Life as a Croatian Winemaker on the Slovenian Border in 2016

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A group of journalists and restaurateurs from leading gourmet club Gastronaut visited the Ozalj region of Croatia on March 31, 2016. The last winery – in an idyllic spot to match the very pleasant wines – had a rather unwelcome recent addition. 

‘Priroda’ or nature – that was the first thing that struck me on the recent Gastronaut tour of Ozalj and surrounding area on March 30, 2016 (full report coming shortly).

A region very much off the tourist radar, but with plenty of potential for adventure and eco-tourism, and a great bunch of dedicated individuals who are really trying to lift the region and their own fortunes. A very nice family destination.

The last wine stop of the tour promised much of the same, and the welcome and excellent wines of Darko Vrbanek in Vivodina was one of the highlights of the wine tour component of the trip.  

A large house in a wide open space and a river 20 metres in front of the house, on the other side of the main road, where the group noticed something strange – barbed wire fence going the length of the other bank of the river.

The Slovenian border. 

Here in a small community and idyllic nature, a coarse intrusion happened back in November. 

“Have you seen many refugees coming past,” I asked a young boy, perhaps seven, who followed me with his football as I went off to investigate. 

“I think I saw one refugee lady a few weeks ago, but I am not sure.”

Falling into conversation with the boy’s grandmother, I learned that no refugees had been anywhere near. Nobody had informed them what was happening. The Slovenians came to their side of the river with bulldozers one day to clear the way, and they were followed the next day by 50 soldiers who turned up, unannounced, and spent an hour covering the Slovenian side of the riverbank with the hated wire. How to explain that to the little ones? 

Despite the wire, the winery is an idyllic place for raising children and making wine, and the three children in the family clearly enjoyed their natural lifestyle.  

Lots of open space so near to the wire.

I was curious about the small border crossing 100 metres from the winery (see lead photo), for it too was fenced off and inaccessible. It had in fact been closed two years ago – nothing to do with refugees or EU entry or Schengen. The river had flooded the nearby area and done damage to the nearby road, which had not been repaired.  And so the border ws closed as an official border crossing, but it was still possible to cross and connect the border communities of both countries. 

(The view of the winery from the border crossing)

No longer. Entering Slovenia for the simplest thing – part of the border culture – now involves a lengthy and time-consuming diversion.

“And when will they take the wire fence away?”

“Ah. We hear they will maybe, but nobody tells us anything. We must wait for those soldiers to return one day unannounced.” 

Meanwhile life goes on, as they wait for the fence to be removed. Life in a natural paradise in rural Croatia and some very pleasant wines. Learn more on their official website.  


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