Kit Pepper

Smart Wines and How To Make Them – Meet Medea Winery


Stupid wines are easy to make, but enologist Marko Krstačić is not interested in industrial wine-product. When he and a broad new team of staff started at Medea Winery in 2010, they focused their talents on a more challenging task: how to make smart wines.

Their planning and effort have paid off. Today, Medea has a line of well designed, modern wines that deliver just what wine lovers want, at the right prices.

Being Big but Acting Small

Medea Winery, in southern Istria, sits just across from the Vodnjan town train station, where an industrial park meets the old part of town. The winery processed its first harvest in this location in 1964, as a cooperative where local growers brought their grapes. Looking around at the beautiful tasting room and new barrel room, it is difficult to imagine an old co-op here, but this is a five-year-old renovation. Back then, there was no need to host the public: after the wine was made, it was mostly sold off in bulk to large brands that bottled it under various labels. Medea-winemaker

In 2010, when Krstačić and the rest of the new team arrived, they found a privately-owned company that was still charting its course. It consisted of the second largest winery in Istria; Uljara Vodnjan, the region’s oldest olive oil mill; and 12 hectares of peaches and nectarines remaining from formerly vast orchards renowned for their quality fruit.

The mandate was modernization and change. “We created the vision, with the owner, what direction to go,” said Krstačić. They gave up the orchards and focused on wine and oil. Their approach could be summed up as: Being big but acting small. 

From bulk to bottles

First and foremost, this involved abandoning the old bulk model and bottling their own wines. The winery had already made a good start at modernizing. “In 1991, this wine cellar was the first in this part of Eastern Europe where temperature-controlled fermentation was introduced, with Italian technology,” said Krstačić. 

Additional upgrades in the winery and vineyards included the strategic decision to machine harvest the main vineyards, which allows Medea’s primary line of wines to remain so affordable. Medea-winery

Being big may mean saving man-hours (and controlling costs) by machine harvesting, but acting small means a strict eye on production quality. “All of our vineyards and olive groves were planted by us and are in our ownership. We don’t buy grapes,” said Krstačić.

Affordable chic

The whole idea of Medea is that the wines are very good value for the money, very approachable wines—not stupid wines, but [easy] to understand, very varietal,” said Krstačić. 

Krstačić and enologist Ivana Perišić, who arrived in 2011, have shaped two lines of wines for Medea. The varietal line offers something to please every palate—two whites and three reds, plus a rosé and a sparkling Malvazija, that show off their grapes, with light, pure flavors true to each variety. The second line consists of Medea’s two single-vineyard wines—higher in price, each hand-harvested and made to showcase their special terroir. Medea-wines

Between 2013 and 2015, Medea planted 10 hectares of new vineyards, adding Chardonnay, Teran and Cabernet Sauvignon (plus Refosco) to the original varieties of Malvazija and Merlot. Rather than taking a mass approach for the varietal line, “It’s always very personal for me and Ivana, and we take care of each tank as its own separate wine,” said Krstačić.

This is not the style of wine for the lowest shelf [in the supermarket],” he said. “We always try to give very good value for the price, basically because we can.

Value means the wine tastes better than its price, but also that it looks great on the table. The design of the varietal line is attractive and modern, the color of each label promising a new flavor experience. The motifs are abstract riffs on winegrowing and winemaking—a vineyard stone pattern on the Chardonnay and the ripples of fermenting wine on the Merlot, for example. Medea-tasting-room

Screwcaps, too were given close consideration. These wines are meant to be drunk young and fresh rather than aged, so why pay up to five times more for cork? A screwcap signals weekday dinners, not just special occasions.

Spotlight on Terroir: Montiron and Punta Greca

Medea’s two single-vineyard wines—Montiron Malvazija and Punta Greca Merlot—are the founding wines of a higher price category. They are hand-harvested from expressive terroir with low yields, and see oak barrels and natural corks. 

Montiron Malvazija was first made in its current style in 2010, and immediately became the first Vrhunsko (Premium) quality wine in southern Istria. The grapes come from an old vineyard planted in 1983 with an old type of Malvazija. “The same type of Malvazija was planted even 100 years ago,” said Krstančić, “before the new clones, the new types of Malvazija were developed to be more modern. So we call it indigenous Malvazija.” 

The vineyard has a lower and an upper part, both with Istrian red soil, but the upper part has more stones in it. This is where the fruit for Montiron is grown. The wine sees 24 hours of cold maceration, is fermented with vineyard yeast only, partly in oak, and rests on the yeasts (with stirring) for about five months. As Krstačić puts it, the goal is “to give our signature to this old-style Malvazija and to preserve the identity of this vineyard. So, a little maybe archaic style of production, like the wine was made before, but in a [correct] way.

Punta Greca is the old Roman name for the Croatian Punta Grkova, a peninsula of land on the southern tip of Istria that is surrounded by sea on three sides. It is beaten by winds and lashed with salt spray, and it has a unique soil—again red, but with a sand component and unusual pockets of clay. Medea-air-view

But it is the sea that makes this vineyard special. In the summer heat there is always a breeze, and a dramatic difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. This results in grapes that are fully ripe but still have the acidity to make the wine worth aging. Because of the salty winds, the vines are trained very low to the ground. Harvest is done by hand—“almost on your knees,” Krstačić laughs. 

Critics tend to obsess about Medea’s two premim wines, but Krstačić points out that both lines are important: “They all help each other—the Montiron and Punta Greca help us sell [the varietal wines] and also those [varietal] wines bring people to us, and people evolve. They start as beginners and become wine lovers.

Fine Wines in mind

Creating new wine lovers is a smart strategy, and the team at Medea have ideas about what comes next. Right now in the cellars a new release waits to be blended, “a red brother of Montiron,” hints Krstačić. 

In the near future, he wants to experiment with planting Cabernet Franc, which currently is not grown in southern Istria. “But I think it would be good here, because it would be riper,” he said. 

And it may be possible to expand the Punta Greca concept, as it becomes clear which small plots within this vineyard outperform the others. “In the near future, in five years, we will probably have some special releases. Maybe 500 bottles,” Krstačić said.

Even the original Punta Greca Merlot “could be better, and will be better. It will be more concentrated [due to] better ripeness. The vineyard is older, and we have more experience. We are learning all the time.

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