WineOs Festival in Osijek Exceeds Expectations

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The fifth WineOs wine festival exceeded all expectations, which were quite high after the previous four successful WineOs editions. I have attended WineOs since the very beginning, since 2014 when the first edition was held at the premises of the Museum of Slavonia. In the very first year, WineOs immediately became the central wine event of eastern Croatia. Of course, events such as the Evenings of Wine and Art, which are held twice a year at the courtyard of the Kazamat gallery, must not be forgotten, but that is an event that brings together local winemakers, while WineOs, in addition to the locals, also brings in winemakers from the rest of Croatia as well as from abroad, making WineOs qualitatively and conceptually equal to the Zagreb wine events such as VINOcom. The only exception is the number of exhibitors, but the quantity and quality do not necessarily go hand in hand.

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Wine is a specific product, and even to highly-experienced tasters, it is difficult to taste many different wines in a relatively short time frame. Therefore, when I attend wine festivals, I am always somewhat disappointed that I will not be able to taste most of what is offered. Wine should be enjoyed, both organoleptically and in its flavours, and the goal is definitely not to get drunk. Therefore, I am glad when I am not faced with a sea of exhibitors at one location. In case of the festivals with a large number of exhibitors, I always advise the organisers to make the event last longer for a day or two so that visitors can accurately absorb and valorise all that is offered and seems intriguing to them.

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After two editions at the Museum of Slavonia, in the old town centre – Tvrđa, the WineOs moved for two years to the modern building of the Esseker Centre at Ribarska street in Osijek. It is an excellent location which connects the Osijek main square with the pedestrian zone along the Drava river promenade. The Esseker Centre itself is exceptionally functional and spacious but for my taste maybe a bit too modern. The best environment for wine festivals are venues with a tradition and a story to tell… The old saying is “the older wine is the better wine”, and that could be applied to the wine festival venues as well.

The fifth WineOs was held at the Muzej Okusa (Museum of Taste) restaurant, in the former City Garden pavilion. It is a protected cultural site built in 1804, thoroughly renovated in 2016. This is the location where, 210 years ago, Osijek was proclaimed a free royal city.

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In the central room of the Muzej Okusa, the exhibitors were divided into eight separate areas. The first exhibition stand to the right of the entrance was occupied by the Grafika company from Osijek. There is no quality branding and good marketing of wine without proper visual design solutions, so Grafika presented a whole range of different labels for wine bottles.

Per my personal habits, I always taste the wines in a defined order, starting with white varieties, followed by the rose and red varieties. This time I made an exception; when I saw Domagoj Buhač, one of the best Ilok winemakers, having previously heard that he had recently bottled his last year’s rose, I just could not resist. I had to taste it, skipping the usual schedule. And why did I choose the Buhač rose? This wine has a sentimental value for me because it is the first wine my wife tried without saying that it was sour, bitter or merely unsavoury. A few years ago, I took her to WineOs to break her mental opposition to wines. I have to admit, it was not easy! I advised her to taste different types of sweet wines, late and elective harvests. By the expression on her face I realised that she was not really thrilled; after a modest and cautious sip, most of the content of the glasses would later end in a pouring bowl. And then, when I was starting to lose hope that I could ever turn her into a wine fan, we came to Domagoj who poured her a glass of his rose wine. By the expression on her face, I saw that was it! I finally succeeded in my mission to make her fall in love with wines. The fact that it was just one label from one producer did not mean much. Domagoj warned me that last year’s vintage was somewhat sweeter than the previous ones, but I did not see that as something negative, on the contrary. I am only sorry that I will be in the Netherlands at the time of Vinkovo this year, so I was not able to accept Buhač’s invitation to join his party. I will also have to skip the usual Vinceška warm-up event at Banovo Brdo in Baranja. But well, there will be more Vinkovos, Vincelovos and Vinceškas. In addition to the Buhač winery, the Ilok vineyards were represented by wineries TRS, Papak, and Iločki Podrumi.

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Immediately at the entrance to the festival, I was intrigued by two excellent wineries from Vojvodina, whose wines I regularly enjoy. They are the Erdevik winery from Erdevik in the Srijem region, located just south of Ilok, and the Zvonko Bogdan winery from Palić in the Bačka region. As for the wine hits of the latter winery, I must highlight Osam Tamburaša, a unique white coupage consisting of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Muscat, in the 50:25:20:5 ratio. Later, I could not resist to taste the black coupage Život Teče (Merlot / Cabernet Franc / Frankovka). The Erdevik winery offers a great chardonnay called Omnibus Lector. They also have pink wines Rosa Nostra (90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) and Tri Roze Koze (50% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon). Another exceptional wine is their black coupage Trianon that consists of 55% Merlot, 37% Syrah and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Krauthaker winery, as the best winery of the Kutjevo wine region, pleasantly surprised us with a large number of offered labels. One of their unique features, which makes them different from the competition, is that they separately bottle their Graševine wines from each separate location. Of all the wines offered, I was particularly impressed by their Silvanac Zeleni. The festival was also attended by the Sontacchi boutique winery from Kutjevo, which used to draw a lot of media attention with their “male virility” wine – Kitokret. In the meantime, they have begun to develop a serious wine and tourism initiative under the slogan “The Grape Escape”.

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The festival open to the public at 3 pm and the opening ceremony was scheduled for 4.30 pm. Just half an hour after the opening, queues were forming at some stands, which demonstrated the substantial interest of visitors and the fact that are many fans of wines in Osijek and Slavonia. But, someone needed to create this fan base, and most credit for this definitely goes to the Vinita wine-shop, which has held presentations of winemakers and their wines for years, with a symbolic 50 kuna entrance fee, which is also a voucher to buy the wines.

An essential role in the initiative to make Osijek-Baranja County perceived as a wine-growing region, and not just as an area characterized by endless fields of corn, also belongs to the Wine Tour project, which helped organise a dozen wine roads and establish wine museums in each of the four wine areas of Osijek-Baranja County, as well as the central wine cellar in the Osijek’s historic town centre – Tvrđa. To be honest, of these four museums the only one which is genuinely operational in the one in Zmajevac in Baranja, primarily thanks to the members of the Surduk Hungarian traditions association, but that is a topic for a different article. What is positive is that Osijek is now finally perceived as the centre of a wine rectangle, with Baranja wine area on the northern tip, Erdut on the eastern, Feričanci on the western, and Đakovo on the southern tip.

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As for the Baranja wine area’s representation at WineOs, it included Svijetli Dvori from Karanac, wineries Pinkert and Kolar from Suza, Kalazić and Josić from Zmajevac, and the wine giant Belje. The Kolar winery successfully combines winemaking and tourism and owns the Suza Baranje mini-camp which, along with three more camps from the Slavonia region will be presented at the Caravana camping fair to be held from 17 to 23 January in Leeuwarden, Netherlands.

The Erdut wine area is geographically the closest to Osijek, and the Erdutski Vinogradi is the cornerstone of the winemaking in this area. Under its patronage and thanks to Hrvoje Pavić, a collection of papers from the scientific conference “Wine and Wine-Growing in the History of Slavonia, Srijem and Baranja” is about to be published. When it comes to Erdut, one must mention the Brzica winery. I was most impressed by its Chardonnay. The winery is located at perhaps the most visually appealing part of the Erdut wine area, on a Danube meander that offers excellent views. It was a pleasure to listen to Borna Brzica, one of the sons of the winery owner Ivo Brzica, talking about plans for a glamping resort. We should also mention the Süber winery, which recently launched the flavoured sweet Sibernet wine and changed the graphic design of its products. Feravino represented the Feričanci wine area and Misna Vina from Trnava the Đakovo wine area.

The festival featured winemakers from neighbouring Hungary, from their winemaking centre Villány – Maczko, Gere Tamas & Zsolt and Bock. Of the winemakers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the most prominent was the Povratak iz Žepča winery with its unusual wines, such as the one made from the Czech variety Palava.

All those who had too much wine could make a radical break and enjoy the beers of the von Becker craft beer brewery from Osijek. Brewer Bojan Pap personally served the beer from his workshop. In addition to the beer, you could have a glass of the Jedan (One) brandy. Well, more than one, perhaps.

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A particular highlight of the first day of the festival was the workshop called Croatian Wine Treasures of Hrnjevac Wine Genius, presented by wine writer Željko Garmaz, which offered a tasting of a whole range of archival wines by Ivan Enjingi. The legendary winemaker immediately emphasised that he is trying to produce the healthiest wines possible, just like they were made 100 and more years ago. “Industrial wines will ruin the mankind,” said Ivo. After the attendees tasted his fantastic wines, they simply had to agree with him.

In the end, we should praise those without whom this great event would not be possible: Vinko Ručević, who came up with the initial idea, and president of the organisational committee Boris Ocić. Given the development of the event so far, there is no doubt that the next, sixth WineOs, will be even more interesting, splendid and exciting.

More news on the Croatian wines can be found in our Lifestyle section.


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