Wine from a Bunker: Piquentum Winery, Croatia

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Piquentum Winery, Croatia

On a beautiful March morning on the western Croatian peninsula of Istria, with a warm sun heading up into clear-blue skies, a group of fellow bloggers and I boarded the bus and were soon underway.  North our direction today, towards the medieval village of Buzet and the Piquentum winery.

It was a good thing our hosts knew where we were going because instead of the grand façade of many wineries, Piquentum was slightly more obscure. In fact, it’s actually a hole in the wall – no, literally. 

The winery is cut one meter into the rock of the cliffside and had once been used as an atomic bunker during the war! Barely a sign indicated the location of the winery, from which still exists a tunnel that runs all the way to Slovenia.

Dimitri Brečević, a young, passionate winemaking Frenchman born to a French mother and Istrian father, came to Istria to make wine in 2006. He realized the opportunities the area provided a flourishing winemaker and quickly became enamored with the local grape varieties of Malvazija Istarska, Teran and Refošk, which for him, exude such Croatian character.

The name for the Piquentum winery comes from the Latin name of the village Buzet (Piquent) and is pronounced Pick-when-tum.

When winemaker Dimitri’s family bought the winery from a friend, they understandably wanted to make some changes to the stark, stone interior (which, much to a lady’s shock and chagrin, doesn’t even have a toilet!).

While applying for the construction permits they hit a snag - according to the city plans and blueprints, the winery did not exist.

It has taken until earlier this year to attain all the proper documentation and now finally, after about 12 years, they can proceed with their construction and indoor-plumbing plans. There may even be a roadside sign welcoming visitors in the future.

The day’s tasting began with a tank sample of the 2011 Malvazija Istarska,  fermented using natural yeasts which Dimitri believes is the only way to achieve true typicity in the wine.

Next we tried his Teran 2011 from the barrel. Teran and Refošk are the two black grape varieties, also indigenous to this part of Croatia.  Dimitri’s wine thief – the tool a winemaker uses to take wine out of a barrel – was beautiful. It was glass (most are stainless steel), and had a blown-glass bubble at the top which filled up with wine as it was drawn from the barrel.

Teran can be tough and tannic if not done well, but Dimitri obviously has the right touch as the wine is berried and brambly, in fact not dissimilar to a Crozes Hermitage – savoury, herbal, with a touch of bacon – really beautiful.

Then onto the Refošk 2001 which tasted very young and still a bit green, but barrel samples are always hard to taste, as the wine still has a lot of maturing and developing to do before being bottled.

Lastly we were treated to a rosé that Dimitri is experimenting with this year and if our enthusiastic response is anything to go by, it will soon be in high demand - deeply coloured, fresh and berried – a lovely wine.

Before we left, Dimitri surprised us with a tray of sliced baguette piled high with Foie Gras! A delicious treat at the end of a visit with this ‘winemaker to watch’ and his most unique winery.