Updated: Apr 3
Stina is stone
Stone is inspiration
It takes an artist to create a wine of opulent flavour from a field of stones
Stone has been an inspiration for so many in Croatia. It is a nation with a troubled history, but one blessed with the bounty of vineyards and olive groves thriving and stretching as far as the eye can see. Through the course of history, however, when nature or the unexpected dictates that it will be a bad vintage, stone has always been there as a foundation in the local economy. For the inhabitants of the island of Brač, off the Dalmatian coast, stone is at the very core of their history and traditions. You may not have visited the island yourself, but the chances are that you will have laid eyes on Brač stone - if not in person, then through media channels - as it is at the very core of many world famous pieces of architecture from Diocletian's Palace in Split, to the Parliament Building in Vienna, to the White House in Washington D.C.
In these dark and challenging days of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is so important that we all continue to seek and find inspiration. I love art, I love history and I love wine - these, along with travel, are my true inspirations and avenues of escape and discovery. I was fortunate enough to truly "escape" last week in the charming company of Emil Mehdin. Emil is officially the Commercial Director at Stina Winery on the island of Brač, although his role extends much deeper than this into the inner workings of Stina's wine production and the magic that takes place in their wine cellars. He is a man, passionate about his country and his winery, with a down to earth sense of humour and the natural ability to make you feel so at ease in his virtual company that you feel you have been friends for years.
He shared with me his image of Dalmatia - far from the madding Game of Thrones crowds - and quickly transported me to the rough, hot, rustic and still relatively untouched region of Croatia which continues today to represent the real and authentic Mediterranean. Wine making is an ancient tradition in these parts, with deep roots and a long history dating back to when the Greeks introduced the first vines there around the 5th century BC. Dating back to 1903, the winery that is today home to Stina, is believed to be the closest in the world to the actual sea, enabling the workers in the old days to simply roll the barrels directly from land to ship and for the nectar of the gods to set sail to far-away lands and fulfill wine lovers pleasures. As in much of the world, the region was devastated by the phylloxera plague that struck in the late 19th century, and it was only in 2009 that production of wine in Brač was revived with the arrival of Jako Andabak and the birth of Stina.
Stina's vineyards on the island are in the most extreme locations. It is difficult to understand how the vines were first planted, let alone lovingly maintained and harvested. In places the gradient reaches 70% with vines planted at up to 500m above sea level. These premium slopes - skeletal, stony, south-facing, with maximum exposure to the sun and the sea breezes - is the environment in which Dalmatia's flagship red grape, Plavac Mali, thrives. In Emil's words, Plavac Mali wine is the ultimate taste of the Mediterranean - "when you drink this wine you feel Dalmatia." The name of the grape translates in english as "little blue", but produces powerful, full bodied reds that are anything but little. Stina's Plavac Mali is honest to the grape, carrying distinct aromas and flavours of ripe sour cherry, dried plums and a touch of Mediterranean herbs. It shows beautiful volume in the mouth, a long finish and great depth. Feeling thirsty yet? I was ...
Competing with Plavac Mali as Dalmatia's flagship grape is the indigenous white varietal called Pošip. "This is the most important white grape and a grape with enormous potential." Emil goes on to tell me that, in contrast to the growing conditions on the island of Korcula, Pošip's ancestral home, where the grape thrives in deep soil in vineyards close to sea level, Stina's pošip has a very different life experience. The vines are planted on crushed stone in vineyards at altitude with strong exposure to the wind and the sun. Yields are very low, and quality extremely high. The resulting wines are beautifully crisp, with a strong structure and extreme minerality, and they rapidly transport you to the Adriatic coast as "you taste the saltiness and you smell the sea". Emil's belief and pride in the potential of this grape was clear to see as he shared with me that he is partnering with a winery in the Languedoc to plant the first pošip on French soil. Something to look forward to a few years down the road, but for now I had no desire to virtually leave the Adriatic coast! Why would I?
Stina is bound in tradition. "Stina is Brač, Brač is Stina" is proudly emblazoned on their wine packaging and promotional materials. They are inspired by stone and the magic and inspiration that can come from stone, be it art, or be it wine. Their traditional labelling is the pure representation of stone as a canvas - an all white cotton label, with embossed lettering, invisible at a distance. This theme of stone as a canvas for art is beautifully illustrated in the creation of the label of their latest Plavac Mali Majstor vintage.
Stina is stone. Stone is inspiration. Stone also signifies the human strength, stubbornness and hardiness of the wonderful people of Croatia, and it continues to inspire art, song, poetry and sculpture there today, just as it has done for centuries.
As I bid farewell to Emil, and my brief but uplifting "escape" to the Adriatic coast came to an end, I found myself inspired and with renewed energy to fulfil our mission to bring a true and authentic experience of Croatia to our fellow Canadian residents. Now more than ever we all need to experience a few rays of Dalmatian sunshine ...
If you are inspired and eager to experience a ray of Dalmatian sunshine, two Stina wines are currently available at the LCBO as part of the launch of online Destination Croatia:
Plavac Mali Majstor (Product ID 696467)
Pošip (Product # 696459)