Joe and I really enjoy sampling local wines wherever we go. When you visit a winery, you learn so much about the history of the place. You get a better feel for the people, their stories, and how they live their lives. When I Googled “wine in Croatia,” I was amazed at the results. One of Croatia’s 12 wine regions lies in the northwestern peninsula of Istria, where we were headed on our road trip. We had no idea it would be so beautiful and the wines would be so good.
Since we rented a car for our trip to Pula, we had the freedom to visit whatever wineries we wanted along the way. The first two were nestled in the green valleys and hills of northern Istria. The third lay just outside the southern city of Pula in a broad, perfectly flat valley teeming with crops and vines. Each winery offered such a different experience, and their wines were so unusual and tasty. We were pretty blown away.
Drive along a winding, country road from the town of Buje through corn fields and vineyards, up over rolling hills, and you’ll find yourself in a tiny, long, narrow valley. An old stone castle and small village look down upon row after row of healthy looking grapes. As you make your way up a gently sloping driveway, Kozlovic Winery comes into view. Everything is metal, glass, and wood. Colorful flowers spring from wine barrel planters. It is the embodiment of chic, modern elegance.
We sat outside under a minimalist grape arbor overlooking the vineyard and castle. Another couple – possibly American and Australian – was just finishing up, their small, fluffy, white dog in tow. The wines were young but refreshing. The red was so tasty we bought a bottle. In our excited efforts to take a photo with our grappa, we knocked one of the small, delicate glasses holding the strong liquor onto the concrete floor. It exploded into many pieces. Our host graciously cleaned up the shards with a smile. One of the more beautiful wineries I’ve visited.
Hidden down a lovely country road, the small and welcoming Clai Winery focuses on biodynamics and quality. Our hostess, Ivana, was one of the friendliest people we’ve met. She spent a great deal of time chatting with us, talking about the winery and its fabulous wines, and guiding us through a thorough yet relaxed tour and tasting. Several of their wines were so unusual we’d never tasted anything like them. One white – the classic Malvasia grape native to Istria – was almost orange. Another white both smelled and tasted like a Pinot Noir. We bought two bottles so we could check them out again.
Clai was founded by the family who still lives in the house on site. They’re still members of the team, and Ivana told us fondly of brick oven bar-b-ques in their secluded back yard. The winery was about to begin the harvest, and everywhere bustled with activity. Vats were being cleaned and old tanks were emptied and prepped. We met the winemaker as he was taking inventory and running around the bottling room. We felt so welcome throughout our entire visit and thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality.
Wine Station Trapan
It’s always wonderful when a place exceeds your expectations. And it’s even better when it does it a couple times in one visit. Wine Station Trapan sits off the main road in a small village just outside Pula. When we walked down into the tasting room, a boisterous group was chatting and laughing with a tall employee. We settled in, enjoying the free entertainment and artful surroundings.
The wines were even better than we expected. A nice dry sparkling rosé started us off on the right foot, and each wine that followed was more delicious than the last. Their most iconic vintage, “The One,” wrapped up a delightful tasting. As we chatted and joked with Matea, our helper, we learned more about the winery, its owner, its sumptuous dinners, and plans for expansion. Matea’s English was so perfect that we had to ask how she’d learned. She credited her big sister’s encouragement along with TV shows and movies.
After our tasting, and just before the winery was supposed to close, we enjoyed a complimentary glass on the patio. It still smelled of rain from a brief shower. At one point, the owner (who was sitting outside with friends) overheard my lament that my wine was gone. He immediately came over and poured me another glass. He stayed to talk with us for quite a while, refilling our glasses and giving us travel tips. We became part of the Trapan family that afternoon and felt right at home.