Dalmatia's Adriatic coastline is a region deeply rooted in both maritime history and wine making traditions. For centuries, dating back to Greek and Roman times, "kortas" were the places where families gathered to bid farewell and bon voyage to sea captains and sailors embarking overseas on journeys of trade and discovery, as well as places of celebration on their safe return. The beautiful Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels, perched on a stony ridge in the Pelješac peninsula, has proudly kept watch over and protected the local sailors since it's creation in the 15th century. Katharine Anderson Groethe's voice lights up as she speaks of this architectural gem, and the view from here, looking out over hundreds of cypress trees, to the crystal clear, glistening sea beyond. A magical vista that has, no doubt, captured the hearts of many ...
In the late 1990's Katharine's parents, Penny and Lee Anderson, discovered Southern Croatia, rapidly fell in love with the culture, cuisine and architecture, and, finding their hearts captured, saw their life journey take an unexpected twist. The American couple, both passionate wine-lovers, followed their dreams, and in 2001 bought a hotel in the small coastal town of Orebić with a goal of creating the ultimate wine and hospitality destination. Since releasing their first vintage in 2006, they have invested time, money and passion to create a state of the art winery and hotel. Today, Korta Katarina is very much a reality: a luxury, boutique wine and villa experience, member of the esteemed Relais & Châteaux family of hotels, and they are proud to share their very own experience of Dalmatia and the region's wonderful wines with the world.
For Katharine, when she thinks of Dalmatia, she sees a true wine destination. "As you drive in you are surrounded by stunning mountains on one side and the Adriatic on the other, with an abundance of wonderful vineyards of all shapes and sizes rolling down to the sea." Combine this with the cultural heritage, the pride of the local people, and the extraordinary cuisine, and you have a gem of a destination, that has to be seen with your own eyes to be truly understood and appreciated. Travel is unfortunately not an option in our world today, but thankfully we can still escape with images of sun-kissed Dalmatia in our heads and allow the fabulous wines to captivate our tastebuds, until we can once again spread our wings.
Living in America, the Andersons have entrusted management of the estate and winery into the safe and spirited hands of Ivo Cibilić. A born and bred Dalmatian, Ivo explains to me how wine is in the locals blood - "we are a part of the true old world ... we have been working the land and drinking and producing wine here for millennia". He speaks with pride and passion as he describes Dalmatia as the perfect location for wine production, and more specifically as the perfect location for the indigenous grape varietals that thrive there. "Dalmatia is the ideal terroir for these varieties. Other international varieties would simply not survive the heat and the terrain." The quality of wine has increased exponentially in this region in the last two decades, with it's evolution from a cooperative model to today's landscape, where the Pelješac peninsula and the nearby island of Korčula are home to hundreds of small wineries, driven by diverse wine philosophies, with each and every wine maker taking pride in the traditions of their trade, adopting new techniques and technology, and giving something unique and special back to the wine they produce.
Korta Katarina is "all in" when it comes to local indigenous varietals. Ivo tells me how the wines are produced in KK's own style ... "we don't rush our wines out to market, wine-making with these grapes requires patience and the results are worth the wait ... and we always want to experiment, make our mark, and leave our footprint." Their focus is firmly set on Dalmatia's flagship grapes - Plavac Mali and Pošip.
"Plavac Mali is Plavac Mali ... you can't compare it to anything else" Katharine shares. For Ivo it is "the King of the Reds in Croatia". It is a wine that, however, needs time and attention. I smile as Ivo describes how the grape is stubborn, and compares it to the locals. It is a grape that produces its best results from the worst possible locations, namely on steep and rocky hillsides that would thrill and excite extreme sports addicts. It is difficult to imagine how any wines can grow on some of these parcels of land with 45% plus inclines, but grow they do, and with powerful results. Usually higher in alcohol, and with lower yields, the art of producing top plavac mali is a long term business. "This grape is like a living person ... when we are young we are inexperienced and want everything in a fast and easy way, as we get older we gain experience and patience and we become wiser." For Ivo, speaking personally, this wine is all about the body - it is extremely well structured, earthy, velvety, and with a long finish. A perfect winter companion to a hearty beef bourguignon or roast, but equally fantastic in the summer, paired with a great steak off the grill.
If Plavac Mali is the King of the Red's, then, in the hearts and minds of all Dalmatians, white Pošip is his Queen. Pošip's potential is boundless. Incredible investment has been made in establishing a connection with this grape in the very small geographical region in which it grows today. The combination of knowledge of the trade combined with the latest technology can, in the right hands, produce wines that are delightfully fresh and simple when matured in stainless steel, beautiful when aged in barriques, and it is a brilliant wine for sur lie production. Both Katharine and Ivo wax lyrical about how this wine is the perfect match for Mediterranean cuisine. "It is hard to imagine a visit to this region without sitting down and enjoying the simple, honest food, fresh from the land and Adriatic Sea, accompanied by a glass or two of pošip ... local cuisine makes the wine shine". It is personally one of my favourite white wines, and I find my mouth watering as Katharine speaks about the wine "full of floral aromas and an oyster shell backbone". I know what's going to be on our menu tonight - a match made in Dalmatian heaven - oysters and pošip!!
For many, the Andersons story and the creation of Korta Katarina reads like a fairy-tale: Two wine lovers stumbled upon a stunning region many miles away from home, fell in love with the land, its people and produce. They recognized it's quality and potential, engaged a passionate and knowledgable team, and created an ultimate wine and villa experience. If they could have their way, they would invite each and every one of us to spend an hour with them in Dalmatia, step inside the cellars to take some much needed shade from the Adriatic sun, and allow us to experience for ourselves the magic that can be produced from Croatian vines with American roots.
If you are inspired and eager to experience the fruits of this fairy-tale, Korta Katarina wines are currently available at the LCBO as part of the launch of online Destination Croatia:
Plavac Mali (Product ID 695790)
Pošip (Product # 695782)
Rosé - Plavac Mali, Zinfandel blend (Product # 850339)