Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Rizman Winery: First in Komarna & A Taste of Tribidag

Rizman Winery is the pioneer who started it all in the Komarna appellation, the first winery in that region and the prime impetus behind the establishment of the K7 Cooperative, which is now an association of seven wineries, including Rizman Winery, Saints Hill Wines, Volarević Wines, Terra Madre, Modro-zelena, Neretvanski Branitelj and Deak Family Farm. With football in their hearts, and wine in their ancestry, the Štimac family took a significant risk in planting vineyards in Komarna but the growing success in this region has shown them to be visionaries.

Our first visit to Rizman was actually at their Rest Stop, located on the state road D8, between Opuzen and Klek. This rest stop is a combination shop and wine bar, with a killer view of the Komarna region, including vineyards belonging to Rizman and Terra Madre, as well as the Pelješac peninsula. There is a small shop that sells wine from the various Komarna wineries, olive oil, souvenirs, and fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. At the wine bar, you can buy a glass of Rizman wine ($3-$4.50 US) or get a Flight of three wines ($9 US). Plus, they sell some food, such as Dalmatian Fritule (a pastry like donutholes) or a Sandwich, with prosciutto, cheese, and tomato. You can sit on their patio, drinking and eating, as you enjoy the scenic vista.

As the road to the Rizman Winery is not easily accessible for larger vehicles, this Rest Stop is the best place for buses and large groups to stop and experience the wines of Rizman. It is also conveniently located, making it easy to stop there, even for a brief visit, before continuing your journey.

This is one of the views you will find at the Rest Stop, looking down at some of the Rizman vineyards, with Pelješac peninsula peeking out in the upper left hand corner.

The history of winemaking in the Štimac family extends back to the early 20th century, to their great-grandfather Mihovil Mijo Popich, who was known by the nickname Rizman. He lived in the town of Opuzen, in the Neretva valley, a place well known for tangerine production. He planted grape vines, which were later destroyed by disease, and Rizman decided to temporarily move to the U.S. Upon his return in 1918, he planted a vineyard once more, making his own wine, and was assisted by his son and grandson. He continued making wine until the 1960s. Wine making is thus in the blood of the Štimacs, so it's not surprising that the family once again ventured into this industry.

Prior to establishing their Komarna winery, the Štimac family was already well known for its connection to football (soccer to those in the U.S.). Igor Štimac was a professional footballer and still works as a football coach. Damir Štimac is an attorney and worked as a football agent. With their brother Mihovil, they initially entered winemaking as a hobby but it soon became a passion for them, leading to their more serious efforts around 2009/2010. To put the emphasis on the wine, and not their sports fame, they chose not to use their name, Štimac, for the winery. Instead, they chose the name Rizman, an homage to their great-grandfather.

They began the first steps to the creation of their winery back in 2006, as they carefully selected a location, analyzed the soils, and consulted with various experts. Although they mentioned this was initially just a hobby, it sure seems like they were serious from the amount of research and analysis they conducted right from the start. Their first products were olive oil, and they finally planted vineyards in 2008. From the beginning, they adopted an organic philosophy, one they would later promote to all the members of the K7 association. In 2014, they completed the construction of a state of the art winery.

When other wineries chose to come to the Komarna region, the Štimacs successfully pushed for a united association, the K7, and Mihovil is currently the President. With only a small number of wineries, it has been relatively easy for them to successfully work together, and they basically all agree on major decisions. They obviously share many of the same concerns, and want to bring more wine tourism to the region. United, they have a better chance at succeeding together on these objectives.
The Rizman winery is the largest in Komarna, with 22 hectares of vineyards and 7 hectares of olive trees. It is certified organic, as are all of the Komarna vineyards. About 90% of their vineyards are planted with indigenous Croatian grapes, including Plavac Mali, Pošip, and Tribidag. They also grow a small proportion of international's grapes, including Tempranillo, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. In addition, they've planted some experimental vines, indigenous grapes including Plavac Mali Gray (clone), Pošip Black, Dobričić (a parent of Plavac Mali), and Bratkovina Blatska Bijela (a white grape from the island of Korčula), though it will be about two years before they can harvest any of those grapes.

The vineyards extend to an altitude of 250 meters, sometimes on inclines as much as 30%, and reach almost all the way down to the water. The soil is primarily limestone, and the planting of vineyards required significant work, and cost, in breaking down large boulders and rock outcroppings. The Rizman estate has limited room for growth, maybe only 1-3 hectares which could be additionally planted with vineyards. They don't purchase any grapes, using only what they grow themselves.

The Rizman Winery produces about 60,000-80,000 bottles annually, and currently export to 6-7 countries, sending about 6,000 bottles to the U.S. Locally, they are very dominant on the shelves of wine shops in Dubrovnik.

Their winery is aesthetically pleasing, with a nice outside patio, and an elegant interior tasting room. Besides simple wine tastings, you can also make a reservation for a wine-paired lunch or dinner. Their chef, who is self taught, once had a restaurant in Dalmatia, and now is creating some amazing dishes at Rizman. We enjoyed an excellent dinner during our visit, one which paired well with the various wines.

At the winery, Damir Štimac led us through our wine tasting, and he was personable, knowledgeable, witty, and passionate. It was clear that wine now consumed him, that he was completely immersed in the business of the winery, wanting to produce top-notch wines. Later on, I also had a chance to speak with Mihovil Štimac, to learn more about their winery and Komarna.

Rizman makes eight varieties of olive oil, from indigenous Croatian varieties including Oblica, Levantinka, Lastovka, and Drobnica, and Italian varieties including Leccino, Pendolino, Frantoi, and Coratina. The olive groves are organic, hand-harvested, and the olives are processed, cold-pressed, the same day they are harvested. They only make about 1000 liters, but have a goal of producing 2-3,000 liters.

At the start of our dinner, there were Ston Oysters! Briny deliciousness and more meals should start with these oysters.

There was also a beautifully plated dish that included a local oyster, topped by a lemon granita, a local mussel, topped by spices & veggies, and a scoop of pâté. The oyster/granita was excellent, the acidity of the lemon balanced by the briny oyster. I could easily devour a dozen of them. The mussel was tasty too, and the pâté was creamy, with a compelling earthy aspect. A great way to start our dinner.

Two wines were paired with these starters, the first being the 2018 Rizman Pošip, their "Fresh" Pošip, which sees no oak. To maintain the freshness of this wine, the grapes are also harvested at night and processed immediately afterwards. They commonly produce 7-14,000 bottles of this wine, though in 2018, that number rose to 15,000. With a 13% ABV, a touch of Viognier was added to the Pošip, and the wine was aged in the bottle for several months. I found the wine to be fresh and crisp, with bright lemon notes, a floral hint, and an underlying minerality. A great pairing with the oysters, especially the one with the granita. Mihovil stated that Pošip is easy to sell, especially as a summer wine.

The 2018 Rizman Nonno is a blend of 80% Pošip and 20% Chardonnay, and it's fermented and aged in French barrique on the lees for about 6-7 months. The grapes come from a single special plot in the easternmost section of the vineyard, and they are harvested later than the grapes in the "fresh" Pošip. Only about 2-3,000 bottles of this wine are produced. It is a richer and creamier wine, elegant and complex, and the oak doesn't overwhelm. There are bright citrus flavors and hints of spice. My personal preference was for the Fresh Pošip but I enjoyed this oak-aged one too.

Next up, there were plump and tasty Shrimp in a sweet and spicy sauce. A bit messy to pull the meat out of the shells but well worth the taste.

Our next wine was the 2018 Rizman Rusula, a Rosé which is made from first run juice of 90% Plavac Mali, with about 10% Syrah, and where the grapes were macerated for about 20 minutes. Rusula is an old Dalmatian word that means "rosé," a link to their heritage. With a 12.5% ABV, this Rosé possessed bright red fruits, cherry and strawberry, with crisp acidity, and a very pleasing finish. Easy drinking and refreshing, this would be an excellent summer wine, or paired with light summer fare.

Our next food course was a traditional Dalmatian dish, Crni Rižot, Black Risotto, which is commonly made with cuttlefish or squid, our dish being made with cuttlefish. Such an earthy and scrumptious dish, with tender pieces of cuttlefish, and rice that was cooked just right.

Onto a bigger and bolder wine. The 2016 Rizman Brime Plavac Mali is their basic Plavac Mali, which presents an expression of fruit. With a 13% ABV, it spends about one year in oak, and is fresh and bold, yet restrained and well-balanced. Tasty black fruit flavors, hints of spice, and a touch of earthiness. Good acidity, a moderately lengthy finish, and definitely an easy drinking wine, which would do well with burgers to pizza, as well as the Black Risotto. Mihovil stated that Plavac Mali is more of a challenge to sell, and needs to be recognized more overseas. It might be well known in Croatia, but other countries don't know much about the grape.

The 2015 Rizman Primus is also made from Plavac Mali, with a tiny bit of Tempranillo, and it is the first wine the winery ever made, hence the name Primus. They select the best plots for the grapes in this wine, wanting the best Plavac Mali. The wine was aged for about 12 months in American and French oak, including some new oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. The 2016 Primus will soon be released, and it's said this wine could easily age for 10-15 years. With a 13.5% ABV, this wine is bright and crisp, with a delicious blend of red and black fruits, a spicy backbone, and well-integrated tannins. A lengthy and satisfying finish, plenty of complexity, and this wine would pair well with steak or other hearty dishes.

Onto Tribidag! In Croatia, where the grape originated, it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, and Tribidag. However, the grape has traveled around the world, and in Italy it is known as Primitivo while in California it is known as Zinfandel. Yes, Zinfandel which is often seen as an "All American" grape, actually originated in Croatia. It wasn't until 2001 that DNA testing confirmed these facts, though many had long suspected a Croatian connection. Within Croatia, Tribidag, which derives from Greek words meaning "early ripening," was first mentioned as early as the 15th century. Tribidag has been seeing a renewed renaissance within Croatia, and more and more wineries are starting to produce wines from this grape. Wouldn't you love to try a wine made from the original "Zinfandel?"

The 2016 Rizman Tribidag is produced mainly primarily from Tribidag, with up to 15% Tempranillo, and only about 5,000 cases are made. The wine spends about a year in oak, with less new oak than the Plavac Mali. At only 13.5% ABV, this is still a powerful wine, though the tannins are still very manageable. There are more plum and black cherry flavors, with notes of black pepper, and the melange is complex and compelling. The wine is well balanced, with a lingering and pleasing finish. You'll need a hearty dish to accompany this bold and delicious wine. It would be fascinating to taste test this next to a few California Zinfandels.

On their land in Komarna, the Štimac family has a chapel to St. Michael, their family saint, and they celebrate him each year on September 29. This was actually the first building they constructed on there property. A number of the Štimac men, for many generations, have been named after St. Michael, which in Croatian is Mihovil.

They also produce a wine, the 2016 Rizman St. Michael, to honor this important aspect of their lives. This wine isn't made every year, and the concept behind the wine is to showcase their best, a single varietal from a single plot of land. This is also known as the Family Collection, and each bottle is numbered, and only about 3,000 bottles are produced. This vintage, which was released in February 2019, was made from Syrah and the specific varietal can change in different vintages, though they didn't make a St. Michael in 2017. The grapes for this wine are from their youngest vineyard, which was planted in 2013, and the wine was aged in new oak for about 12 months.

This was a powerful and muscular wine, though the tannins didn't overpower. It presented with ripe plum, blackberry, and dark spice notes, with a hint of chocolate and leather. It was only 14% ABV, with a long, long finish that tantalized your palate. It's still young and I think it has much potential with greater age on it.

In their cellar, we also got to sample a barrel sample of 2018 Tribidag, coming in at 17.2% ABV, and which could be the basis for a 2018 St. Michaels. It was a huge wine and definitely needs much more time in the barrel.

For dessert, there was cheese & prosciutto, as well as a Semifreddo, which was creamy with tasty notes of chocolate. At this point, we tasted the 2011 Rizman Primus, gaining an idea of how well Plavac Mali can age. This was completely impressive, elegant and complex, well balanced and silky.  Each sip seemed to bring something different to my palate, and it was pure deliciousness. Plavac Mali is definitely a grape with much potential. Highly recommended!

What's in the future for Rizman Winery? I can't yet discuss a couple of their planned projects but I can tell you that they would like to create a wine hotel, to promote wine tourism in Komarna, to keep visitors in the region for more than a single day. There are currently only 4 wine hotels in Croatia, and increasing and promoting wine tourism should be an objective for all of the regions of Croatia. It will also be interesting to see what comes of the indigenous grapes in their experimental vineyard. Will they produce compelling wines?

As I've mentioned before, the modern wine industry in Croatia is still relatively young, and the Komarna appellation is their newest wine region. Despite its youth, the Komarna wineries have shown much potential, already providing excellent wines, and a debt is owed to the Štimac family of Rizman Winery for leading the way and bringing the seven wineries together. And now I wish I had a bottle of the 2011 Rizman Primus to sip and savor.

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