Trnak – wine revival in Dalmatia

Image of vineyard showing many colors characteristic for spring time

History

In the last century, numerous families in the continental and coastal part of Dalmatia cultivated vines. A smaller part for personal needs, and a larger part for commodity exchange.
Money existed 80+ years ago, but for a less affluent family, exchange was the key to progress. Every weekend they used to go to the local markets in the nearest larger town and exchanged one commodity for another.
 
If you produced wine, you could exchange it for a piece of cloth or skin, or instantly provide a certain amount of food for your family. By trading in goods, perhaps the best element of our civilization was realized and built: communication and word of mouth.
 
At a time when you didn’t have internet, telephone or TV, you would go to the square where people gathered and exchanged information and often sang. In those moments, people briefly forgot their material condition and would indulge in the charms of socialization and talk about their adventures.
 
Or you would tell a person you just met about the strong and fragrant wine you produced.

Obstacles to vine production

One item was an obstacle to the local population engaged in agriculture in the Jezero field. As the name itself says, Jezero (croatian word for lake) was really one big pool of water until 86 years ago, and thus directly created a hindrance for agricultural families to grow year-round crops.

Because of this, the inhabitants of the surrounding settlements were forced to plant crops with a short growing season (vegetables), and vines were planted on the areas above the Jezero field itself and on plots of land in the places where the locals lived. 

Image 1. Jezero field before tunnel, colorized using AI

With the opening of the Maričevac-Krotuša tunnel in 1938, which accumulated water flows from the Jezero field, the situation changed greatly and opened a new “pool” of possibilities for agricultural production.

Year after year, the fund of planted vines increases, which over time begins to bear fruit, which is hand-harvested at the end of autumn and sold to the local winery “Vrgorka”.

Period after tunnel (till mid-1950s)

Among the many varieties, Trnak was special for its large and juicy berries. It also thrived on cleared ground and covered with thorns, and was often planted as a pergola in front of houses for shade. Trnak was the heart of family vineyards in Dalmatian Zagora, especially around Vrgorac and Imotski, arousing the admiration of local winegrowers.
 
Over time, more profitable varieties supplanted Trnak due to lower yields. In socialist Yugoslavia, state-owned enterprises focused on quantity and export, where Trnak could not compete with a yield of about 1 kilogram per vine. It was replaced by the varieties Merlot, Medna, Plavina and others, which had a good reputation in the Jezero field precisely because of their yield.
 
Today, it would be relatively easier and cheaper to switch to a new grape variety and experiment, but at a time when the existence of entire families and family communities was questionable, there was no other choice.
 
Decisions had to be made without compromise, and I cannot judge our ancestors there.

Revival in the 21st century

This variety experienced its rebirth in 2007 when, on the recommendation of an agronomy engineer from Mostar, we planted the first 1,700 vines of the Trnak variety and thus started a new wave of varieties that compete with established and widely popular varieties.

For us, this new variety was a kind of enigma because apart from short stories from my grandmother Ljubica’s memory, we didn’t have much technical information. Initially, we did not know what to expect from Trnak because there was no professional record or picture confirming certain physical and qualitative characteristics about this variety.

At that time, you could buy dozens of different books about popular varieties such as Plavac mali, Malvazija Istria, Merlot, Graševina, Chardonnay,… but not about the nearly extinct Trnak variety. We wrote a real book with our experiences, literally from removing the first weeds to the first wine in 2010.

Early steps

I remember the first days when we planted the vines by hand and for the next 3 years we mechanically removed every kind of weed. The first 3 years flew by and in 2010 we made the first Trnak wine in this part of Dalmatia, for which we obtained a marketing license the following year.

I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and one of them is that we made our first Rose from Trnak, in a rather small edition of 40 bottles that were partly consumed, and the other part is an anecdote that I leave for later.

Today, we maintain the practice of mechanical weed removal, which also requires more time, but we have a guarantee that the grapes are environment friendly.

Other winegrowers' interest

After us, other local winemakers started investing in smaller Trnak plantations. Although we are united in choosing the variety, our methods change over the years, which is normal in the process of working on something really unknown and new for the palates of consumers who are used to established Dalmatian wines.

We started from scratch, using scientifically proven cultivation and production methods. Our passion and dedication revitalized this forgotten variety, returning it to its former glory.

Modern days

Today, Trnak is a symbol of returning to the roots and a testament to the persistence of local winegrowers. Each glass of Trnak represents a taste of the past and a promise of the future – that tradition will live on, and the love of wine will surpass fleeting trends and fashionable tastes.

Our path with Trnak does not recognize pomodari, because the variety is unique and deserves its place under the Sun. It is not for every palate, but it likes to be tasted. It is characterized by strength, wildness and breadth of aromas, and our favorite is the elegance in the wine we produce.

It takes time and experience for Trnak to break through and show how strong but balanced a wine can be, without excessive comparison with other varieties from Dalmatia.

Follow us for more

This is my first blog in which I intend to tell you about what and how we do in the world of wine, using the example of our plume. I think it can find its place under the Sun.
 
Although we are small, we have a lot to tell. The topics range from grapes, climate change, wine, and increasingly topical wine tourism.
 
Follow us on social networks for new posts in the future, share the post if you like it and treat yourself to a nice drop until the next post.
 
 

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