By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Yamhill County group studies Croatian wine industry

Submitted photoAttending a wine symposium in Croatia are team members Tom Champine, Chris Burrough, Wynne Peterson-Nedry and Rebekah Bellingham. Not pictured is team leader Art Hill.
Submitted photo A view over the distinctive orange tile rooftops to the Croatian countryside.

Bellingham was part of a team of five, led by Art Hill of Pendleton. Joining her were Chris Burrough of Erath, Tom Champine of Raptor Ridge and Wynne Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem.

While Croatia’s wines have ancient traditions, the country spent much of the 20th century under Communist rule. During that period, wine was mostly made by large cooperatives, and the emphasis was on quantity, not quality.

In addition, many vineyards were destroyed during the country’s war of independence in the early 1990s.

After the country achieved independence, entrepreneurs began to re-establish small, independent wineries. While Oregon is noted for its pinot noir, white wine accounts for about 70 percent of Croatian production.

While in Croatia, Champine shared one of the few bottles of Oregon pinot noir he was able to bring along. It was the first the group had ever tasted and was very well received, he said.

Burrough noted one producer the group visited submerged its wines in the Adriatic Sea for five years to age.

“From a marketing standpoint, the bottles looked amazing, all naturally etched,” Champine said. The wine tasted good, too, but ran about $250 Euros a bottle — about $325.

Burrough said he felt the process worked because the ocean water kept the temperature consistent and the pressure keeps the seal intact, allowing for very slow secondary fermentation.

The team toured the vineyards of the Peljesac Peninsula, which features steep terrain with very pretty vines and an abundance of wild boar. They also had the opportunity to attend two wine expos, which exposed them to many more wines, plus lectures and symposiums complete with translators.

“There are some real parallels between Oregon and Croatia,” Champine said.

Peterson-Nedry appreciated getting a chance to be in one country long enough to get to know the different viticulture regions, as well as the people and their country.

When asked what they learned from the trip, Burrough, who describes himself as a production guy, said he learned some techniques that are new to him, but very old in practice. He said they can be adapted to white wines in Oregon, too.

“It was just a whole new breadth of experience,” said Burrough. “It opened my eyes to what’s possible in other parts of the world.”

Bellingham was impressed with the long family histories.

“I had no idea what to expect,” she said. She said she was “blown away” with her experience.

“There, everyone stays where they’re born — it’s generations, a whole food and wine culture,” she said.

A highlight for Peterson-Nedry was learning about indigenous varieties unavailable elsewhere in the world. She also appreciated learning about ancient techniques not used in the West, such as making wines amphora style, with the fermentation taking place in large clay pots buried in the ground.

“It really solidified what we do here,” Bellingham said. “We sell Oregon first. We all collaborate, we work together. That’s why we can be successful.”

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