Mr. Natural Wine talks to us about his new project, a collaboration with the Marinović family on Korčula island, to produce the lowest intervention wine possible.
Let’s start at the beginning – how did you and Petar meet?
We met through a mutual friend, a very good olive oil producer on the island of Korčula, in Croatia. I asked him if there were any organic vineyards on the island. He pointed me to Petar as the only grower on the otherwise vineyard-rich Korčula to grow organically and work the vines and the wines with as little intervention as possible.
I went to Petar’s very modest house, tried the wines, ate his tomatoes and potatoes, and was convinced this was a story worth exploring. He had never previously bottled his wines and has only sold them to people that would knock on his door – in plastic or improvised glass bottles – or drank them within the family.
He is in his 60s and with no access to a real market. He rarely even travels from the island, preferring to stick to field work. So, I decided to buy all of his 2018 vintage – all meaning 1400 litres – and work with him in the 2019 and following vintages to produce even purer wines.
"I went to Petar’s very modest house, tried the wines, ate his tomatoes and potatoes, and was convinced this was a story worth exploring."
Why does someone who is on the record for saying “Alcohol is bad for you” go out and make wine?
Alcohol definitely is bad for your body, it’s scientifically proven. But my passion got the best of me, so my calling, in the end, is wine. Today I work with wine professionally every day and have been doing so for the past 10 years, following a further decade of hobby wine exploration.
On a more serious note, there is a few very concrete reasons. First, as someone who is professionally involved with wine, I wanted to have first-hand experience of what making wine is like. Only with proper insight can you begin to understand wine as a product. How does wine get to be? What are the challenges for both the plant and the grower? What are the solutions? How can one help the land by farming a patch organically? This not only makes me understand wine better, but also appreciate it to its honest fullest, as well as people that make it.
The second reason is that I wanted to directly help Petar and his family. They have been a hard working farmer family for all of their lives. They work in the field 10 hours each day, then tend to the cellar and their animals on top of that. That’s literally every day. Everything’s produced organically, no exception. Often they are ridiculed by islanders for sacrificing quantity for quality, which you must if you go organic. They struggled for many years but never succumbed to artificially produced substances that almost all farmers on the island use. They just did not want to poison what they consume!
"They struggled for many years but never succumbed to artificially produced substances that almost all farmers on the island use. They just did not want to poison what they consume!"
I thought it would be irresponsible of me, with my connections in the wine world globally, to not try and help these people. They are making their effort, and I should make mine. That’s why the wines bear Petar’s name also. He is in the vineyard 12 months a year, I come in a few times a year and work the harvest, as well as vinification.
The last reason is my wish to push other growers on the island and in Croatia to make wines ecologically! Petar’s vineyards are arguably the only true organic vineyards on the island. They have been organic for more than 10 years now – and so out of Petar’s conviction, not for marketing reasons. The nature on the island is so incredible that the absence of organic farming is an absolute shame. Maybe other growers, too, will go organic when they see Petar’s wines sold in Singapore. Maybe other Croatian growers will go organic, too. Me being involved deep in organic wine, and being Croatian, I believe this is a responsibility that I have.
You had a theory of wine as a medium for transmitting information. What are this Pošip and Plavac trying to transmit from Korčula to the world?
Wine in its purest form - when it’s done organically - is the communicator of the terroir it comes from. Both Pošip and Plavac - varieties indigenous for that part of the world - are communicating the terroir of Korčula island and the wider Dalmatian terroir they belong to. One of a warm Mediterranean-Adriatic climate, rosemary and fig, olives and oranges, citrus and carob, the saltiness of the turquoise Adriatic sea. Both of these wines are made the way they used to be made traditionally - using an old 40-year old manual press (it’s a lot of muscles!), hand-picked grapes and home cellars. That’s the story of people of Korčula island, too.
What’s next for the project and collaboration with the Marinović family?
Well, we need to bottle the 2019 vintage first and hopefully 2020 will give us good grapes, too. But the bigger task is to see how we can continue making low intervention, organic wines out of Pošip and Plavac, sending out a message of Korčula island wines that are pure, respective of the place they come from. We also want to spread that message - the more people farm organically, the better it is for environment and, subsequently, for us. Having wines in Singapore is definitely a big push for this message!
"The bigger task is to see how we can continue making low intervention, organic wines out of Pošip and Plavac, sending out a message of Korčula island wines that are pure, respective of the place they come from."
How many points would Parker give your wines?
The wines are not funky, they are clean, respective of the terroir and organic. If I could score a high 80s or even low 90s, I would be happy! Hahahaha.
Seriously, I don’t think wine should be about points. Instead, it should be about relaxed fun, solo or in good company, and possibly even reflecting on whatever’s on one’s mind- love, life, success or failure. Robert’s retired anyways!
Try the wines