|Douglas Blyde: Behind the scenes in Istria, Croatia at the Piquentum Winery|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2012 21:48|
"My father still has it," remarks the young Brečević in a rich French accent which here echoes, of the elemental sign which once alerted Buzet's villagers to head here for refuge. "Some wounds are still fresh," he adds (he being an outsider, he is the only person I meet who mentions the war) "even though it was never used". Brečević gestures to where four pipes, bore big enough to walk through, still reach towards Slovenia. Although unlikely to carry water again, I fantasise about their suitability to, vein-like, surge wine towards the masses.
Using a handmade syringe, Brečević draws vivid samples of ferment from barrels bearing stains like birthmarks, embossed with the laser logo of Château Latour. However, despite such exotic vessels, ‘Piquentum' isn't a label aspiring to elitism. "I want to find the truth of this landscape," Brečević says, somehow with modesty, his sharp face illuminated momentarily by rays glinting through a rusted fan, blades like a Dakota's propeller. "Not so long ago Croatians adhered to a tradition of drinking lighter wine instead of water." He draws comparisons between medieval Europe's ‘small beer' as preferable and more sanitary to once germ ridden water.
Buoyed by Istria's winemaking potential stemming from "good land - red soil, indigenous varieties and fair climate," and keen to learn Croatian to converse with his father in native tongue, Brečević left France, where he studied oenology and worked at Domaine de Chevalier, for Croatia. His impulse to make wine greater than merely hygienic comes from his French mother, whose family harvests vines sown in Jurassic soils.
2006 was Piquentum's inaugural vintage. Brečević produces 20,000 bottles per annum today, with family assistance. It often takes the perspective of the younger generation to pan the gold from the older generation. Consequently, Brečević worries, considerably, about what might be lost in Croatia's quest for modernity, EU acceptance but months nigh, hence his curiosity of, and reliance upon, local varieties, Malvasia and Teran. Although historically seen as the same, Teran and Refosko are resolutely, "not the same variety" he insists.
Piquentum's labels plainly and colourfully depict the spires of three churches - the original illustration may be found in the Tate. "It's one of the few things in there my friends will understand," Brečević half jokes.
From labels on bottles to what could be served with the liquid within, Brečević points to a small parapet, where prosciutto (istarski pršut) from squash-fed pigs often hangs to dry. From an unseen corner, he reveals a large platter of foie gras thickly spread on French style stick. We move into the sunshine to savour it. Bordered by boulders, lizards momentarily scuttle in what feels like extreme heat after the chilly winery.
"She's very proud of it," says Brečević as a dour looking writer with ethical concerns shies away from Marie-Jose's work. But, rather naughtily, another writer and I manage to weaken his resolve. And so he eats not one, but two morsels, to general applause, and smiles broadly.