Before I start with the story of my first wine tasting experience, I first have to write a quote I came across recently that made me laugh: *“I don’t know why they call it“ wine tasting”. After two glasses, nothing can be tasted anymore.“ A perfect description for everyone who drinks everything they taste during the tasting, but not completely accurate. The flavours can very well be discerned even after a lot more than two glasses, and I am living proof because I discovered ‘my wine’ only at the end of the tasting. As I tasted then, so I taste now 🙂
Before my first, real tasting, I wasn’t some kind of wine drinker, I knew absolutely nothing about wines. Here and there I would drink a few glasses out of decency. Somewhere at some point, a merlot caught my eye and taste buds. I don’t remember how anymore, but it served a purpose, it was tasty enough and I could tell I had that one wine I always drink. I was a bit younger then and I still needed to give the impression that I knew what I was doing, what I liked or didn’t like, and that I understood everything, even wine. Not just wines, the whole oenology. What can I tell you, it was important to have an attitude.
Also at that time, I started to gather experiences of everything that could be experienced, done and offered in terms of tourism in Slavonia and Baranja. At that time, tours and excursions with an emphasis on gastronomy and oenology had long been recognized and created, and I was quite enthusiastic about seeing a bunch of potential in my homeland.
My heart has belonged to Baranja since childhood
During the 1980s, my family and I spent summers in a small Baranja village along the Danube River. Fifty kilometres away from my hometown of Osijek, Batina was our ‘sea’.
We travelled to Batina by bus, which was definitely an experience of its kind. The bus would cross the Drava River and through the Baranja villages of Bilje, Vardarac, Kneževe Vinograde, Suza, Zmajeva all the way to Batina. I liked to look out the window at the landscape we were passing, but also to observe the locals in the bus. All this was always interesting and vivid to me, but all my experience related to Baranja at that time was actually only related to Batina.
A combination of life circumstances separated me from Baranja, and then, after many years, I returned to the fairyland, as my mother used to call Baranja. Motivated to explore it in terms of tourism and experiences, I set out to explore its potential. Whenever I could, I would come from Dalmatia, where I live now, to Osijek with a plan of what to visit and experience first hand.
One beautiful autumn Saturday I slightly usurped my brother from his wife and children. I was really happy that we would spend the day in Baranja again, as we used to when we were children. I planned to visit several tourist locations and I was quite stubborn to find the merlot of a local winemaker or even go to “wine tasting” for the first time. As I already wrote, I didn’t know much about wines back then, let alone about wine regions and their varieties. To be honest, luckily I was a complete know-nothing. Why luckily? Because that ignorance took me straight into the hands of the Kolar family.
And so I enjoyed that beautiful day in November, hanging out with my brother, visiting Baranja estates, hoping to eventually find a wine cellar that would be open (and have merlot on sale). We wandered around a bit, trying to find places suggested by Google and just when I thought it would be better to give up the search and find a restaurant for lunch, on a small hill I saw a house with the inscription KOLAR FAMILY CELLAR. Since the door was open we decided to try our luck there. We entered a nicely decorated house with a pleasant ambience with wines lined up on the table. The first person we met was a smiling young man, followed by Mr Kolar, the alpha and omega of the winery. I have to admit that I am still quite embarrassed when I remember what I looked like, or to be more precise how I sounded with that ‘attitude’ of mine, saying that I would like to buy merlot because it is the only wine I drink and that I am not interested in any other wine. Of course, my stupidity didn’t end with that statement, I added that I don’t really like white wine too!!
The beginning of the end in the Kolar wine cellar
And that was it! It was the END of my blind love for merlot because Mr Kolar personally introduced other wines and ‘opened my eyes’ especially when it came to white wines. But, wait, wait, wait! I sped up the story a bit. When I said clearly and loudly how I don’t like white wine, Mr Kolar remained calm. He did not shudder, did not comment, nor did he begin to argue offended by my attitude. He just smiled the way wise people smile, pointed his index finger at us to follow him and took us to the cellar.
Until then, I mostly associated drinking any alcoholic beverage, including wine, with getting drunk. Now I know that it can happen to anyone to get tipsy, especially when we are relaxed with fine wine, food and good company. It happened to me a couple of times 😉 But the story of wine should not be related to getting drunk because the point is not to get drunk. Everyone knows and can do it, but not everyone knows how to enjoy it, nor to stop when it is needed to draw the line between pleasure and being wasted. Let’s not forget that there is a whole science behind wine. The moment I stepped into the Kolar family’s cellar was a moment that felt like I had stepped into some other dimension. In a way, it was, at least for me, an entry into a whole new world. The world of wine. The meeting with Mr Kolar, the tasting of their family wine and the stories through which he unobtrusively taught me actually changed my attitudes from the ground up.
“I used to think drinking was bad for me… so I gave up thinking”
Tasting of Kolar family wine
I was fascinated by Mr Kolar’s story and the way he talked about growing vines, producing their wine, varieties… Such moments are always kind of enchanting, moments when you witness someone’s love for what they do. Slowly but surely while tasting Graševina (Welschriesling), Chardonnay, Green Silvano and Rosé, I completely forgot about Merlot and my claim that I don’t like white wines. At the end of the tour, we came to a Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Mr Kolar called Pinot Blanc a child and Pinot Gris a father. And that was the moment when I fell hopelessly in love with the dad, that is, Pinot Gris, and pretty merry by tasting all the previous wines, I stated: I have found the man of my life! 🙂
Since that day and that wine tasting, I have been in love with Pinot Gris and the Kolar family. Over time, I also met Kolar’s ladies: wife Ilona and daughters Sibila and Kinga, equally important in the family business.
You will find the Kolar family, their cellars and vineyard in the village Suza. They have a long tradition of wine production. The wine is stored in several special cellars – gators that their ancestors dug in the steep wall of the corpse a hundred years ago. The temperature in these cellars remains the same throughout the year from 12-14 ° C.
Just in case you didn’t know Croatia is divided into 4 wine regions:
- Slavonia & Podunavlje (Baranja is part of the Slavonia and Podunavlje region)
- Croatian Uplands
- Istria & Kvarner
FUN FACT – GATORS are special cellars in Baranja that do not go vertically down into the ground, but horizontally into the hill.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you visit Kolar family as they are really nice and warm people, lovely hosts with whom you feel sincerely welcome. In addition to the fine wine they produce, they also offer homemade food. It would be a great pity not to discover what lies behind the traditional Baranja cuisine and dishes such as game perkelt, a different local stews, kulen (sausage-type product in the EU register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications ) and fish dishes from nearby rivers.
For all those who, like me, drink everything that is offered on wine tasting and then have a sip or two too much, but also for all of you who want to meet and feel Baranja region can stay in three double rooms. The rooms are marked with 4 suns (the highest category in the categorization of accommodation in rural households) and are named after the vine varieties: Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Kadarka.
For outdoor lovers, they organize individual excursions in their vineyard and the surrounding area. If you like bicycles, you may be happy to know that they also have a camp suitable and equipped for cyclists.
IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW… 42 European countries are covered by 15 cycling routes within the EuroVelo network. EuroVelo No. 6 is known as the Danube route that passes through northeastern Croatia. It enters Croatia from the Hungarian town of Mohač via the Duboševica border crossing and continues through the Baranja villages of Draž, Batina, Zmajevac and Suza towards the Kopački Rit Nature Park.
The Kolar family has been receiving awards for their wines since 1997, and in 2017 they won a silver medal at the Decanter in London.
In addition to everything they offer as part of their business and they put quality at the heart of everything they do, the greatest value lies in themselves.
If you ask me, it is priceless!!
P.S. The credit for cover photos and gallery goes to Samir Kurtagić. More of his work you can check here.
* quote from the beginning of the post is from the movie “The Legend of Zorro”