Ivan "Fuškulinski" Damjanić, third generation of Istrian wine miracle makers, has definitely outgrown his infatuation with motorcycles that went on for years. His nearly fatal car collision with a boar made him realise the times of speed have come to an end.
On the other hand, in his wine story Ivan is not into speed. Moreover, twelve years of experience and gradual rise to the top of the Istrian wine scene were gained with painstaking abstinence and nearly millimetre advances forward.
For a while his Akacija, aged Malvasia, is among the most wanted wines of its kind in Istria. But, as of recently his fresh Malvasia is surely in the top ten of its sort.
When I laid my impressions on him, Ivan disappeared for a moment, nearly into the cellar, to return with a wine that made me rarely privileged. He brought with him a rare leftover bottle of one of the most cult Croatian wines, 7dan (seventh day), made eight years ago through the cooperation of seven Istrian grand wine samurais - Trapan, Damjanić, Cuj, COsseto, Terzolo, Geržinić and Tikelo (in the order written on the bottle!). Talking about the wine, which today is absolutely fascinating, Ivan does not hide his regret that the story of cooperation of friends and wine makers of the same generation did not see another edition.
“7dan was an idea from the seven of us young and ambitious wine makers, kids in a way, just entering the world of wine, seeing a label should be created to reflect the characters of all of us. So 7dan got started... I keep a few bottles for the tenth anniversary, then I shall see what kind of road it was, was it true and if in the future we will make a similar story. What we are drinking today, such minerality, honey notes... 7dan was made in stainless steel, and from what we tasted it is evident we were on the right track and we gave it that quality touch.”
According to Ivan’s words, the idea of seven friends was - pooling together for international breakthrough.
“True, we wanted to show everyone the direction that would also be an input on how to approach the international market. With around 5-6.000 hectares, the total vineyard surface in Istria, or 35-40.000 hectares in Croatia, on the world wine scene we are just a drop in the sea. If we want to step abroad, we need quantities, but also be fairly priced and create our brands. Like 7dan! It was, unfortunately, only a one-year project, after that we failed to consolidate and continue the story. Shame! But, it was a good message and should be continued in the future.”
Since the youthful ideal of 7dan fell through, Ivan focused more on the sort that only few in Istria seriously deal with. It is the Borgonja, Istrian version of Frankovka, his great grandfather’s favourite that made a mark on him. Ivan is also known as - the emperor of Borgonja! Ivan’s Borgonja comes from vines planted in 1915. He has a total of 1.787 vines that yield only 1.6 tonnes of grapes.
“I guard the vineyard as a memory of my great grandfather, while these strong vines will always show me how strong my family was a hundred years ago.”
From that very vineyard came the wine his great grandfather Giorgio Jurković outclassed the competition in 1928 at the international wine expo in Paris and won a Grand Prix. When Giorgio got word of the award, he was told he must bear the costs of sending the diploma from Paris, then forty Lira, the value of a cow. Giorgio sold a cow and the diploma arrived. Ivan likes to say that his great grandfather did well as, after hi vineyards were nationalised, the diploma was a reminder of a better past.
“If it wasn’t for that diploma, always on display at our house, I probably never would have paid attention to the vineyards. You should have seen the face of my great grandfather when he was 93 and saw that someone is renovating the family tradition! But the surprise the diploma left on the faces of French journalists who came to do a television reportage on my cellar after I won the large gold medal at the Concours International du Gamay in Lyon for a 2010 Borgonja! They were puzzled, asking why is it on the wall. I answered that Giorgio Jurković is my great grandfather.”
Ivan claims he is the only one working with Borgonja today and giving it serious attention. He says he cannot understand why Borgonja is so disregarded in Istria, “when only recently the Poreč area was renowned for the sort in the wine world.”
“I often like to say Borgonja is the wife of Terrano, shy, calmer, easy to blend.”
Which is why Ivan in his best wine, a red coupage Clemente Nero, combines Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Terrano and Borgonja, soon to issue a new label that will be, equally, a coupage of Terrano and Borgonja. Also, a white coupage will see daylight, with Chardonnay, Pinot Grey and Malvasia, to be named - Clemente Blanc.
“The title Clemente, used for my coupages, is the Italian word for a great man, good man, calling from the label: “Drink me, I won’t be mad, I’ll be glad!”
Of all the novelties he talks of with great pride, Ivan surely loves to talk of his wife Željka who is near the end of her pregnancy and will soon give birth to the first child, a son to be named after grandfather Ivan, the main culprit for the wine story from Fuškulin near Poreč.
For the original and more from the Vinske Priče blog on wine, click here.