The Erdut wine region is known for its unique manifestation Erdut Wine&Bike – a cycling race characterised by the search for hidden bottles in the vineyard. So photographer Mladen Tutavac and I decided to visit the Brzica winery with bikes. A bike ride is an ideal way to explore wine regions. Unlike a car ride, bicycles offer a better and more direct experience of a wine region, while a ride through the hills and vines with a view of the Danube is much more attractive than cycling through the city crowd and standard asphalt roads. The image of playful hills, endless vines and powerful river forms a landscape which seems both intriguing and relaxing.
We left our cars at Stara Drava in Sarvaš and headed out for our little bike&wine expedition on the path along the Drava leading to the delta into the Danube at Aljmaš. The idyll was broken only by an occasional car whipping up dust. The Drava delta into the Danube is a landscape worthy admiring, so we paused. The confluence of these two mighty rivers and the view of the south-eastern most corner of Kopački Rit Nature Park threw us into a short-lived contemplation, until we heard the cry of the natives! The Danube water level fell rapidly overnight, so we helped local weekend-goers to launch a boat back into the Danube, which was left stranded.
We continued cycling along the Danube shore, turning right and climbing onto an asphalt road connecting Aljmaš and Erdut and continued on to Brzica winery. When we got there we were met by Borna Brzica, one of the five children of owner Ivo Brzica who was at the wine festival in Zadar that day. When we realized Borna too had arrived to Erdut on his bike, we commented we could have started together and made a race of it. Borna said that will come in September at the bike&wine race, which is much more attractive than racing from Osijek to Erdut, as it contains elements of orientation, as well as rewards in the form of grape nectar!
The Brzica winery is positioned where the Danube meanders forming a peninsula lined with canals Hagl and Porić and since the Slavonian Danube shore is much higher than the opposite, the view of Sonta, Prigrevica and Bogojevo is excellent, and in nice weather the Baranja Banovo Hill can be seen. The Danube is 550-600 metres wide here.
“I am here almost every day. Father is the main winemaker, I am the wine grower. It’s very nice out here, not just to rest, but also to work. All the children help in the vineyard when needed, but I am here non-stop. In the last four years we are active on the market, but we have been in winemaking much longer. We sell white wines year for year, but red wines are left to age much longer, now we are selling Merlot from 2012 and Cabernet Sauvignon from 2013. We are unique for having more plantations with red varieties than white. There are 6 hectares of our vineyards in Erdut, at 150 metres above sea level. Two-thirds are under red varieties. All vines are in one wine growing position. We market the Graševina, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a cuvee of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Vranac. Although Vranac is not a typical variety for the Danube Region, it has shown to be good here, and thanks to it we produce a cuvee like no other. All red wines are aged in barrique barrels.”
Along with the wine growing and winemaking story, the Brzica family are developing a tourism story. In 2015 they won the Sunflower of Rural Tourism award as the best family estate in wine tourism. They were recently visited by a group of Australians who wanted to specifically taste čobanac stew along with the wine.
“For a certain area to grow as a tourism destination it is necessary to have a manifestation which can attract larger groups of people, and if they have a good time at such events they will return individually. This is why we prepare, together with other local tourism workers, the Erdut Wine&Bike. Besides the cycling search for hidden bottles in vineyards, the event combines other content, such as a concert by the Darko Rundek Cargo Trio. A year before that we had a concert by Josipa Lisac. We also have theatre shows by the group Actors in Zagvozd, then wine&mix DJ sessions with DJ Savage, Slay, Kink, Sheepatz and DJukebalks and so on. This year’s wine&bike tour will be organised in the beginning of September and move even further. Every winery will host one artist or group of them who will spend two-three days to create their works. A sort of artist colony, not only in one location, but in all wineries. I recently visited, together with my father, organised by the Graševina Croatica association, the Hungarian Vilanny and renowned winemakers such as Bock, Halas and Gere. They can be a guide on how to successfully draw money form EU funds and develop wine tourism. Hungarians entered the Union six years before us and accumulated valuable experience. We especially want to develop the tourism aspect of our wine story. Our doors are always open and every visitor of the winery at any time will find someone to present the winery and products!”
The quality of the wine is largely also due to oenologist and consultant Slobodan Čapin. Annually they produce between 35 and 40 thousand litres of wine. The wine cellar is over a hundred years old, but renovated as it was in bad shape. In the future they plan to invest into a new winery facility.
“We have more than enough equipment, so the current building is crowded. We send the wines to be analysed in Ilok, Mostar and Zagreb and we are especially satisfied with the wines currently being aged. We also did great at the recent wine festival in Belgrade. We do a cold fermentation at some 14-15 degrees for a month. Tanks are filled with nitrogen so there is not contact with air. Our technological level is just as good as any winery. Barrique barrels are made from Hungarian and Canadian oak, with the Hungarian ones proving to be much better. Wines are kept in them for at least two years.”
Along with the entire line of Brzica wines we also tasted the excellent kulen sausage from their production. Besides kulen, they are also known by snails! The recipe came from their guests – hunters from Zagvozd who brought snails when they visited, perfecting it with their interventions, such as mushrooms.
White wines are packaged in see-through bottles so the impression of colour and purity can come even before it is opened. The harvest year and number of bottles are noted. They are promoting this to become the standard for all winemakers.
In conclusion, this is another successful wine-tourism story from the slopes of Erdut, where the meandering Danube kisses the sky!