love to have the wine of my ancestors in my vineyards. So I procured the ancient Crljenak in Montpellier… The French varieties have proved excellent here. What if I had decided to plant Plavina? Besides the pleasure of having something domestic, it would yield only three kilograms of grapes, the wine would never be superior, occasionally quality, a liquid not to be enjoyed!”
Yellow Muscat was basically the only desire of his partner Željko Uzelac, and it turned out even this far south the variety can give excellent results. Their Yellow Muscat became the mass wine of the Zagreb Archbishopry!
Radoslav always dreamed of having eleven children. Nature gifted him with a daughter, but all his wines and horses are – his children!
When I spoke to Hvar winemaker Vjekoslav Vujnović, he told me everyone sees him as an oddball with his own way of life. And he added “to produce wine a man must be slightly odd, has to love it, and for a good winemaker 90 percent of the locals must say he is weird!” Everyone I talked to says this about Radoslav. Especially in the context of horse riding to he centre of Biograd or Zadar.
“Where better to ride than in Ravni Kotari. Those riding trips to Biograd or Zadar are something I can’t do without. Riding to Biograd for coffee, making the tourists happy, or to Benkovac, drinking sometimes two litres of wine, is a challenge I constantly test myself with. We will all be servants of our dear Lord, and we’re servants here too. Except I always carry something to others, I am a true messenger of spring!”
For the original and more from Vinske Priče blog on wine, click here.