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Herzegovina - A Home Of Extraordinary Wines

A building block of Herzegovina Wine Report 2013

Written on 14-11-2013 by Raško Vlastelica & Dušan Jelić, Belgrade, Serbia

Mostar is a heart of Herzegovina

Introduction to Herzegovina Wine Report 2013: Winemaking has had its ups and downs in Herzegovina region, yet it never ceased to be a major agricultural activity, and to a great extent a building block of the Herzegovina residents’ lifestyle. New winemakers arrived on the scene, while the existing one improved their trade immensely while at the same time bettering the overall conditions in their wineries. From Ljubuški to Trebinje, there are so many various wines on offer. Officially speaking the entire geographical region is still a single winegrowing region of Herzegovina, the only one in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This region is protected by mountains range from the salty winds from the Adriatic Sea. About 98% of all vineyards in Bosnia-Herzegovina are planted within the western Herzegovina and municipality of Trebinje in the eastern Herzegovina.

A unique stone-peppered soil and a great number of hot days with irregular rainfalls conditioned Herzegovina to give a birth to two autochthones grape varieties: Blatina (red) and Žilavka (white). These varieties have a very rich history, but also a very prosperous future! Along these indigenous varieties other international top quality varieties were planted as well: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus regional varieties Vranac and Plavac Mali. At the south-eastern edges of Trebinje municipality apart from Žilavka, Vranac is also very popular, however that terroir is not suitable for Blatina, so she is virtually non-existent in that part of eastern Herzegovina. 

Žilavka is an autochthonous variety of Herzegovina. She flourishes in dry conditions and when planted on rocky and shallow terrains. Wine made from Žilavka grapes is a harmonious top quality wine with a characteristic scent. It is assumed that name derives from fine and small veins visible through the transparent grape skins at the time of full ripeness of the grapes (note: ‘žila’ means vein). Žilavka carries with her a seal of Herzegovina! For the first time the story about her broke out when the rewards started coming in, namely medals at the tasting competitions and festivals in Budapest (1896), Brussels (1897), London, Marseille, Paris and Vienna (1898). Wine made from Žilavka usually has greenish-yellow colour, it is medium-bodied with harmonious acidity coupled with exceptionally pleasurable fullness and varietal bouquet. 

Blatina is also an autochthonous variety of Herzegovina. It is one of the very few varieties with the gametophyte flower - unisexual flowering plant giving rise to female flowers - so it has to be fertilized - pollinated by another compatible flowering plant (variety). Blatina is a dioecious or more precisely a gynoecious plant - namely having only female flowers producing only seeds and not pollen. Blatina gives powerful and fresh dry wines which usually should mature a few years in wooden barrels. Although the flower is feminine, it is often said that wine is masculine. It follows up from the old folk proverb: ‘Žilavka je puna smijeha, a Blatina puna grijeha’ (literally: ‘Žilavka is full of laughter, yet Blatina is a full of sin!’). Therefore the most respected red variety in Herzegovina is Blatina!

Trnjak is also an autochthonous red variety giving full-bodied savoury wine with the pronounced varietal aromas.

There are 46 registered wineries in Bosnia-Herzegovina at present, cultivating some 3,500 hectares of vineyards. Around 55% of all wine produced here is white and the rest is red with a tiny proportion of rose wines. Wine production is primarily focused to the top quality wines made from indigenous Žilavka and Blatina varieties. It is evident that the ancient wine producing tradition is harmoniously blended with the latest technological advances. 

The most important export market for Herzegovina wines are Croatia and Serbia, while the other regional markets are gaining in importance. Export to EU countries is still very symbolic. Bosnia-Herzegovina also imports wines from Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia. The import from the mentioned five countries represents 96% of all imported wines in Bosnia.

Today the wine region of western Herzegovina is famous for the breathtaking Blizanci (‘Twins’) vineyard between cities of Čitluk and Mostar, where almost 100 hectares of Žilavka is cultivated. As more than 70% of initial layers of the soil are composed from limestone, Žilavka flourishes and defies logic. It is like a stone desert. Thanks to science and technology and very good drip irrigation system the vineyard yields some 10 tons of grapes per hectare. The vineyard was established in the beginning of eighties of the past century and it is a rarity today. Žilavka unambiguously demonstrated that she tuned in perfectly with the Herzegovina’s terroir, so that her name is indeed commensurable with her character. Grapes from Blizanci vineyard are processed in the Čitluk winery and after the monitored fermentation the end result is the top quality dry wine. If we assume that characteristics of a wine are to a great extents predetermined by the ambiance or terroir - or more precisely stones on which the grapes are cultivated - the producer decided to call this wine ‘Kameno Vino’ (Stone Wine) and the first vintage was made from the fruits harvested in 1990.

In Herzegovina a traveler feels at ease and various earthly pleasures are all over the place. Locals are very hospitable and they try very hard to make sure that the guests are comfortable and happy. 

We were lucky to visit 12 wineries - 8 from western Herzegovina, in Čitluk, Ljubuški and Međugorje and 4 from eastern Herzegovina, all within the municipality of Trebinje. We have tasted around 70 wines, mostly made from Žilavka and Blatina, plus others: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Trnjak and a few extraordinary reds made from Vranac in Trebinje.

If travelling is a part of your lifestyle, we hereby suggest that you visit Herzegovina Wine Route (‘Vinska cesta Hercegovine’) in order to experience something new and exciting. Beautifully preserved wine region, numerous amenities and natural beauty of wild yet gorgeous Herzegovina plus extraordinary gastronomic offerings are all part of the emerging wine tourism and the image of the destination - and it will create in turn for you an authentic impression of Herzegovina!

We followed two wine routes: Ljubuški-Čitluk, where we visited 8 wineries of which six are involved in wine tourism, namely: Vinarija Brkić (capacity 30 persons), Vinarija Čitluk (capacity 100 persons), Podrum Andrija (capacity 250 persons plus 20 beds), Podrum Marijanović (capacity 50 persons), Vinogradi Nuić (capacity 50 persons), Grga Vasilj Međugorje (capacity 120 persons plus 100 beds in wine hotel Cesarica), Vinarija Keža and Vinarija Škegro. The second wine route is in Trebinje and all four wineries we visited are involved with wine tourism, namely: Podrum Vukoje (capacity 300 persons plus 40 beds), Podrum Tvrdoš (capacity 170 persons plus 20 beds), Podrum Anđelić (capacity 120 persons plus 20 beds) and Podrum Petijević (capacity 50 persons plus 15 beds).

In order to reach these wineries a very good traffic signage was erected throughout Herzegovina. It is true that wine is the key item of the wine tourism but not the only one. We should include here visits to the amenities, beautiful natural spots and culturally relevant sites. There are many outstanding sites on these two wine routes, such as: Stari Most (Old Bridge) - a symbol of Mostar built in 1566. It is a single arch stone bridge connecting left and right banks of Neretva River. Old city in Mostar is interesting for its narrow streets full of life. 

Međugorje is one of the most significant sites of religious pilgrimage due to reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six local Catholics at the end of June 1981. From that time Međugorje became Europe’s third most important apparition site, where each year more than 1 million people visit. It is estimated that more than 30 million people have come to Međugorje since 1981.

Hutovo Blato is one of the richest reserves of swamp birds in Europe. It is situated 8 km from Čapljina and it is spread over 7,000 hectares. Within this oasis of unspoiled nature some 200 bird species spend winter. Hutovo Blato is also famous for fish, namely eel and carp.

Žitomislići Monastery, one of the most important orthodox monasteries in Herzegovina, belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church and was built in 1566. Herceg Stjepan Tower (‘Kula Hercega Stjepana’) was built in the Middle Age above Ljubuški, on top of Buturovica. City of Trebinje has Tvrdoš Monastery and a lookout on which the Herzegovina’s Gračanica Church was built. Beautiful Kravica waterfalls are situated in the Herzegovina karst within the Ljubuški municipality.

When you marry a good wine with a local gastronomy such as Herzegovinian prosciutto, cheese, lamb or brudet/brodeto (a stew made from frogs and eels) then the pleasure is ultimate. The best place for wine to show its power is in a winery or a cellar, where you enjoy immensely and learn a lot.

The closing argument of this article could be a sentence uttered by Ms. Josipa Andrijanić, a winemaker from Vinarija Nuić: ‘Da nema vina u njezinu imenu bila bi okrnjena i nedorečena. S vinom ona je potpuno svoja. Hercegovina!’ (If there is no ‚vina’ (wine) in her name, she would be rump or unfinished. With that ‘vina’ (wine) she is absolutely completed and her own. Herzegovina!)