South of Dubrovnik it is impossible to drive more than a few kilometres without noticing road warnings of possible wild boar crossings. Locals are surprised there aren’t many more vehicle accidents due to collisions with wild game.
“If it wasn’t for hunting, wild boars would completely control Konavle and parts of Montenegro along the border with Croatia. They are vermin, destroying everything in agriculture,” explained Mijo Uroš from Pridvorje, whom I met in Ljuta in Vinica, the restaurant of his best friend and wine partner Lenko Monković.
Mijo and Lenko are passionate hunters, can boast golden trophies for deer hunting and in Konavle they often capture a wild boar with 30 centimetre tusks and 200 kilograms weight. Lenko travels every year to his friend Stipan Šašlin in Draž in Baranja, where he spends his days along the Danube shooting ducks and geese. Naturally, he never leaves home without his pointer dog Bađo, county champion and Saint Hubert Cup winner in Umag.
“I am always accompanying Lenko to dog exhibitions, and he always stands with me at shooting competitions. We are truly inseparable. As a passionate hunter I take it hard when we are called poachers or murderers, it’s a completely wrong perception of hunting. I love animals and the role of the hunter is to aid in the balance between various living beings. Besides, every hunter has a certificate of physical and psychological capability to bear and use arms,” said Mijo whose hunting passion, inherited from his father, propelled him into world rankings in – clay pigeon shooting.
Mijo is the reigning Croatian champion in the skeet discipline, and before the war, just out of his teen years, he held the Yugoslavia record with an impressive score of 193 out of 200 clay pigeons he had to hit with the rifle at his hip. He was so good he was seriously considered for the Olympic Games in Barcelona. But, war was faster, Mijo had to leave his home in Konavle and as a refugee clay pigeons were last on his mind…
“Comparing my scores from back then with the achievements of the best shooters today, I can freely say my state record is still in the rank of an Olympic gold medal! We all know what happened, the war got in my way and stopped my progress. For several years I did not even ponder shooting clay pigeons, until the end of the occupation and return to Pridvorje when I began to go hunting with friends more often. Shooting in hunting activated again stories of my participation in shooting competitions. And when Lenko bought and gifted me the Beretta 682, I had no choice. First places at state competitions in the past two years are icing on the cake of much austerity that comes with the sport,” said Mijo Uroš.
Although nearly in the sixth decade of his life, Mijo has not given up on the idea of getting “serious” and participate in the Olympics. And achieving in the skeet discipline what his friends Giovanni Cernogoraz and Josip Glasnović did at the last two Olympics in London and Rio de Janeiro – winning a gold medal. The only difference being they compete in the trap discipline, with the gun resting against the shoulder…
“Of course I am tempted by the possibility of going to the Olympics, but I can’t leave behind hunting, work and wine for it!”
There are other circumstances due to which Mijo would find it hard to participate in the Olympics. The largest problem is in enormous finances demanded by top-notch shooting competitions.
“This sport is not cheap at all. I shoot for the Dubrovnik Shooting Society and would not be able to participate even in Croatian competitions without donors such as my friend Lenko. International competitions are simply a dream too far… I currently fire some 5-6.000 rounds per year, visit two rounds of the Croatian Cup, the county championship, Cup Finals and state championship. That much I can manage financially. But to achieve superior results everything needs to go to a higher level. Lenko bought me a Beretta worth 2.5 thousand euro, but I had to purchase a 6.000 euro rifle… To conclude, achieving world class results takes at least 40.000 rounds per year! My father was a hunter and shooter and gave me the passion for the rifle. But to be a superior marksman much austerity is needed, lots of time spent at the shooting range. My luck in my financial misfortune is that the skeet discipline in Croatia is quite strong, although there are only about 40 shooters.”
Fifteen years ago, when Lenko opened his now cult restaurant in Ljuta, legendary Vinica, the two friends spent their waiting time at wild game shooting stads all around Croatia to throw around the idea of renewing old vineyards and begin producing wine as a hobby. As it used to be in all of Konavle, a source of the Vinica restaurant name, as that was the location of the wine cellar of the Monković family.
“It was a purely hobbyist story, even our decision to cultivate Pošip was based on arguments we made in our almost teenage stories. I remember we often mentioned how in past times all of Konavle barely had any space to plant vines and we found ourselves in the situation philosophically discussing whether we would plant Pošip in the field or on the side. Naturally, we decided on a hill, a position we call Đer, and the results were more than excellent. It was a youthful attempt at entering a wine story, but very successful. When I started out with grapes it was hard to sell them. Then, Lenko told me: “Make wine, and we’ll sell it through the restaurant!” Then he planted vines too. We both have family farms and very soon joined in our wine story,” said Mijo.
To crown the partnership, the first superior wine they made was named MONUR. It was a truly great coupage of Merlot and Zinfandel (Tribidrag), the name coming from the acronym of the last names of the two friends.
“I’ve known Lenko all of my life, I know he is very precise in what he seeks, and with wines, it was not quantity but quality. I had to justify his trust, with help from some of my Italian winemaker friends who spend their summers here. Last year we also planted a thousand vines of Dubrovnik Malvazija. Our wine story is gradually expanding, but we will not surpass 10.000 litres, that much we will always be able to sell through the restaurant and some other places…”
If you ask Mijo whether it is harder to be a shooting champion or make superior wine, he will answer that both successes requite the same sacrifice.
“Both came out of nothing. And I know you will ask me how I balance the steady and cold hand for shooting with the warmth of the alcohol in wine so I will answer that for me wine is not alcohol. And when you enjoy wine, then you will not allow it to fool you!”
For the original and more from Vinske Priče blog on wine, click here.