“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene 2
What’s the difference between Grgic and Grgich? Looked at one way, there is almost no difference – they are just an “h” apart. Looked at differently, they are about 6,271 miles apart. In the tiny town of Trstenik, Croatia, a literal stone’s throw from the Dalmatian Sea, sits the Grgic Vina winery.
This winery, founded by Miljenko Grgic, a Croatian-born winemaker, can be found on the famous Peljesac Peninsula where the best Plavac Mali grapes are grown. This winery produces both a red wine (Plavac Mali) as well as a white wine (Posip). Both grapes are indigenous to Croatia and have unique, structured aroma and flavor profiles.
Miljenko Grgic moved to the United States decades ago to pursue the American dream. Along the way, “Miljenko” became “Mike” and Grigic gained an “h” to help Americans pronounce it more easily. Today, Grgich Hills Winery in Napa Valley is one of the most respected operations in the world.
In the past month, we had the privilege to visit both Grgic and Grgich, 6,271 miles apart in distance but much closer together in vision, philosophy, style and quality. We were at Grgic Vina in Croatia on Halloween and at Grgich Hills in Napa the Saturday after Thanksgiving. At the Croatian winery, the tasting was two wines; our Napa tasting was a little bit more elaborate and came with a winery tour led by a genuinely nice and knowledgeable guide, Marty.
We have visited Grgich Napa before for tasting but had not taken the tour. We really enjoyed visiting the barrel rooms (always a fun show!) and hearing about the production methods for the white and red wines.
During the tour, one of us fell in love …
Not to be greedy, but wouldn’t a 1,500 gallon container of wine be the best gift? There are lots of giving occasions coming up in December; just saying.
After the tour Marty led us to our table in the wine library where we sat down to a great wine and cheese pairing.
We started with Chardonnay as expected given that Miljenko is widely regarded as the “King of Chardonnay.” This informal title has been bestowed as a result of two major milestones in the history of American wine: Mike making the chardonnay that beat the best makers of French Chardonnay at the Judgement of Paris in 1976; and Mike’s chardonnay beating 221 other wines at an international tasting competition in Chicago in 1980.
We knew we would like the Grgich wines as we have tasted at the winery before and are members of the Wine Club. What we were more interested in was seeing how similar the wine would taste to those that we sampled at Grgic Vina in Croatia. Interestingly, the Zinfandel we tasted was very similar to the Plavac Mali that we had in Croatia. Genetic testing has determined that the Plavac Mali is a relative of Zinfandel and this relationship was clearly evident in both the aroma and flavor of both wines.
We will be back to Grgich Napa soon for some club event or other, no doubt. It is a strong hope, though, that we can get back to Grgic Vina soon as well – perhaps when the new winery building has its grand opening. We also hope that, if we make it, that Miljenko will be able to make it as well.
Okay, so maybe Napa Valley is not beer country yet. But over the past couple of years a number of brewing operations and brew houses have sprung up in the Valley and become instant go-to destinations. We previously wrote about one of our favorite beer spots,
Carneros Brewing Company, which is in Sonoma County close to the Napa/Sonoma border. (Beer? In Wine Country?). Last night we finally made it to Napa’s newest spot for craft beer, Fieldwork Brewing Company, which is located downtown Napa in the Oxbow Public Market. The space that houses Fieldwork was once occupied by Hudson Greens & Goods, a market that specializes in organic fruits and vegetables. When Hudson moved its location within Oxbow, it opened up a space that sat empty for quite a while. We locals started to wonder what was going on inside that mysterious walled-off corner of Oxbow and if the space would remain empty indefinitely.
A little over a month ago, Fieldwork Brewing Company had its big grand opening, revealing a beautiful long bar and seating area that fits perfectly in the corner.
Although new to Napa, Fieldwork is not a new brewery; they have two other locations, one in Sacramento and the other in their hometown of Berkeley, California. Somehow we have managed to miss Fieldwork on our many trips to Berkeley for football and basketball games, but we will surely remedy that this upcoming basketball season.
As we mentioned, Fieldwork has been open in Napa for about six weeks. You might wonder why it took us until last night to sit down and taste their beer. The answer is simple: it has been so instantly popular that we haven’t been able to get a seat at the bar in weeks. Yesterday, we decided that if we wanted to taste some beer at Fieldwork we would need a plan. Strategically, we decided that the best time to go would be between lunch and dinner. When we first arrived, all of the seats at the main bar were taken, but there were three seats by the window on the right side of the bar. We gratefully took them and ordered some beer. One of us ordered the Hoppy Pilsner, one of us the Fog Ripper sour ale, and the third of us (guess who!) decided that a six-beer sampler was the most appropriate way to get to get properly introduced to Fieldwork.
As our beers were arriving we were still eyeing the bar, hoping that we could switch from our window seats, but everyone at the bar looked like they were settling in for the long haul. We set our beers down on the ledge and admired the range of color between them.
Almost as soon as we set the beers down, a table opened up behind the bar; although not as cool as the bar itself, it gave us more space to spread out a bit. We delicately moved the sampler and the two individual beers to a table and sat down to start our tasting. To complement the beer, we each ordered a taco from C-Casa, a favorite restaurant at the other end of the Oxbow Public Market.
When ordering beer, we tend to go mostly with IPA or, when we’re really trying to branch out, a double IPA. When sampling, though, we push ourselves to try new things. At Fieldwork, there was quite a bit to choose from.
Since we almost always drink ale, we decided to start with a non-ale and opted for the Outdoor Hoppy Pilsner as beer #1 in the sampler, followed by the Fog Ripper Tropical Sour Ale, Field Trial Blonde Ale, Watershed Extra Pale Ale, Corner Shop IPA, and, to finish, Hannah in the Wild Brett Biere De Garde.
We won’t do a beer-by-beer tasting review, but we will share some of our reactions. The Outdoor Hoppy Pilsner was, indeed, hoppy, and it seemed like an ale-lover’s pilsner. Of the remaining beers, our favorites were the Watershed Extra Pale Ale and the Biere de Garde, a type of ale that we have not had before. The color was lovely and both the aroma and flavor were sophisticated and smooth.
We hope to get back to Fieldwork soon and, next time, to sit at the main bar. Our new strategy is to get there when they open so we can be first in line.
Wouldn’t it be nice if drinking wine was considered an act of philanthropy? Some of us would be donors on the scale of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Well, I’m happy to report that there is a cool new concept that allows caring, big-hearted wine lovers to kill two birds with one stone: enjoy great wines and give money to a worthy cause at the same time. Grapeful is a relatively new company that has created a unique way to use the love of wine to help charitable and other philanthropic organizations raise money. Grapeful essentially brings two groups together: (a) those that are looking to raise money for a specific organization, cause, drive, etc., and (b) great wineries which have agreed to be a featured part of the Grapeful program. Through its winery partners, Grapefulensures each cause earns 15% of the retail cost of every bottle sold in support of the effort. So how does it work? There are two models for people to raise money with Grapeful:
The first way is to create a Grapefulorder site on drinkgrapeful.com; all of the heavy-lifting in creating the site is done by the folks at Grapeful, so there are no web development or other technical skills required. Individuals looking to raise funds would direct their friends, family, acquaintances and other potential donors to their Grapefulorder site to select from a list of wines. Each time a bottle is ordered, 15% of the retail price is directed to the selected cause; the site can be kept open indefinitely for those that have a cause that is not time-bound. For longer fund-raising campaigns or efforts, it might be fun to create a rotating list of wineries, essentially creating a “wine of the month” club for contributors. Most of the wineries that Grapefulpartners with have a nice balance of quality and price and would be in the price range of even casual wine consumers. For those that care about a cause, buying a wine at retail price and knowing that 15% of the cost of the wine is being directly donated to a cause they care about should be a no-brainer.
The second way to work with Grapefulto raise funds for a cause is to have a GrapefulParty at home, a restaurant or local event center. We think of this as the wine version of the old Tupperware parties our parents had in the 1970’s (with better wine!). The individual looking to raise money for a cause would purchase wines in advance and them invite people to the GrapefulParty. It might be tricky to figure out how much wine to order but the Grapefulteam says they can help guide the party planner plan the right number of wines to order. Those that enjoy the wine at the party will then be directed to your GrapefulOrder site to purchase wines and start generating donations.
We are intrigued by this approach to fundraising and think it is going to take off. On the winery partner side, Grapefulhas already partnered with a number of well-regarded brands, and they will be adding new partners in the future to give more options for “wine of the month.” On the cause side, there are several causes raising money at drinkgrapeful.com now which you can donate to. Or, you can bring your own cause forward and set up your own GrapefulOrder site.
Late winter and early Spring are our favorite times in Napa Valley. For one thing, the temperatures are milder and the influx of visitors has not yet reached its maximum volume. It feels like we have the place to ourselves, at least on occasion. A favorite part of late winter/early Spring is when the mustard plants start to bloom, filling almost every open space across the Valley. Driving north on Silverado Trail you’ll see mustard plants growing between the grape vines.
It’s almost as if Mother Nature knew the winter vines needed some color to dress up their spindly, leafless appearance. Spring is also a great time for hiking and exploring the vastness of our natural beauty – beyond the vines.
We enjoy hiking Westwood Park (above), which is about a half mile from our house. We also enjoy visiting the many lakes, rivers and creeks that are within driving distance.
Let us know which is your favorite picture of Napa Valley, we’d love to hear from you. If you have a Napa picture that you like, please share it!
Images of Napa Valley often depict sprawling fields of grape vines and majestic winery structures that resemble castles or Tuscan villas. Certainly those pictures are appropriate as we have literally miles and miles of vineyards and side-by-side wineries along Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. However, Napa Valley is more than just grapes and wineries; for about 135,000 people, it’s the place we live. Although we enjoy the natural beauty of our wine-based agriculture, there are many dimensions to life here – some of them good and some not so good. Since moving here in 2013 we have captured our exploration of the region as well as just everyday life in photos. We share some of our favorites here.
Less than a month after moving into our new home, we decided to plan our first vegetable garden. In addition to peppers, corn, sage, dill, eggplant, cucumbers and rosemary, we planted tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. The locals started to take notice.
Our hot summer generated some beautiful, plump tomatoes and we were looking forward to a very long growing season. We figured we would be harvesting well into November. Mother Nature had other plans.
A freak hailstorm hit Napa Valley, pelting our homes, cars and plants for about 20 minutes. I am sure we will get very little sympathy from our friends in the Midwest who endure bowling-ball-size hailstones and storms that last hours. But hey, we’re not used to this!
I assured my wife and my mother-in-law (who had just that day planted a bunch of seedlings on the right of the planter box) that everything would survive, recover and thrive. It was a lie. The tomatoes were done after this storm and the rest needed to be replanted in the following days.
The hailstorm was the second-worst event that Mother Nature threw at us our first year. The worst was the 2014 Napa Earthquake which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in loses for homes and businesses.
We bought a lovely hutch for our small but cozy wine room. Because we lived in Los Angeles, we were aware of the risk of earthquakes and the need to secure furniture. Our wine hutch was bolted to its base, and both pieces were bolted to the wall behind. Unfortunately, the wall moved quite a bit in the earthquake and thus so did the wine. Prior to the quake, the hutch held 110 bottles (two per slot, 5 columns by 11 rows); after the quake, it held six. Some bottles remained intact on the shelf below. Many others fell to their death.
We didn’t have the stomach to count the number of bottles that broke, but our rough estimate is that approximately 50-60 shattered after hitting the floor or having other wine bottles fall onto them. We were proud of some of our “babies,” though, for surviving the traumatic event.
My favorite bottles is the one in the lower left-hand corner of the picture; this bottle hit the wall opposite the hutch, probably bounced a couple of times, and landed upright. I imagine this as a really cool gymnastics routine. Tada!
The 50% survival rate for the wine bottles was not, sadly, experienced by our collection of cognac and Armagnac in the living room.
After taking in the destruction in the wine room, we made our way to the living room to see how bad things were there. There, the loss rate was closer to 90 or 95% and there was a brown river of liquid making its way along our brand-new tile floor.
If you look closely you can see the rug that used to be white but is now brown, saturated with cognac and Armagnac.
Everyone was okay after the earthquake and we felt very blessed not to have had much structural damage in the house. But the earthquake, coupled with the freak hailstorm, made us think twice about our move. As someone in Napa said to us, “If I see a locust, I’m out of here!” Luckily there were no other biblical pestilences in 2014.
Almost ten years ago we visited a prominent winery in Northern California to taste some of their wines. We were motivated to visit by the fact that one of the world’s top-rated restaurants (Napa Valley’s The French Laundry) had recently added one of their wines to its impressive wine menu. During the course of our tasting, we asked about their wine-making practices and we learned that they were organic. As it turned out, they were certified organic, which means that they follow certain practices but also comply with a set of complex federal requirements. We assumed that their organic status was something that they would promote on their labels and in their advertising. We were wrong. Why wouldn’t a winery promote its natural, healthy approach to growing grapes and making wine? “Consumers equate `organic’ as sub par,” we were told.
As Loretta Lynn sang in the 1970’s, “We’ve come a long way baby.” Today, consumers are flocking to natural, organic and biodynamic wines made without artificial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and other additives. This upcoming weekend, there is a two-day wine fair in San Francisco celebrating and showcasing dozens of California’s natural wine makers. This event, Califermentation, will be held at TerroirSF, a wine bar in the City that caters to organic and natural wines. From 12-4 pm both Saturday and Sunday, there will be at least 20 wineries a day pouring wine for ticket holders. In addition, there will be seminars both days on topics of interest both to wine makers as well as wine consumers. Saturday’s seminar topic relates to the use of sulfur dioxide (a preservative) in wines. Sunday’s seminar topic is on the challenge of sourcing organic grapes in California. One of the speakers for this session, Tracey Brandt, is a co-founder and co-owner at one of our personal favorite natural wineries, Donkey & Goat in Berkeley, California.
Tickets for Saturday only are $45.00 and a weekend pass is $80.00, which seems like a real bargain compared to other wine festivals that we have attended in the Bay Area. We are looking forward to trying out some new wines and tasting some wines we have already tried. For those that want to learn more about Califermentation, we have attached the event flyer below. To buy tickets, click on the link below and find the “Buy Tickets” button. We hope to see you there!
This is the sixth and final installment in the chronicle of the European vacation where I decided to plan the entire trip and not tell my wife where we are going. She has discovered each destination as we cross a border or enter a new city. In most cases she has been in the dark until almost the last minute. If you missed previous installments you can find them in our archives or here:
There is a scene in the famous movie “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy awakens in a strange and unfamiliar land and says to her dog: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” We had a similar experience as we wrapped up our two-week adventure in Europe, which started in Italy, took us into Slovenia, and then into Croatia. Our final country was so different from any of the others that we visited – definitely different from Croatia (and Kansas!).
When planning the trip, my original hope was that we could make it to six countries during our stay. However, there was too much to see and we did not have as much time as I would have liked to country hop. But I did have one more country up my sleeve to round out the trip.
We started our trip in Venice, Italy, and our second-to-last city was Dubrovnik, which the missus enjoyed quite a bit. According to her, it was her second-favorite place after the incredible Plitvice Lakes National Park. So where to go from Dubrovnik for the last two days of our trip? I booked our last couple of nights in Sarajevo, which is the capital of Croatia’s neighbor, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Technically, we had already been in Bosnia during our trip. Why “technically?” Well, the only way to get from the center of Croatia to Dubrovnik on the coast is to travel through Bosnia. That’s right – the north-south freeway requires about a 15-20 minute detour through Bosnia before re-entering Croatia. So the missus had already been in Bosnia and thought that the brief pass-through would be our only stop there.
As we left Dubrovnik, she halfheartedly tried to get me to say where we were headed. “That way,” I told her, pointing north. After about an hour, we crossed the now-familiar Croatia/Bosnia border detour and soon were back in Croatia again to reconnect to the main freeway. We were not done with Bosnia, though, as about 30 minutes later we came to another Croatia/Bosnia border stop. “Again?” she asked. “How many times are we going to cross into and back from Bosnia?” “It’s the last time,” I assured her.
This time, the crossing was a more formal event. Unlike the “pass-through” crossing where they don’t even stop the car or require documentation, this time we had to show our passports for stamping. About 100 yards later we saw the first sign that Bosnia was going to be different than Croatia: the sign for Bosnia & Herzegovina was written in both the Roman (western) and Cyrillic alphabets.
For my wife, this was very comfortable as the Russian language also uses the Cyrillic alphabet. All navigational and street signs we passed in Bosnia were written in both alphabets.
The second hint came as we passed several mosques on our drive north towards Sarajevo. From my pre-trip research I was aware that there are three main ethnic groups in Bosnia: Serbs (generally of the Orthodox religion), Croats (generally Catholic) and Bosniaks (Muslim). As we drove further north, the prevalence of the Islamic faith in Bosnia became more obvious.
As we were leaving Dubrovnik in Croatia to head to Sarajevo I decided we would stop somewhere along the way for lunch. All of the people we met in Croatia told us that Mostar was a “must stop” destination, so we combined a “must stop” with a lunch stop. As we entered Mostar, the third and perhaps most compelling sign that we were no longer in Croatia became apparent: war damage. Certainly, the 1990’s Balkan war affected Croatia, including several of the places that we visited. In Bosnia, however, the duration, intensity and brutality of the war was on a scale that shocked and saddened us.
A Twitter “friend” of ours had given us the name of a restaurant in Mostar to stop for lunch. Attempting to follow the garbled pronunciations of our Garmin GPS, we made our way through Mostar towards “Stari Grad” – Old Town. From the car window the evidence of war was still visible: buildings with bullet holes in them and destroyed buildings waiting to be rebuilt. Finally, we found a parking space close to where she-Garmin was telling us the restaurant was located.
We stepped out of the car and in a few steps were in the Old Town part of Mostar. Within 50 meters we found the restaurant that we were looking for and we happily plopped down and ordered some water and traditional Bosnian food.
Yummy Bosnian food at TimaIrma in Mostar
In Europe, “old town” really means old: Mostar has been around since the 15th Century and there are structures in the city that remain from that time. Easily the most famous structure in Mostar is its bridge; in fact, “most” in Serbian means bridge. The mostari were the bridge keepers, which gave Mostar its name back in the Ottoman Empire. After lunch we walked through Stari Grad and crossed the old bridge (Stari Most) and checked out the shops in the narrow streets of the old shopping district.
Built in 1566, the bridge stood for 427 years until it was destroyed in 1993 by Croats during the Croat-Bosniak War, one of the many Balkan conflicts that erupted after Yugoslavia fell apart. It was not until 2004 that the bridge was re-opened to allow pedestrians to once again cross the Neretva River from one side of town to the other.
We only stayed in Mostar for a few hours, but the wife was really impressed by the feel of the old town, the bridge, and the connection to the culture of six centuries ago. It was also our first exposure to the importance of the Islamic faith in Bosnia, as we heard the mid-day “call to prayer” being broadcast over the loudspeaker from a local mosque.
From Mostar, we continued driving north until we arrived in Sarajevo, the last stop on our trip. We checked into the Hotel Bristol for two nights in the city that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. Or, as our guide the following day would say, “only the second communist city to host an Olympic games.” “And the only one that the United States attended,” I added, since the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. We were tired and hungry and appreciated the personal welcome when we got into our room.
The following morning, we woke up and had breakfast in the lobby of the Hotel Bristol. The previous ten days of our trip, we awoke to beautiful sunshine and blue skies . Our first morning in Sarajevo, there was no sun to be seen, only grey and black clouds. “Rain,” I brilliantly opined. Nevertheless, we decided that we were going to tour the town even if we got wet. After all, when would we get back to Sarajevo again?
My prediction of rain turned out to be wrong, and, unfortunately, optimistic. As I looked out of our hotel room window just before we ventured out, I realized that it was snowing! Here’s a cool video of the view from our hotel window.
Since we don’t see snow often, I didn’t want to drive my trusty VW Golf into Stari Grad (yes, every town seems to have an “Old Town”). Instead, we grabbed a cab and the driver dropped us off at the start of our tour. We spent two delightful hours with a Sarajevo native who took us all around town. Here are the things that we saw and learned:
Sarajevo is a majority-Muslim city, with about 80% of the residents identifying as Islamic; minority populations include the Serbs (about 4%) and Croats (5%). In the 1991 Census, Muslims made up only half of the population, with Serbs accounting for nearly 30% of the city’s population. The dramatic shift in the population between the 1991 and the 2013 census surveys is almost entirely accounted for by the drastic reduction in the population of Sarajevo’s Serbs, many of whom left during and after the war.
Even though Sarajevo is majority-Muslim, it defied our expectations of what such a city would look and feel like. Certainly, there were many mosques in town, especially in the Old Town. As we experienced in Mostar, we heard the “call to prayer” multiple times while we were walking around Sarajevo. What surprised us, though, is how modern and contemporary Sarajevo felt, even in the Old Town. Most men and women were dressed in typical European fashions and styles and all of the expected brand stores were represented in the shopping zone. Unlike other Muslim cities, it is less common for women to wear the hijab in Sarajevo. As the wife describes it, Sarajevo is an “East-meets-West” city; in fact, there is a spot in the Old Town that has been created to show the intersection of both East and West.
The pictures above depict a line in the Old Town of Sarajevo that dissects the town’s two personalities – Eastern and Western. On the Eastern side, you can see the mosque and the traditional Ottoman-style stores. On the Western side of the line are the European and American brand stores selling lingerie, sneakers, jeans, dresses and products that would be available in any Western city. While the East-West divide expresses part of the diversity of Sarajevo, there is also an impressive diversity of religion in the city with active houses of worship for four faiths: Islam, Judaism, Catholicism and Orthodox.
Within a 500 meter radius in Sarajevo you will find the mosque, synagogue, and churches (Catholic and Orthodox).
There is excellent food, wine and coffee in Sarajevo (did anyone doubt we would find it?). We got our first taste of the excellent Bosnian food when we were in Mostar; in Sarajevo we ate at several fine restaurants and sampled many different types of dishes. After our Sarajevo city tour on Day 1, we opted for a seafood restaurant just outside of the Old Town.
On our last day in Bosnia, we opted for something with traditional Bosnian food and found a place called Dveri that was mostly full of locals.
Since it was our last day, we decided to select some real Bosnian comfort food.
This fantastic meal was washed down with a carafe of the house Blatina.
At the end of most of our meals, we opted for a traditional Bosnian coffee which is served in a small copper container and poured into a small cup to drink. “Sort of like Turkish coffee,” the missus said the first time we saw it. “We like to call it Bosnian coffee,” the waiter replied. In fairness. though, the coffee is clearly one of the remnants of hundreds of years of Ottoman rule, so calling it “Turkish coffee” is not really incorrect. Just ill-advised.
Bosnia has an honest-to-goodness wine country! There are vineyards across Bosnia (most in the Herzegovina region) and we drove by thousands of acres of them on our drive up to Sarajevo.
In fact, Mostar is well-known for its production of an indigenous white wine varietal, Zilavka, the most common white wine in Bosnia. We found extensive wine menus at all the restaurants we visited which included not only Bosnian wines but offerings from Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia. On our next trip we will need to include more wineries in our itinerary. We strongly believe that Balkan wines have the depth, complexity, aromatic strength and flavor to compete with wines anywhere.
War and conflict is very much a part of the legacy of Bosnia in general and Sarajevo in particular. Our city tour started at the spot where a Serb assassinated Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, the catalyst that led to the First World War.
After World War II, the Balkan countries were united together into a single country, Yugoslavia, led by Communist leader Marshall Tito. When Tito died in 1980, the glue that held together the six separate Yugoslav republics (Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia) weakened. The rise of nationalist sentiment eventually led to the breakup of Yugoslavia and a series of wars across the Balkan region. The 1990’s conflicts are still very visible in Sarajevo, with buildings that still bear the scars of war and others that are waiting to be rebuilt. For Sarajevo, the destruction came during what is now known as the Siege of Sarajevo, a 1,425 day siege by Serbian forces that created a virtual blockade of the city. Controlling the hills around Sarajevo, Serb forces repeatedly shelled the city (an average of 300 per day for the nearly four-year siege) and snipers preyed on residents as they attempted to move around the besieged city. By the end of the siege, 13,000 people were killed and over 90% of buildings were damaged or destroyed. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. These images are played out across Bosnia.
For us, the war stories were all sobering, but none more than the Srebrenica Exhibition in Sarajevo, which tells the tragic and devastating story of the fall of the town and the subsequent massacre of nearly all of the Muslim men and boys in the town. On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces conquered Srebrenica after an extended period shelling the town from the surrounding mountains. As the Serb forces came into the town, many boys and men attempted to flee through the forest, only to be killed by mortar attacks. Those that did not flee were rounded up and murdered and buried in mass graves. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan referred to the Srebrenica event as the worst crime on European soil since World War II, and others have referred to the event as a genocide. In total, tens of thousands of Muslims were killed as a result of “ethnic cleansing” during the Balkan conflicts.
Our two days in Sarajevo were fast but productive; we saw many things and immersed ourselves as much as possible in the rhythm of the city and absorbed as much history as we could. Nevertheless, we need to go back as there is more to see, not just in Sarajevo but also in the rest of Bosnia. Without question, we need to visit the Bosnian wineries that we drove by on our way from Croatia to Sarajevo. Next visit, we would also like to make it to Montenegro and Serbia to learn more about those former Yugoslav republics.
The French have a word called terroir to describe the conditions in which a grape grows – conditions that subtly impact the aroma and flavor of the wine that grows in a particular region. While there are many definitions of terroir, the one that makes the most sense to me is “the place.” Nis the place the grapes are grown; everything about that place. The temperature, the rain, the wind, the soil type, the presence of other plants in the area, terrain (sloping hills vs. flat ground, elevation), the presence of trees or mountains that provide shelter from inclement weather. Beyond the natural elements, tradition and history can also be part of the terroir.
Having spent the last ten days or so in Croatia, we feel like there is a distinct “terroir” that makes up this place – not just for the grapes, but for the people who live here. Certainly, there is a distinct natural element that defines much of the Croatian experience – the sea, the rivers and lakes, the massive mountains, the rolling countryside. Adding to the terroir, though, are the history and traditions that contributed to the formation of the people who live in Croatia – their food, their daily routines, their culture. We have had so many wonderful experiences that it would take weeks to catalog them and chronicle them in our blog. We want to share them on a more real-time basis so we have divided our experiences into a few categories and we’ll lay them out as follows: Natural Beauty, Food & Wine, and the People.
1.Natural Beauty. In a previous blog (Travel Log: 16 Lakes, Countless Waterfalls, and Too Many U-Turns) we shared our trip to Plitvice Lakes, a definite “bucket list” place to visit and one of the most impressive national parks we have been to on any continent. It would be a mistake, though, to think that Croatia’s natural beauty is confined to this one park. We drove literally the length and width of the country and its beauty is astounding. Between the large cities are large swaths of lush, green countryside intersected by, in some instances, rolling hills, and in others dissected by huge mountain ranges. There are also many rivers and lakes in Croatia and, accidentally or otherwise, the primary route from major city to major city follows closely along the rivers.
After our 5-hour trek through Plitvice Lakes we only needed a day of rest before our trek to another of Croatia’s famous parks, Krka National Park. Like Plitvice, Krka has some impressive waterfalls formed by the confluence of a number of creeks and the Krka River. Here is a brief video of the brilliant waterfall that greeted us as we started our hike around the park.
As we drove south towards Split, we also passed the lovely Cestina River, which was our companion as we traversed the mountainous region on the way to Split.
During the summer months the river would be full of paddlers and swimmers enjoying the refreshing relief from the hot summer sun. The region was much more tranquil for our visit, with most places closed for the season. We did stop for lunch, though, and had a very nice view of the river from our window table.
Rivers and lakes – what could be better? Well, how about hundreds of miles of the Dalmatian coast? Much of the north-south drive in Croatia runs along the cliffs overlooking the Dalmatian Sea, with breathtaking (and sometimes frightening) views. To recover from our national park treks, we scheduled stops in both Split and Dubrovnik, two coastal towns with picture-postcard views of the sea as well as the islands off of the coast. In Split, we found a hotel right on the water that had a very nice patio overlooking the marina, the Adriatic sea and, off to the right, the old town of Split.
During the “season” – which we understand runs most of the summer months – this view would have been priced way above our comfort level. For the period we were in Croatia, the room cost about as much as a Holiday Inn in the United States. When we went to Dubrovnik, we were again blown away by the beauty of the town, particularly its orientation to the Adriatic sea. As in Split, we stayed in a hotel with panoramic views of the sea, surrounding islands as well as the Old Town.
2. Food and Wine. The missus announced this morning that we are going to have to do some sort of detox when we get home. Optimist that I am …this must mean we have eaten very well. Certainly, we have eaten a great deal of food at every meal, starting with breakfast. In the United States, breakfast at a hotel or resort is generally the most boring meal of the day. It is almost guaranteed that breakfast will consist of some eggs, bacon, and fresh fruit. Our European vacation breakfasts have included so many different types of offerings: cheeses, meats, breads, eggs, seafood, shellfish, etc. As I have tried (and failed) to keep up with my no-carbs program, this is what a typical breakfast might look like. If you look closely, you can see the bread roll on the right.
Lunches and dinners have all been at traditional Croatian restaurants serving dishes with local and seasonal foods. We do not like to eat at restaurants similar to those at home, so we often research the best places for hours and walk around until we find the right one. In Croatia, fish and meat are prevalent in all dishes but the proximity to Italy has also contributed pasta dishes to the mix.
When we say we need a detox, the pictures above should provide some context for why we will need to recover when we get home. In addition to eating traditional food, we also prefer to drink the local wines when we are traveling. In Croatia, there are some fantastic wines made from grapes that only grow in this country. In total, there are dozens of indigenous grape varieties in Croatia. One of the most famous is Plavac Mali, a small dark berry that produces a high-tannin red wine. “Plavo” means blue in Croatian, and “mali” means small – so translated literally, “little blue” grape. It was once thought that Plavac Mali was the same as Zinfandel, but subsequent DNA testing has proven otherwise. Famous Napa Valley winemaker Miljenko “Mike” Grigich, a native of Croatia, worked with a grape geneticist at U.C. Davis to perform DNA testing on the grape. What this testing determined is that Plavac Mali is a descendant of Zinfandel and another indigenous Croatian grape (Dobricic).
Everywhere we ate (or drank), we ordered Plavac Mali. To honor our favorite Napa winemaker, we also visited the Grgic winery on the Peljesac Peninsula, where the best Plavac Mali grapes are grown.
We have become huge fans of Plavac Mali and we now have so much wine to take home that the missus has decreed that we need another suitcase just for the wine. One bottle that I will make sure we take home (if we don’t drink it before we go) is perhaps my favorite because it is truly a local wine. After our visit to Grgic Vina, we went to the town of Trpanj to visit a new friend, Drazan, that I “met” through our WordPress blogs. Drazan invited us to come to his house right by the water in Trpanj and share some cheese and bread. And wine. Here is what we went home with …
When Drazan gave us the wine it was full to the top; you may notice that there is now some space at the top of the bottle. Yes, we had some. Yes it was very nice. There is really something special about drinking young wine straight from the barrel made by real local wine makers.
3. The People, History and Culture. At some point during our stay in Croatia, the missus said to me: “I think I could live here.” Thinking she was making a casual comment, I replied “sure, it’s a nice place.” “No,”she said, “I mean it. I would like to live here.” We had a long conversation about what it would take to live in Croatia some day – when we are retired. My ego was happy to hear this because it meant that I had chosen wisely with my choice of trip, and everything was going well (so far). More than that, however, I appreciated how much she appreciated the people and the place. The terroir, as it were.
It is impossible to understand the Croatian people without understanding the history of this part of the world over the past century or so. World War I started with a famous assassination in the Balkans. During WWII, Croatia was occupied first by the Italians and later by the Germans. Most recently, the Croatians were swept up in the Balkans War in which thousands were killed and many sacred buildings and monuments were destroyed. In fact, as we drove from Zagreb south, we passed numerous small villages that were completely empty, abandoned by their former residents and left to decay over the past 20 years since the end of the war. Even larger cities such as Dubrovnik were not spared as the Old Town, with buildings dating back to medieval times, was shelled from the sea and the land. We had a nice coffee in old town overlooking the clock tower.
Here is a view of that same clock tower during the 1991-1995 war.On the European continent, war is largely confined to the distant memories of grandfathers and great-grandfathers. In Croatia and the other Balkan countries, nearly everyone has a memory of war, destruction, deprivation and hostility. Despite the recency of the war, though, we were impressed with the character and the resolve of the Croatians we met. At the risk of over-generalizing, we found them to be modest people, stoic yet confident, resilient and with an appreciation for their country, their nature, their land …their terroir. In every city we visited, war damage was mostly repaired and life has continued normally.
We are leaving Croatia today, but our trip is not at an end yet. We have one more country to go – the missus is still in the dark about where we are going. We’ll have our final post in a day or so and then we will be home!