Giorgio Clai. Dimitri Brezevic. Two great guys to share a glass of wine with. Sometimes, that’s all you need to enjoy life. A conversation about life, a conversation about nature, how to combine nature and life to make wine worth working with. And yes, it comes with a bit of prosciutto and cheese. And it turns into a great experience when you see through the window and outside it is snowing while inside is warm and cozy. Then is when you realize how good life is when you can share some quality time with people like them. Because that’s what life is about, isn’t it?
Ninety-minute drive under heavy rain and snow is quite a challenge. Even if it is a Saturday morning in February, the A4 highway running across the Piedmont, Veneto and Fruili Venezia-Giulia goes inside Slovenia through Koper and then it takes you to Croatia, going past its border when you still have to clear customs in a long line of cars. There are many trucks even in a weekend, and if you check on license plates, you can see trucks from countries far away from home.
As you approach your destination, roads get narrower. From two-lane highway to one-lane, then side roads, then narrower side roads. You start thinking if you missed a turn somewhere, but the navigator keeps you pointed in the right direction. When you see signs with the name of the winery, you know you are good, even if the road has become just a patch of concrete through the countryside with trees all around you.
Clai Wines sits there, in the top of a small hill or better said, with views to vineyards extending below the building, forming small terraces down into a small valley. The snow starts covering the ground, the sky ceiling gets lower and lower and you cannot see farther from 100 meters because the clouds are thick and low. Then you realize you need to go back on time for the afternoon’s event so better the snow stops soon or returning will be tricky.
Dimitri is half-French half-Croatian, but hey, nobody is perfect. He did not choose to come to this world in France. However, he is a great guy, notwithstanding. He was there welcoming us with a big smile even if the roads, the snow and the trucks had caused us to be, uhmm… a bit late. The main room was warm, which was perfect with the weather outside. And it was so great to be there at last. Not only in this day, but because we had collaborated months ago on writing the article about the winery and the wines, and then with the interview with Giorgio. Dimitri is Giorgio’s right-hand man. He started helping in the winery a few years back, then his role expanded and his significance in the winery grew. He is winemaker and a good one too.
We started talking about wines and the winery and sometime later, Giorgio arrived. It was very nice to have him with us. He is one of the most respected winemakers in Croatia, if not the most. Around the table, with some food, we opened the first bottle: Sv. Jakov 2015 Malvazija, their wonderful Malvasia Istriana I had previously enjoyed other vintages. Amazing wine, so elegant and so wonderful. The must goes through maceration on the skins for a period between two and four months, depending on the vintage, in open vats without the addition of selected yeasts and enzymes. Then the wine ages in large wooden casks of 25 hectoliters. In 2015, the production was 6,000 bottles.
After this wine, we could just go home, good as it was, but Dimitri opened a bottle of one of their red single varietal wines: Brombonero Refošk 2015, produced with local Refosco grape. Same vinification as the Malvasia and with a production of 4,000 bottles in this vintage. I never was a believer of the Refosco/Teran grape. Now I turned into a true believer. Thank you so much, Dimitri and Giorgio!
Finally, Dimitri opened a bottle of their sparkling wine PjenuŠavo Vino, elaborated with Malvasia Istriana, Chardonnay and Plavina. This wine is produced under the classical method of fermentation in the bottle and it ages for 24 months on the lees.
Oh, and we also tasted the homemade oil they produce. Amazing.
Giorgio talked about how important, how paramount is for him to make wine in a natural way, with no use of systemic products, no chemicals, no machinery, no manipulation of wine. He is proud to say he can walk through his vineyards with his grandchildren and the kids can pick up some grapes and eat them right away, no need of cleansing them with water, as they are pure clean fruit. He also believes in doing the works in the cellar and in the vineyard when they have to be done, not when they fit us better. He mentioned how many times he had slept in the cellar because some duties had to be done during the night. Now it is Dimitri’s time to do these duties and sleep in a mattress in the cellar.
The conversation and the cellar tour continued, the sky cleared and it stopped snowing. Unluckily we had to go back for our appointment for the Malvasia wine tasting in Friuli, but we made sure we would be back with more time to enjoy together. And with more wine too, both theirs and Spanish ones.
Life at its best. Thank you Dimitri, thank you Giorgio. We will meet again sometime soon in the future.