Vineyards nestled on rugged slopes, taking in the sun along the Adriatic coast, with a cooling breeze through the canopy - this is the Dalmatian wine region, crafting expressive wines paired with local cuisine. Boutique wines from Croatia are increasingly appearing on the international market, recognized for their confident reds and complex whites from Dalmatia. You will find small garage family wineries with a generation-long tradition, which should not be underestimated over the new state-of-the-art wineries being built in between.
Croatia’s status as a reborn wine producing country is now well-established - and Dalmatia is helping them achieve this newly formed recognition of quality. With 1200 islands along this gorgeous stretch of the Adriatic Sea, it’s no surprise for many.
But among these sharp grey mountains of the southern Dalmatia region, wine has been made for thousands of years - approximately 2500 years, dating back to the Illyrians. Just north of Dubrovnik, vineyards cling to the side of steep hills, on islands such as Hvar and Korčula, grapes spring up from old stone terraces which were built before anyone can remember. It is here on these shores that dynamic wines with exotic names such as Dingač, Postup, and Plavac Mali are crafted. This is also where the grape Primitivo (aka: Zinfandel in the USA) and locally called Crljenak Kaštelanski (meaning - red grape of Kaštela) originates from.
This history runs deep in the veins of the winemakers of today, many of which came from families which have been producing quality wines for generations. In Illyrian caves in Nakovanj, Pelješac for example, ceramic wine glasses handed to the Illyrians by the Greeks as a payment to pass the channel between Pelješac and Korčula, have been found. It is therefore believed, that wine was produced and consumed in the region at this time.
Eventually the Roman Empire conquered the Illyrian army headed by Queen Teuta and a more formal wine culture began to take shape. This was evident by the many Roman Villa Rusticas, which were located in areas ideal for grape growing for wine.
When the Slavs overcame the Romans in the 7th century, they adopted the wine culture of their predecessors. Many rulers governed the region after this in which wine production declined. During Napoleon’s short rule in the 1800s, many vines were planted and the Methode Traditionnelle process was introduced.
Then in 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire governed Croatia, Emperor Franz Joseph's exclusive wine list included the red wines from Dingač, Pelješac (South Dalmatia) and even Tokaji, Hungary. With these two wines being noted as the most valuable. Additionally, wines from Croatia were exported to France where the phylloxera pest had devastated vineyards and the wine industry. Phylloxera would eventually hit the vineyards of Croatia and their wine industry having similar damage. The Dalmatian wine growers left their land and immigrated to America and even New Zealand (where they pioneered the local winemaking industry).
After recovering from phylloxera, between WW1 and WW2, Croatia's wine industry was on par with Italy in terms of viticulture and vinification methods. As communism moved in after WW2, the market closed and again the wine industry experienced decline, as cooperatives paid growers based on quantity rather than quality. This era however brought something good to the wine industry by introducing appellation laws (Controlled Designation of Origin) of which the prestigious Dingač region on Pelješac was registered in 1961.
Then after the war of independence, between 1995 and 2002 this was a time of recovery for the country and its wine industry, where the country took this opportunity to refocus on producing quality wines; something the country can proudly say they are succeeding in. And Dalmatia called the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.