Croatian Winemaker Ilija Zdravko Jakobović: We Šokci are now Aborigines in Slavonia!

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“In the beginning I made wines as a hobby, but in retirement I made a profession out of it,” said the proud owner of boutique winery Jakob

“When my grandsons come to the cellar or vineyards, they shower me with questions: “Grandfather, are we winemakers now too?” I remember being that way. Although I left as a child to Zagreb, the image of our vineyards in Klokočevik near Slavonski Brod never faded from memory, the place our grandfather took us in a carriage drawn by Lipizzaner horses. For us it was always an experience that I remember to this day like it was yesterday! My father dies at age 34. We then moved to Zagreb, where I have been living since 1961… Even when I was at the peak of my work in Furnir, I knew I would eventually return to Slavonia! In the beginning I made wines as a hobby, but in retirement I made a profession out of it,” said Ilija Zdravko Jakobović, former head of Furnir and today the proud owner of boutique winery Jakob with six and a half hectares of vineyards in the Brodski Stupnik area planted exclusively with red sorts – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah., with an annual production of 18.000 bottles.

“I decided to have only red wines. I tried roses, it turned out well, so in the future I may make them too. But nothing more! As, a man cannot be great at three things at the same time. I may plant another three hectares of new vineyards, but definitely even then I do not want production to surpass twenty thousand bottles. Not in any case, as it is a quantity one can control. You know, wine is like a woman, if you don’t caress and look at her, she will leave, betray, cheat. Wine is very alive, a million litres cannot be grown,” said Ilija Zdravko Jakobović.

Jakob winery, named after his youth nickname, in the five years of existence earned a cult status among wine lovers. Wines are mostly unavailable in retail, to be found only in a few better restaurants in Zagreb. Most are sold – in Russia!

“I’ll be honest – I cannot wait for Croatia to enter the European Union. Thanks to my business friends, my wines will immediately find their way on that market. And I do not fear competition, as I know I make quality. And world trends are in raising quality, not quantity. I do not understand those who speak of the need for higher production to enter the world market. We don’t need millions of litres, we should mind quality, not fight to produce more wine. Our wines are truly innocent, unspoiled, honest, fresh and today in Europe, if someone wants to drink good wines, they should drink Croatian wines,” said Jakobović.

He considers his vineyards in Brodski Stupnik, in a way, repaying the debt to a land he came from. Looking at modern day Slavonia compared to the period fifty years ago, when he moved to Zagreb, Ilija Zdravko Jakobović likes to say that Šokci are today Aborigines in Slavonia! Jakobović’s wine fairy tale has its prehistory. For a full twenty five years Ilija Zdravko Jakobović went to Ilok and Neštin and picked grapes to take to Zagreb and make – white wines.

“Wines were truly good and people who tasted them often asked: “And where are your vineyards?” In the beginning it was cute, but later uncomfortable as I didn’t have my own plantations. It was a period of my life when I drank only white wines, I completely disregarded red wines and avoided drinking them. And then I had a serious heart attack in 1998! I remember Srećko Ljubljanović then discovered that people before their fifties don’t know what they’re drinking, young, unbridled, switching between whisky and brandy… Only when they mature, they switch to red wines,” he said.

After the heart attack, he gave up on his to-date business conviction to avoid airplane travel longer than two hours. Barely surviving and “spending time up there with angels,” he realised that he has nothing more to lose and began travelling the Far East – Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur…

“Travelling there I mostly tasted French wines on airplanes, which were not especially good. But, my organism got accustomed to red wines and I began to seek them upon returning to Zagreb. Somehow at the same time Davor Zdjelarević began building his hotel in Brodski Stupnik and expanding his plantations. I asked of him to look for some land for me where he planted only red sorts. I knew of the micro location which professor Nikola Mirošević labelled a long time ago as the best continental location for red wines, and as some connoisseurs claim, stands alongside those on Pelješac. Besides, sunny days in Brodski Stupnik are equal to those in Dubrovnik, the Motajica mountain is nearby, Sava river, lakes, the 45th parallel passes right through the vineyards, a wind blowing all the time,” said winemaker Jakobović.

Before his retirement and professionalization of Jakob winery, this former entrepreneur sold Slavonian oak for large French barrel factories Nadalie and Seguin Moreau. They even negotiated for Nadalie to move its production plant to Croatia. The recession moved the story to better times.

“I am especially proud of, when exporting Slavonian oak to France, insisting for the barrels to be labelled Slavonian oak, as I believe only ours and the French oak are worth anything. They fulfilled my condition and “Slavonia” is since present on barrels the French make from Slavonian oak! Did you know the French, when purchasing furniture in Croatia demand it is not made from sessile oak? They use sessile oak for barrel production and Slavonian oak for furniture. Our foresters known nothing of this. The only one in Croatia who honoured Slavonian oak from the beginning the winemaker Ivan Enjingi. Others, who ordered from France, are now returning to Slavonian oak and barrels. If we had all trusted our own oak at the start, there would be two to three thousand more jobs in Croatia,” Jakobović is convinced.

For the original and more from Vinske Priče blog on wines, click here.


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