Wine Cellar’s ID
Moreno Degrassi was once a restaurateur in Istria who somehow never managed to find the wine quite to meet the needs of his restaurant. Insufficient quantities and uneven quality urged him to take matters into his own hand and start off on independent production. Contented customers, numerous local prizes and compliments for the wine he had produced urged him further on, the hobby took on a more serious cast, and viticulture and winemaking became in fact his future in business. In 1996 he took over the vineyards of a local previously socialist system and in the next year figured on the market with 50,000 bottles. Thanks to his love of wine, the experience acquired, hard work and the family tradition he is today one of the most important Istrian winemakers who produces and cultivates on his estate located in the extreme north west of Istria – Bašanija near Savudria – wines whose continuing quality are enjoyed by many wine lovers.
Vineyards and assortment
On 25 hectares of vineyards, some of them acquired and some of them newly planted, there are many different varieties. The interesting names of his wines come from the names of the blocks on which the vineyards are located. Bomarchese, Ferne, Contarini and San Pellegrin are part of the best locations of the Buje region. Closeness to the sea, the sunny slopes and white soil make this a particular terroir. In Petrovija, not far from Umag, on the Istrian red soil, there are vineyards from the Terra Rossa line. Unlike the other Istrian grape growers and winemakers who primarily produce Malvazia, Moreno is cheered by variety. There is an equal percentage of white and red varieties, to wit: Istrian Malvazia, Chardonnay, White Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Teran. Among the newer varieties we would particularly refer to Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Petit Verdo and Pinot Noir. There is a lot of hand work, the area planted is extensive, but thanks to his father, Giovanni, who keeps all the threads of the vineyards in his hands, they manage to do it all in time, which is crucially important in this business, since naturally the quality of the grapes determines the quality of the future wine.
Cellar, technology, wines
The cellar that has been graced from the very beginning with contemporary technology is entirely underground. Each year it puts about 100,000 bottles on the market. The different varieties are complemented by diverse wines. There are some that are sent out to market young, freshly fermented and aged in stainless steel, preserving thus their primary varietal aromas. One of the first vintners in Istria who started to use wooden barrels for ageing, he now has about 200 oak barrels in a separate part of the cellar. Here he is inclined to experimentation, aware that the same wine in the barrels of different producers goes through varying paths of development. Structurally stronger and more complex whites mature in the barrels, while all the reds have to go through a period of being kept in the bottle before being released to the market. Young plantations are still waiting to bear fruit, but in the cellar they are already experimenting with interesting combinations such as a coupage of Viognier and Malvazia.
Moreno and his wife are the main generating force in the business. While he creates and shapes future wines, she is busy preparing a redesign of the existing label. And Moreno’s father takes care of the vineyards. There is a permanent labour force of 13, but at the time of pruning and vintage they take on extra labour from all parts of Croatia. It’s always lively in a bilingual manner in the cellar because sometimes they understand each other better in Italian, supplementing the usual Croatian. Only a very modest notice board and signpost on the main road bring the many tourists to the cellar and tasting room, where along with Istrian raw cured ham and cheese they can taste the results of the experiments. If you have the good luck to meet him in the cellar, this retiring winemaker will take you on a personal tour and initiate you into the secrets of keeping a cellar.
From the beginning I was a great lover of wine. I like tasting, and experimenting. I was one of the first to set off with barrique barrels, but now I can say that this is a two-edged sword, because on the one hand the wood enriches the wine, while it also takes away something of the friskiness and freshness. They don’t all have the same taste, and I am a lover of fresh white wines and modern technology. But as for reds, wood is essential and indispensable for maturation. A nice aroma and pleasant taste attracts me to a wine. I like varietal aromas and this is how I orient my production. I do what I personally like, and this is the way I am going. I planted Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noire because they are my favourite varieties. The truth is that a varied assortment involves a lot more work and effort, but I do my very best. I shan’t give up on my wines. It is my life’s calling, the source of my joy.
New vineyards and work on improvement of quality are the pillars on which the future is gradually being created, and the continued presence on the world wine scene, for Moreno thinks that when Croatia enters the EU, only those who base their production on quality and not on quantity will survive and make progress. He is pleased that increasing numbers of young Istrian winemakers are getting into the Vinistra project, and that the qualities of their wines are all the time better. He is fully aware that together they can achieve much more in promoting Istria and Croatia. There are many plans, and soon new wines in a new garb are going to tickle the palates of the inquiring.