There is no better moment for the promotion of a new sparkling wine than near the end of the year when even those who are not fans of bubbles often ignorantly shake their bottles, launching the cork among the guests and wishing everyone all the best. Of course, to do even something remotely similar did not even occur to Krešimir Ivančić, the experienced and inspired, talented and successful winemaker from Plešivica. Naturally, everything began in the vineyards, scattered on the sunny slopes of Plešivica, where ten years ago with a lot of passion Ivančić decided to take advantage of the potentials of terroir and varieties and produce sparkling wines with distinct variety characteristics. The Ivančić winery currently has nine labels, including five sparkling wines, three white wines and one red wine. It produces about 25,000 bottles a year and distributes it all in restaurants, wine-shops and at the doorstep, and there is even a waiting list for some labels from this year’s harvest!
When selecting the label name, Krešimir did not keep to the usual tradition of choosing the name by the producer’s surname, but instead chose a mythical being – a griffin – a beast with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle, which is also on the coat of arms of the Ivančić knightly family. Aeschylus called him Zeus’s dog with a bird’s beak and no bark, and according to Greek mythology, the griffin protects the entrance to the wine cloister of the god Dionysus – at the Ivančić winery, he is protecting bubbles of his sparkling wines!
The unique characteristic of these vineyards is that most of them are located on slopes with over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year, which is almost a fifth more than the average in inland Croatia, and the highest is at 400 metres above sea level. The vineyards are cultivated manually because the locations are very steep, and in one vineyard you cannot even enter without special shoes.
The first Griffin Brut series was produced in 2013, and it is the first sparkling wine with the mark of top-quality wine produced from the Müller Thurgau variety (Rizvanac). From another neglected variety – Portugizer – almost out of spite – Ivančić has produced two more top sparkling wines – Griffin Dark Side and Griffin Rosé, who have won gold medals at the Portugizer du Monde world competition several years in a row, confirming that the Portugizer can also produce great sparkling wines. Griffin Dark Side has thrilled Spanish media with its elegance and complexity, and manager of the prestigious Akatavino magazine awarded it 92 points and categorised it as an unexpected surprise. In addition to the prize from the Portugieser Du Monde competition in Pecs in Hungary, Griffin Brut became the champagne champion at the Russian wine rating competition called Black Sea Forum, while Griffin Zero and Griffin Dark Side won gold medals.
How much effort he has invested in his wines and his personal education is demonstrated by the fact that he is the only Croatian winemaker who has been for many years a judge at international exhibitions and reviews of wines such as Awc Vienna, Mundus Vini and the Russian rating of wines from the Black Sea countries. This is not surprising for anyone who knows Ivančić: he is serious in everything he does (in addition to learning a lot about wines and becoming a winemaker in ten years, the 2-metre-high guy from Plešivica is an excellent angler and since recently a licensed diver), he also carefully studies and experiments with various vinification methods, and he was ready to accept the help of the oenologist Goran Marmilić in order to find a way to keep the variety characteristics in the smell and the taste one variety wines, with no blending.
The combination of knowledge, youth and unique terroirs at the highest Plešivica positions has brought the liveliness into a somewhat dormant Croatian wine scene and made great strides in the popularisation of sparkling wines. We are especially pleased with the fact that more and more young winemakers are starting to research new things in an effort to push their ideas into their bottles. After all, one thing is clear – Ivančić is a fascinating “guy”, a man who has abandoned his engineering career and turned to the wine business where he obviously “swims” very successfully.
Interestingly, until recently his sparkling wines also swam in the water – literally. The label in question is Coral Griffin, the latest sparkling wines of unique scents and flavours that replaced the Plešivica hills with the unique conditions of the sea depths. As soon as you take a look at a bottle covered with sea corals and algae, secured in a handmade solid wood box with a glass window, it is clear that this is a unique sparkling wine worth enjoying more than just for the New Year’s Eve or other celebrations.
The project of resting the sparkling wines at the bottom of the sea, which Ivančić launched with partner Marko Dušević, lasted for three years and the result of nature’s magnificent play was presented late last year at the Noel restaurant in Zagreb. The labels have been “printed” by corals, algae, shells and other living creatures at a depth of 20 metres, and the unique marine terroir, which until now was a rarity in the wine world, created sparkling wines in an unimaginable way, says Ivančić.
The sparkling wines were presented, in addition to their creator, by the best Croatian sommeliers: Mario Meštrović, Darko Lugarić and the Noel duo – hosts Ivan Jug and Goran Petrić, with snacks prepared by chef Goran Kočiš. First was served Griffin Brut, Ivančić’s first wine, whose tastes of green apples and citrus was excellently paired with the fresh Adriatic oysters. Each of the sommeliers introduced one of the coral sparkling wines, and Ivan Jug was honoured to present the first Croatian non-dosage Griffin Zero, that he was first introduced to several years ago at the opening of the Noel restaurant. At the time, its sea version was marked with maturity, fullness and softness, and in addition to the scents of caramel, butter and vanilla now we also have smells of coconut and smoke, explained Jug.
Goran Petrić presented the already well-known and award-winning sparkling rosé of the Portugizer variety, Coral Griffin Rosé, which kept all its great attributes in the sea. With added freshness, its aromas have received new layers of seductive fruits. Finally, Coral Griffin Dark Side was served, probably the most popular Griffin, which is known in the international media as “Black Champagne”. It was presented by Darko Lugarić, a leading expert for native and Croatian varieties. “When I was first introduced to the Griffin sparkling wines, I was fascinated by their characteristics. At the nose and mouth, it was not just the yeast, but I also felt grapes from which the wines were made,” Lugarić said. In the scent of the coral Dark Side, ripe cherry and dry sour cherry can be felt, accompanied by freshness and fruitiness, with gentle creamosity, while mature and soft tannins give it an irresistible delight.
The secret element is probably the fact that Ivančić combines the methods of cryomaceration and battonage. On the one hand, the cryomaceration method allows for the variety characteristics and freshness to remain even after the second fermentation in the bottle, while on the other hand, the battonage technique allows the body of these wines and sparkling wines to develop without the presence of sulphur. When you add to it a wine cellar 20 metres under the sea, where under specific conditions the sparkling wines mature for more than 2 years in the silence of the seas, at low temperatures and at a pressure of 2.7 bars, with very little light – you get specific sparkling wines, with full body and taste, and with only 11.5% alcohol.
Ivančić’s partner in the Coral Griffin project Marko Dušević said that, after a long search, he had found products which he is very proud of. “Ivančić’s Griffins are the best wines that have been taken from his wine cellar in the last five years. The unique ‘sea terroir’ is very specific, and every wine responds to it differently. If the wines are not ready for maturing or if they have any flaws or diseases – the sea will detect it and destroy the wine. I have put hundreds of types of wine from various producers in the sea, and there are very few which came out of the sea cellar improved. These are the wines we are drinking tonight,” Dušević said.
Indeed, we have a unique product that will complement Croatia’s tourist offer as a wine and gastronomy destination, and become the most beautiful postcard from Croatia by joining the continental wine region with the Adriatic Sea.
Photos by Julio Frangen