October 20, 2019 – There are few more fascinating places in Croatia than its easternmost town of Ilok and a prized Traminac with an incredible story. You can have a bottle for just 7,400 euro, but be quick – there are just 182 left for sale.
I have been fortunate enough to have travelled extensively all over Croatia in the last few years, learning about its many unique stories and experiences. It really is a country like no other, and it has been a joy and privilege to discover and report on many things I find, often for the first time in English. And the more I travel, the more I discover, and the more I want to explore…
Before this weekend, there were four major places on my list that I had yet to discover in Croatia – Ilok, Vucedol, Kopacki Rit and Palagruza. The list is now down to one, and I have my doubts that I will make it to formidable Palagruza, but the incredible introductions to the other three all in one weekend means I can be patient about Palagruza for now.
There is SO much to write about Ilok and the incredible Ilocki Podrum, and there will be a big Ilok feature article soon, but I wanted to tell you about the most expensive bottle of wine in Croatia, and one with rather an incredible story, which just keeps on giving. It is a wine I have heard much about over the years, but the visit to Ilocki Podrum was my first chance to hear it from the winery involved.
(Photo credit Ilocki Podrum)
The year is 1953, and a young British queen is crowned, with her coronation being a global event attended by dignitaries from all over the world. Upon becoming queen in early 1952, gifts appeared from all over the world, including from then Yugoslavia. Among them, a white wine called Traminac from Ilocki Podrum on the Danube. Queen Elizabeth II apparently took a liking to the wine’s label and asked to try it. The rest is history, and some 11,000 bottles of the 1947 Ilocki Podrum Traminac were ordered for the coronation.
(Photo credit Ilocki Podrum)
It was the start of a royal connection between Ilocki Podrum and the British Royal Family, which continues to this day, and royal sommeliers descend upon Ilok each year to taste and buy fresh stocks for the royal cellars. Traminac from Ilok was served at the weddings of both Prince William and Prince Harry, and their father was gifted a rare bottle of the 1947 Traminac enjoyed all those years ago at his mother’s coronation on a 2016 visit to Croatia. President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic was on hand to pass on the rare gift from Ilocki Podrum owner Juraj Mihaljevic.
Not only rare, but a very generous gift as it turns out. The current retail price of the 1947 Traminac is an astonishing 55,000 kuna a bottle (7,400 euro) I discovered on our excellent tour of the Ilok cellars yesterday.
“Yes, but price is one thing, finding a buyer is another,” I replied when I heard the price. “When was the last bottle sold?”
“About 2 weeks ago,” came the reply. “A Russian visitor heard the story, wanted to try, and we opened the bottle for him during his visit.” And it appears that the Russian visitor is not alone. Five years ago, there were about 1,200 bottles left. Today, just 282, so they have been selling at almost 200 a year at that rate. Plans are to sell 182 more only, then keep the remaining 100. So be quick if you are interested!
But the British royal connection is not the most interesting part of the story of the 1947 Traminac, for without the bravery and ingenuity of a few good men during the 1991 regional conflict, there would have been no wine to gift Prince Charles.
As you can see from the map above, Ilok is surrounded on three sides by Serbia, and it was not long before the town and its wine cellars succumbed to the enemy. Barrels were smashed, wine was poured out or used to make rakija, and a proud winery faced the same fate of destruction that was sadly prevalent all over the region.
(Photo credit Vinske Price – and I do encourage Croatian readers to check out the in-depth article with Franjo Volf, the Traminac saviour)
A plan was hatched to try and save the most precious archive wines from the enemy by a few good men, and the project was led by longtime employee Franjo Volf, pictured above. Volf and his few assistants managed to build a wall to block off this section of the winery, then cover the new wall with the black mold and cobwebs found elsewhere, so that it looked as though the wall had been there for years.
One floor below, Volf and his helpers managed to preserve some more bottles by placing them behind these big barrels and covering them with sand. They went untouched and undiscovered. Some 8,000 archive bottles in all, including the precious 1947 bottles.
After liberation, Volf and his merry men returned to find that their heroics had worked. His wall was destroyed and this gate put in its place, where most of the precious archive wines are stored today.
And while most of the bottles are covered in the dust and grime that one accumulates in a cellar dating back centuries, there is one newer section of bottles – these have been ordered and reserved for a couple named Harry and Meghan.
But the most interesting section is directly opposite the gate above – wooden steps to the place where the remaining 1947 Traminac now lives.
As for Franjo Volf, he apparently retired. Due to the war, he missed out on 5 years in his workbook and so ended up on a minimal pension. Owner Mihaljevic adds to the pension each month as a token of gratitude to the man who saved so much precious wine. Now 83 and still living in Ilok, Volf is rightly regarded as a hero locally.
More on Ilok and the wines of Ilocki Podrum coming soon, but a quick mention of the greeting which awaited us when we arrived. A delicious welcome Traminac to accompany one of the most unusually named pastries I have ever tried – literally translated as Torn Underpants!
And they take their Traminac seriously in Ilok, with no less than 8 Traminac varieties in one vintage, picked at various times of the year, from late August to December, in years when there is ice wine. Incredible variety in colour from the same grape variety.
And if you are a fan of the British Royal Family and want to drink like a Royal, but can’t afford the 55,000 kuna price tag for a bottle of the 1947 Traminac, why not check out the wines enjoyed by the guests of Harry and Meghan instead (above)? Both were delicious.
To learn more about the fabulous world of Ilocki Podrum, visit the official website.