Croatian Winemakers Ivan and Marko Batistić Zure: Our New Vineyard is a Rebellion Against Karst

By , 06 Nov 2016, 11:19 AM Croatian Wine Producers

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The new vineyard will in 2017 produce between 15 and 17 thousand litres of Grk, which is half the total production of Grk made by eight winemakers in Lumbarda

With over 12 years in tae-kwon-do, and two more training Thai boxing, one would expect to meet a dangerous man whose looks kill, but in fact - Ivan Batistić Zure walks his two dogs on the meliorated karst of the Korčula Defora. They are tame animals, retriever Luna is 6 years old and the Pyrenees mountain dog Thor is two and lovingly called “our 70 kilo bear.”

“Such impressions of athletes in martial arts are completely wrong! Never, truly never have I outside the sports hall had even the slightest skirmish in which I would be forced to apply my abilities. And as a rule, true athletes who train for their pleasure won’t be part of an incident that could get them suspended. Just the contrary, many years of training tae kwon do and Thai boxing I have found my inner peace and discipline without which I couldn’t imagine myself in the vineyard. In the summertime the vineyard is too hot after 8 am, you have to get up much earlier and be among the vines at 5 am and work until it gets hot, while spending the previous night until midnight in the restaurant serving guests,” explained Ivan Batistić Zure, who with his brother Marko is taking part in a radical enlargement of their vineyards with the first and currently only melioration of karst on Korčula.

Ivan and Marko entered the world of sport as young kids training in the local Korčula club, but they advanced quickly and the only logical step in their ascent was to move to Split.

“During high school I had to travel once weekly to Split, while my brother did so only in 8th grade, as he later enrolled in the Agricultural School in Kaštela. So, after school on Friday, off to Split and back after training on Sunday. With national team training, I could only dream of beach time and night life, it was a theoretical thought. Marko was third in Europe and I also made some good results at home and abroad,” recalls Ivan.

Parallel with sports activities of Ivan and Marko, their father Bartul began developing a wine story to go with several apartments for rent and a restaurant, to make a family agro tourism.

“Father would have never begun expanding vineyards if my brother and I hadn’t decided on it. We had old vineyards scattered in the Lumbarda sand and we bottled around 3.000-4.000 bottles of Grk and Plavac and sold them through the restaurant. Father wanted to secure a better future for us and the idea of a new vineyard as born. He hired a professor from the Agronomics Faculty Bernard Kozina and emphasised himself that it takes a mad man to do this!”

Thanks to Bartul’s “madness,” the new vineyards on 10 hectares of meliorated karst are now pushing the unknown winemakers to the forefront of the public eye. Numbers tell all, calculating that the new vineyard will in 2017 produce between 15 and 17 thousand litres of Grk, which is half the total production of Grk made by eight winemakers in Lumbarda.

“To be precise, with the new vineyard we’ve become the largest small grape producers on Korčula, as some other winemakers buy a lot and hence produce more wine. We don’t buy a kilogram of grapes, what we get from the vineyard, we turn into wine. But, the day will come when we will be the largest producers of wine on the island! We meliorated 10 hectares, using 3 hectares for 500 olive trees and 200 different fruit trees, the rest with 33.000 vines. Most of it is Grk and considering Grk needs a pollinator, we’ve added Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pošip, Plavac Mali, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet. Speaking of this, Grk should be a female, as it needs a pollinator...”

Already with the title of the first wine made from the new vineyard grapes, the Batistić Zure family announced a radical stride in occupying the premier position on all of the island. A coupage of five varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet and Plavac Mali - they’ve named Rebellion.
“When these five varieties are joined, they offer resistance to the stone and karst and the very conditions in the vineyard, and they are somewhat extreme, so they are stronger together. Rebellion to the karst! There is no anger here, or God forgive, politics.”

Ivan is nearing his MA degree at the Agronomics Faculty in Zagreb, while his brother completed the study of winemaking in Poreč. Just like before, when driving with their parents to practice in the 250 kilometre distant Split, nothing got in the way of sports training, and such is the feeling with the flood of ideas for the new vineyard. Next year they will market the first ever sparkling wine from the Grk variety. They were so pleased with the results they decided to increase the production by several hundred bottles.

“We can’t wait to share it with the world, as it is exceptional! It paid off to dream and make it, a Grk sparkling is something unique. All we needed was some daring, we’re not the north, conditions are tougher here for sparkling wines. But it was worth following our dreams...”

All these years their wine story was lead and monitored by a renowned Korčula enologist from PZ Čara Janko Jovanov, but his role is becoming more supervisory. Father Bartul is also stepping aside more and more, as Ivan and Marko are taking over with wine creations. While many finished their harvest a while ago, Batistić Zure brothers are in mid-November still looking after the drying of Grk berries from which they will make a prosecco, again unique on Korčula.

“There are plenty more ideas we want to make happen, sparkling and prosecco from Grk are just the beginning! Grk is ideal for Prosecco which was once traditionally made from it, always known also as a strong wine. Grk can accumulate plenty of sugars, we had a fantastic 33 babou sugars, which is ideal for Prosecco. Turning Grk into Prosecco is not hard, just needs patient waiting. Our first Grk from the new vineyard on meliorated karst will show it is not a variety only for sand or red soil, where it is found most often Out friend Frano Milina Bire and his Defora, a Grk made from the terrace vineyards on the south slopes of Korčula, have proven this already and our 2.000 litres of Defora will strengthen that experience and show the Grk from such a climate is quite different and complex compared to those on sand and red soil. After our Defora, I believe this toponym will become a new synonym for superior Grk, like Dingač or Plavac Mali from that position on Pelješac,” said Ivan.

The Batistić Zure family also produces around 2.000 litres of superior Pošip, as well as 15.000 litres of superior Grk, also claiming for the last Plavac Mali harvest to be exceptional and bottled as Unlimited Edition and have a new name on the market.

“True, we won’t call it just Plavac Mali Zure, it needs a new name to raise it above this rank. It will be a new label to present the premium wine quality to be produced!”

This exceptional Plavac Mali, besides a special name, will also brandish paintings by Lumbarda academic painter Stipe Nobilo, who is one of the trademarks of the Batistić Zure winery. Grace to Nobilo’s paintings which are dominated by the sea, blue sky, vineyards, cypress trees, Spanish Broom, olive trees, it is impossible not to notice Batistić Zure wines in the sea of other wines. How did this cooperation occur?

“First of all, Stipe Nobilo is an academic painter who is renowned in Croatia and is a brand of Lumbarda. Secondly, he is my grandmother’s brother. We are related and I am not sure he would allow anyone else to use his paintings. Our wines have thus become a travelling exhibition of his paintings! We started working with Stipe on 1998, with a label that was used until 2014, when we made thorough changes. Old labels had a section of his paintings and information on wine and now we wanted for his paintings to be more prominent. When he saw the redesign, he was thrilled, so the pleasure was mutual.”

There are four Batistić families in Lumbarda, so each has a nickname. Wine is made by Batistić Zure, but also Batistić Fidulić. The same goes for the Milina families (Milina Bire, Milina Butara and Milina Lovrić) and the Cebalos (Cebalo Popić, Branimir Cebalo and Bartul Cebalo). Ivan and Marko worked with their father to also differ in the catering service and opted for a domestic offer from their garden or first neighbours’.

“Our restaurant’s offer is 80 percent domestic production! We are probably the only ones who don’t offer beer of Coca Cola or anything industrial, with juices made from sage, mint or lemon by us. While my brother is at the bar, I serve the tables on the terrace and enjoy in showing guests what we offer. We make our own prosciutto and have guests who come only for that prosciutto. We also have dried fish. It is a traditional dish no one else makes. 4-5 types of fish are dried which we combine with potatoes like codfish. I am not a passionate fisherman, as I don’t go along well with waves, but father brings fresh fish everyday. And so we accomplish what father has been saying from the beginning of our agro tourism story - man is not complete until he produces himself everything he sells!”

For the original and more from Vinske Priče blog on wine, click here.

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For all of the various varieties, indigenous and imported, hundreds of winemakers and many different wine styles, Croatia can be divided into 4 major winemaking regions. Those are: Eastern Continental Croatia, Croatian Highlands, Istria and Kvarner Bay, and Dalmatia. We have written about those regions extensively, and we invite you to research them through our article on the regions, articles with more details written on specifics of wine-making in each of the Croatian counties and through our series of articles showing you the virtual wine maps for best-known wine regions in Croatia.

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