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The Story of Grk – Croatian grape variety on Korčula island

A bottle of Grk wine
A bottle of Grk wine

On a narrow road leading to a true sandy beach on a remote part of Korčula island, one suddenly threads through a vineyard down to the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic.

Among the rarest wines in the world, these vineyards hug the precious coastline in a beautiful dance of rocky soil, gnarled vines, and golden bunches of grapes that produce Grk wine.

Grk is a white wine grape variety found on the island of Korčula, specifically near the seaside village of Lumbarda. It is one of the most unique indigenous grape varieties found in Croatia.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Grk – Croatian grape variety on the island of Korčula

“To taste an indigenous wine is to truly experience a place and a culture.” – Cheers Croatia Magazine

Vineyards
Vineyards

History of Croatian Grk grape variety

The story behind the grape is that the Greeks brought this variety to the island more than two millennia ago – about the same time the UNESCO World Heritage site Starogradsko polje (Stari Grad Plain) on the island of Hvar was first cultivated.

Authentic farming is preserved on Starogradsko polje’s fertile fields, and grapes and olives are the most common crops.

[Read: UNESCO monuments of culture and nature in Croatia, including Stari Grad Plain]

Although the history of the Greeks colonizing Korčula is scant at best, the logic seems to fit. Around 400 B.C., during the Hellenistic period, Greeks expanded their reach in the Adriatic and cultivated vines on the nearby Croatian islands of Hvar and Vis.

There is also some speculation that the Grk variety made its way to the island of Korčula in the third century B.C. when the Greeks were said to have first settled the island. In either case, it has been cultivated on a limited scale and in a limited area for centuries, making it one of the more unique varietals in Croatia.

Wines near the Adriatic sea
Wines near the Adriatic sea

Taste of Croatian Grk grape variety

It is said that Grk vines grow best in the rocks and sand next to the water’s edge just outside Lumbarda on Korčula. The legend goes that the vine absorbs the sea salt in the air giving it the unique crisp, fruity, and slightly briny taste.

Depending upon the year and the winemaking, Grk can be sweet or effervescent but typically is crisp and fruity with minerality. It has been said that it is a cross among Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc – but many believe Grk is in a class of its own.

This variety grows only as a female plant and so requires nearby vines of another variety for pollination. Typically, the classic red wine variety Plavac Mali is planted in a certain ratio of vine-to-vine in order to cajole the Grk vines to produce fruit. Plavac Mali blooms at the same time, so it has become the perfect partner in the few areas in which Grk thrives.

Interestingly, the Grk variety is genetically related to Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski – the original Zinfandel variety. That connection to the origins of Grk remains a mystery.

[Read: Making Sense of Croatian Grape Varieties]

Glass of white Grk wine
A glass of white Grk wine

Croatian island of Korčula – home of Grk

Korčula island is the birthplace of the better-known white wine called Pošip, discovered and first cultivated in the center of the island near Čara and Smokvica. Pošip is now one of the most produced and popular white wines in Croatia.

However, the rare Grk – likely given its requirements to cultivate and the typically low yield per vine – is the much lesser known of the two and produced at much reduced volumes.

In Lumbarda, there are a handful of wineries that produce a limited quantity of Grk – the most established of these being Biré Winery. Zure winery and Cipre winery are two other wineries in Lumbarda that contribute to the availability of Grk.

Biré Winery in Lumbarda, Korčula
Biré Winery in Lumbarda, Korčula

Bire’s Grk has tones of citrus on the nose and hints of seagrass and stone fruit on the mouth. Dry but fruity, it is served refreshingly chilled and sparkles with flavor.

This rare varietal is also now being cultivated inland on Korčula island by Black Island Winery in Smokvica under the Radovanović label, crafted by the very talented winemaker Igor Radovanović. The difference between the seaside vineyards and those produced in the heart of Pošip country is subtle but distinct.

Radovanovič Grk has an increase in effervescence that delights the palate. On the nose, it has hints of nectarine, peaches, and grapefruit with flavors of apricot and green apple on taste.

[Read: Yes, Croatia makes sparkling wine (and THIS is how to choose the right one)]

Food ideal to combine with Croatian Grk wine

Combining Grk with shellfish is a must. A bowl of mussels and a bottle of Grk may be the most sublime of Croatian wine and food pairings. With bread, olive oil, and dry cheese, one has a meal befitting of the best of Dalmatia’s islands. However, it is a refreshing choice on its own: light, easily quaffed, and delightfully tasty.

[Read: 15 reasons why living on an island in Croatia isn’t the dream you think it is]

Bowl of mussels
Bowl of mussels

The low volume of Grk produced on Korčula contributes to a limited supply in the face of increased demand. A few restaurants and wine shops in Dubrovnik and Split will offer Grk. Check out the Enoteca wine shop in Dubrovnik and the delightful restaurant Bokeria in Split.

However, even at the winery source, it is hard to come by and frequently sells out. A source in the U.S. is Croatian Premium Wine Imports. Currently, they are sold out of 2020 Radovanović Grk – but with a promise of more in the coming year.

The lesson here: buy it when you see it and drink it when you get it. Živjeli!

All photos are provided by Scott Radovich. 

View our other wine articles

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. It is important to understand that Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change and each personal case is individual and different rules may apply. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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