Since the early 2000s when we first started researching the newer wave of Croatian wine and its producers, particularly in Istria at the beginning, we’ve seen a positive change and a massive shift in the industry and the process – winemakers tend to have become slicker, more technical, more savvy and more discerning.  They are also more open-minded to suggestions and new markets further afield.  In the early days of our visits many tried to model themselves around French winemaking, not wanting to express the terroir and the potential that was at their fingertips.  We were offered one bottle after another that we had to dismiss as, although they may have been well made, they just didn’t look at what they had, they didn’t embrace the region, the land, the soil and the local grapes.

In 2009 Croatia won 27 Decanter medals in total including 8 gold (more than Chile and Argentina had done), sealing the country’s winemaking future and sending out the message that it wasn’t any more about cheap commercial Yugoslav Rieslings or mass produced booze.  There was a climate of change for the better.

As the producers have shaped up so have the wineries.  Some got huge EU and local grants to modernise, creating Napa Valley type palaces.  Others, some of the more passionate winemakers, have invested in their futures by doing it themselves;  they have continued to concentrate on their wines first and foremost, but perhaps added a bedroom or two, some a small terrace or extended the cellar to create a tasting room, and in those vineyards one tends to notice it’s not about show, it’s more about attention to the land and damn hard work!

Some however get that mix right and have managed to create a new and exciting winery experience as well as maintaining their high level of standard in wine production.  And Franco Cattunar is one such.

We have never been ones for medals.  After all, you have to pay to play and a lot of producers with great wines simply don’t have the budget.  And then, you can have a good day and a bad day, a set of judges who like one style, not another.  So for us we’ve never made a great song and dance about medals, and that includes local wine fair Vinistra.  However, when you see consistent high point medal winning from what might be termed the more ‘traditional’ winemakers you have to take notice of their continued strive for perfection and ability to deliver the goods. And Franco Cattunar seems to do just that year in year out.

At this year’s Vinistra, Franco Cattunar won gold for his rich and powerful Teran Kappi 2006 (I remember Steven Spurrier tasting this wine with us a few years ago in London);  gold for his 2012 Muškat ruža porečka (the red muscat that is like tasting a glass of Turkish delight and rose petals!), and a gold and silver for his sparkling ‘Senator’ range red muškat and white muškat, both 2015 vintage.   His silky 2015 Collina malvazija won a silver as did his fresh 2016 black soil Malvazija Istarska, whilst his 2015 black soil Malvazija won bronze.  Finally his unoaked chardonnay 2016 won a bronze too – this is a wine that we have consistently championed and we find even the most hardy ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay” to the trade) falls in love with it.

So you can imagine a trip to see Franco’s almost completed new-look winery hit a million points for us, and from the plans and the building work that’s going on this is going to be pretty spectacular!

As you drive round the side of gastronomic village Brtonigla towards Nova Vas, you see the giant cranes and the building work in the distance on the hill.  If you drive past the turning off to Cattunar’s and through Nova Vas on to the main road towards Buzet you can see the size of the construction work itself, the cranes moving persistently throughout the day on the horizon, and the two additional storeys being built on top of the current winery.

Like John D Rockefeller with his beloved Forest Hill home, so Franco’s beloved winery will become a majestic landmark on the hills behind Brtonigla and Nova Vas.

Firstly, the Cattunars have already created a warm and friendly enoteca in the Winery’s cellar, a room where we often had meetings now has an outdoor staircase down to it from the car park, and has become a relaxed bar area and tasting room, run by the charming Vanessa.  Terracotta earthy colours, shelves of new label wines simply displayed alongside lots of medals and competition plaques, and long wooden tables that seat 20 in total, so visitors can enjoy a tasting in small groups or one or two larger ones.  The door stays open and Franco and Vesna pop in, every now and then, and sometimes Simpa too, the 17-year old family dog, who insists on attention from you if you catch his eye.

Upstairs, the extensive tasting room that seats 50 remains, with glass windows that allow the visitor a panoramic view of the vineyards.  This is where we’ve brought journalists, sommeliers and wine societies over the years.  The room has great acoustics and below is the winery so guests get a great view down into the workings of the winery too, where staff busy themselves labelling or palleticising cases.  It’s non-stop busy, busy, busy.

Go outside now and look up and you’ll see the men building above you, a hive of activity outside as well as inside as the winery still carries on regardless of noise and disruption.  7 apartments will be built in the next few months, the Cattunar ‘hotel’ complex and the winery’s capacity has increased.  There is no doubt that things in the wine world can only go onwards and upwards for Franco Cattunar and his team.

We can organise personalised and bespoke gastronomic tours of Istria for you and your friends, your wine society, your restaurant and your sommelier team, including a trip to Franco Cattunar’s winery.

Contact us at info at pactaconnect.co.uk for more details or to talk tailormaking your own trip. For sales, both trade and private retail, in the UK please email us or contact us by any means on our website for details of Franco Cattunar’s whole portfolio.

© Pacta Connect, 19 May 2017