We were dressed less than seriously in our swimsuits, casually covered with as little as we could get away with on this scorching hot day on the island of Hvar, often nicknamed the St. Tropez of Croatia. It takes this nickname due to its crystalline aqua waters, stunning beaches, swanky boats swaying languidly in the many harbors and beautiful bleached out stone buildings.
We were headed to the beach to cool off, but not before passing through the wine cellar of one very highly recommended producer, Ivo Duboković. His unmarked cellar in the town of Jelsa would be a welcome respite from even the short drive on this hot day. Anyhow, it was too hot to eat lunch and I was pretty sure I could get my friends to pull over the car for a glass or two of wine.
Little did I know, when I made the appointment to visit, that he makes over ten labels.
We knocked on the door and were welcomed into his peaceful, romantic wine cellar. Lit by candles, with soft classical music playing in the background (we would later learn more about this), we quietly looked around and were invited to sit so he could guide us step-by-step through his wines. Three bottles of red wine stood aside, on a candlelit table, with small decanters in front of the bottles, forewarning us that something special was about to take place.
What started for Ivo Duboković as a hobby 15 years ago has quietly morphed into 20,000 liters, mostly for the commercial market. He originally took after his father and grandfather making wine just for family and friends. In fact, it was a defining moment in his winemaking career when he decided indeed to go forth and make wine commercially.
In taking the operation from family winery to commercial winery, he had to weigh his options. One turning point occurred for Duboković when he and his cousin, Swiss resident and Master of Wine Ivan Barbić, opened an archived bottle of wine from 1999, a white made by Ivo’s father. They were astounded at the remarkable amount of freshness that the bottle still contained, and became convinced that white wines in this region can stand the test of time and hold their structure.
Another moment of clarity came from the legendary Aleš Kristiančić, Slovenian winemaker producing the cult wine Movia. Kristiančić told him, “the problem with Dalmatian wine is that they copy the continental style.” Meaning that producers in this hot, mediterranean climate are trying to follow a model set by those in an entirely different climate and terroir. These words resounded with Duboković and he set off on his own path, using his own intuition to make wines that are very minimally marked with his personal fingerprint (which, in its own way, ends up doing just that), and the wines are also left to their own devices in the winery, versus being chemically scrubbed and altered into something specific.
“All production we make without enological knowledge. To have something special, it doesn’t have to be perfect, like Photoshop. I don’t want to produce something that’s drinkable in every moment, just in the right moment for that wine. It’s the same way you wear different clothes for different situations.”
In this way, he makes a number of different labels, perhaps that the end user can choose which they will drink based on the specificity of the wine. He’s making wines from different grapes from his organically farmed vineyards, and grapes he sources from the some of the best vineyards of other local growers, who are farming to his standards of low yields per vine and the absence of pesticides and herbicides.
He’s making three dry white wines at the moment. All of them are unlike any wines I’ve been familiar with in the past, and at first try all of these wines took me a little getting used to. Once I did, I found that they can be pervasively interesting and contemplative. In the winery, his white wines are gently macerated for anywhere from 3-5 days, and then aged in old barrels sur lie.
Moj Otok (My Island) 2010
A blended white wine, consisting of local sorts Maraština, Bogdaneša, and Tarpinka (Trebbiano).
Lighter in body and style, with a very noticeable mineral streak that’s reminiscent of a hot coin. Green apple peel and some apple and white peach, though this is not a fruity wine. There is an earthy component to this wine that shows up in the form of warmed stone. Interesting, likable and definitely something different.
Moja B (My “B”) 2009
Loads of white pepper, preserved lemon and hazelnut, which together make a really interesting combination. Left it in my glass for a while to come back to it, and found that it developed some spicy, peppery notes and aromas of baked green apple.
Moja M (My “M”)
Interesting wine that seems altogether savory on the nose. Roasted parsnip, dried white fruits, orange peel, oregano and clove all showed up on the nose while the palate presented more nuttiness and almost a touch of salinity. Texturally rich, with a round mouthfeel that has a lemony streak of acidity which lingers on the back of the palate.
His red wines are all made up of the local grape Plavac Mali. Based on the age of the vines, the part of the island they’re coming from, and the treatment they get in the winery, he has separated them into three distinct labels. The reds we tasted today had been decanted for two hours.
2718 sati sunce u boci (hours of sunlight in the bottle) 2010
100% Plavac Mali
This smells so nice, with nothing heavy about it. Young red raspberry and cranberry, mineral with some light yeasty aromas that I love. Actually it smells like a freshly poured cherry lambic beer in some ways. Young, easy and softer tannins make it a very nice bottle of wine coming from the vines planted on sandy soil. All stainless steel aged.
100% Plavac Mali from the south part of the island, in soil high in carbon.
This wine and that of it’s partner (Medvid) are named for the extinct sea lions (or “bears of the sea”) that used to populate the sea around the island of Hvar.
Black pepper, oregano, blackberries and cranberry, this wine is markedly more complex than it’s younger counterpart, and spent its time aging in older, more neutral wood barriques. Ivo recommends this wine for lunch. And today, it was indeed lunch.
100% Plavac Mali
The primary difference with this wine and it’s feminine counterpart Medvjedica* is that Medvid goes into newer oak barrels, both American and French. The oak doesn’t overpower the fruit, however, and the wine leads with really pretty floral aromas, like violet and mint. The fruit comes in as mature blackberries and plums, with the floral notes perking up alongside them.
*Medvjedica (med-vyed-eet-sa) was named as such as it’s a softer and more delicate expression than her masculine counterpart, Medvid, which is the masculine form of the name, and refers of course to the male of the gender in this case. Ivo recommends the former with lunch and the latter with dinner.
Don Petar MMVM
100% Plavac Mali
Named for the priest of the house. Baked stone fruits with a slightly spicy cigar box aroma. The taste is not entirely congruent with the aroma, and has a warm, silky feel with mature black fruit, raisin and prune spilling over the palate. A little dirty, which gives it nice complexity and keeps it from being too girl-next-door sweet wine. Not at all cloying, in fact my favorite thing about this wine may be the mouthfeel, which is marked by the heat of a slightly alcoholic finish.
Maraština, Bogdaneša, and Tarpinka
Name is literally “first kiss” and is prounounced like (perv-i pol-yu-bahtz). This is a wine they call prošek, a specific type of dessert wine made Dalmatia.
Smells like a really nice Moscatel sherry and has beautiful aromas and flavors both of baked pear, orange rind and scorched caramel, and pecan pie. Delicious. There’s also a little savory component to this wine, like carmalized carrots and parsnips, in a good and interesting way. It unravels and unravels, and I have the overwhelming impression that this wine would still be out of this world in a decade. I think this is something I will be stashing away in my cellar for future enjoyment.
We also tasted a tank sample of rosé, an unnamed version made of plavac mali, but not macerated at all, which gave it the most amazing subtlety, and beautiful aromas of tangerine, green apple and garden mint. Reminiscent of my favorite rosé from Provence, France. Beautiful and delicate, though unfortunately going to be released into the market in September which may prove to be a strange time for the first presentation of a new rosé. Great as an aperitif or for warm weather lunches. Gorgeous.