Croatian Winemakers: Ivan Damjanić, Fuškulin in Istria

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Ivan has the potential to become one of the biggest – in wines and in character

I had a hundred ideas for an opening of this article, but now none of them seem good enough. Ivan Damjanić is a very peculiar personality and it is hard to place him into a category. He is a man of a large, contagious smile, very hospitable, but always at a small distance which is clearly felt. He will entice a conversation; naturally, primarily on wine, but he will let you talk while he estimates your knowledge and personality. His deep, expressive and very blue eyes are fascinating. Why does this matter? I don’t know if he is aware, but when touring the cellar and tasting his wines, those eyes observe you like an x-ray. They monitor each and every move on your face. They observe your mime and while that information is stored somewhere in the brain, he has probably already judged you, as often the first reactions speak most of the wine and of you. All this, probably, helps him to choose the style of wine. When he realizes you are a true wine person or as the people would say, when you ‘click’, then the small world of Ivan Damjanić lies before you and he will strive to fulfil your every desire.

And now, let’s start from the beginning.

Ivan’s ancestors used to be among the largest landowners in the area. The estate was larger than 40 hectares, but after some divisions within the family, nationalisation in the former system, the estate slowly fell apart… When Ivan decided to embrace wine growing and winemaking as a calling and lifestyle, he had exactly 0.3 hectares. That’s a start too.

The small cellar in the family home, adapted for the needs of the winery, was good enough to start. Today, it serves only as a barrique hall. In all these years, Ivan knew exactly where he is going and did not rush, did not fall into that trap, but developed slowly, together with his estate.

Today he cultivates 8 hectares of vineyards. Most of it is planted with young vines, but there are some old ones, which give an especially high quality yield. In his assortment are Malvazija, Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, Teran, Borgonja, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay. And thus we come to the wines.

We tasted most of the Damjanić Wines assortment. I will not describe wine by wine; descriptions can be found with some of my colleagues, but also on the webpages of Damjanić wines.

However, I was especially impressed by the Borgonja wine – excellent wine; probably among several of the best red wines I have tasted lately. Wonderfully balanced, mighty, and still soft and tender, it seems to caress the palate. Borgonja is rich on the nose, but also with exceptional fruit aromas or ripe berry fruits. And yes, the wine is pure elegance.

I will single out the red and white Clemente, wines which have begun to gather various awards, although I never judge wines by that criterion.

Of course, just like with any Istrian, most of the production with Damjanić is taken up by Malvazija. Fine, drinkable, fresh, pronounced bouquet, but… today it is difficult to find a poor Malvazija in Istria, so we have begun looking for something else with Istrian winemakers, besides Malvazija, as it is given it can be excellent. In fact, this fine elegant style runs with all Ivan’s wines.

Yes, this is probably the word that best describes his wines; at least this is how I experienced them. But when I think about everything better, this is normal, as everything about him has a touch of elegance. The tasting room terrace has a minimalist style, but with a few details it turns into an elegant and refined terrace, where his wines are even more pronounced. Such are the bottles and labels… In fact, I feel aesthetics are something natural with Ivan and he uses it perfectly.


Back to the terrace a bit. It seems like time has stopped there. First of all, you are far from the city bustle, surrounded by peace and easy music mixed with the twitter of birds and this gives a grandiose symbiosis of sounds, human and natural. This detail, this may be the essence if winemaking. You don’t get it? Well, nature gives us grapes, and a winemaker must use them in the cellar to make the best wine he can. So that, on this terrace, you may try Ivan’s wines. They won’t be better here than elsewhere, but you will experience them in the right way, soaking in a part of the atmosphere in which these wines are made.

This purity and elegance, but also order can be found in his vineyards. They are made by all the rules of the craft and even more; exceptional care for each vine. He knows exactly what wines he wants, so accordingly he knows what the grapes must be like.

In any case, judging by the look of his vineyards, we could say he is a Virgo, but he is not; he “missed” it by a day or two and turned out a Libra, but the strong meticulous influence of the Virgo remained. Speaking of horoscopes, let’s see what future has in store for Damjanić wines. The toughest times are probably behind him, times of enlargement, times when there is often a lack of time to do everything as planned. An opportunity arises that you must use and then often work controls the person, not the other way around. But now it is a stable story, large enough and strong for everything to be done as planned. Of course, there won’t be a lack of motivation; his wife Željka did not spend much time with us, as she was taking care of Ivan junior, the recent addition to the family home. I regret she was not with us. As it is always interesting to hear what the wife thinks of the winemaker and his wines. I believe in this sector, more than anywhere else, it is fitting to say that behind every successful man stands his wife.

In any case, there will be more opportunities. Let us return to the future.

Wines win medals; what is more important, they win an audience. Ivan is already an excellent winemaker, but the future is still ahead for him. He has the potential to become one of the biggest – in wines and in character. As I said, on his terrace time seems to have stopped; so we remained late too, too late, the night has long fallen, it is time to move on.

A sentence for the end? In the Istrian village Fuškulin lives and grows a true gentleman and winemaker; ladies and gentlemen, it is Ivan Damjanić!

P.S. In his cellar he nurtures a wine named Cento. This is a wine I would sell a part of my body for (a kidney, I have two), but more on that the next time. We need a reason to return and visit Ivan.


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