The Adriatic Sea’s turquoise waters provide the perfect conditions for aging Croatia’s acclaimed wines. Our man goes diving for the best bottles.
Legend has it that there’s treasure resting off the coast of Žuljana, a tiny town with some 250 residents located along the southern side of Croatia’s Pelješac peninsula. And I’ve come here to find it.
Scuba gear strapped on, I dive below the waters and come upon a cage resting at the bottom of the sea—the buried treasure, at last, in the form of seashell and coral-covered bottles of wine.
The treasured wine isn’t the remnant of some ancient shipwreck, however. It’s been placed there purposely by upstart winery Edivo Vina. Because who needs a subterranean wine cave when you have the stunningly beautiful turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea?
“It’s the perfect storage for the wines because the temperature is constant for the whole year,” says Dora Mratović, manager of the Edivo Wine Bar in Drače, a 15-minute drive away from the current dive site in Žuljana, and adjacent to the actual winery in Janjina. Mratović says the water constantly hovers around 15 degrees Celsius, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s right in the sweet spot of the temperature range the wine industry has long coveted for storage and maturation.
Dubbed Navis Mysterium, Latin for ‘Ship’s Mystery,’ the wine spends between 18 months and two years underwater before it’s ready for release. With enough time, deeper and more nuanced flavours develop, and rough edges are rounded out.
The wine itself is made from the plavac mali grape, a ubiquitous varietal in and around the Dalmatia region of Croatia, and one that has risen in global prestige in recent years. “Plavac is related to zinfandel,” Mratović says. So it is that zinfandel, long the pride of American winemakers, actually has its origins in Croatia, where it’s known as tribidrag or crljenak. That history wasn’t successfully hashed out until about 20 years ago, led in part by California-based Croatian winemaker Miljenko Grgich. As for plavac, it’s a cross between tribidrag and another ancient Croatian varietal. And Edivo isn’t the only winery that’s dabbled with aging wine underwater. “But not with amphoras,” Mratović says of the two-handled clay jugs Edivo uses—based on those used by ancient Greeks and Romans to store wine. “We have a patent and protected our process.”
Meanwhile, deciding to mature wine underwater was also a surprisingly natural fit for this family business—inspired by the diving background of one of the co-owners, Mratović’s cousin and their grandfather’s roots in winemaking. “The traditions of sea and wine, with fun and business,” Mratović says. “It’s business and pleasure together.”
It was the pleasure side of the operation that took charge at first, resulting in some casual experiments before any business plan was hatched. “We started the project in 2009,” Mratović says. “A few bottles were sunk underwater for fun.” In 2012, the business began producing wine in earnest, with the wine bar opening in spring 2017.
Edivo currently partners with Diving Centre Barbara in Žuljana to lead would-be explorers to the dive site. There, a single cage of wine rests about five metres below the surface. The bulk of the winery’s underwater production remains elsewhere, though, with several thousand bottles maturing in several semi-secret locations between 18 and 25 metres below the waters of Mali (or Little) Ston Bay, on the other side of the peninsula. Mali Ston’s waters are known as the source of some of the world’s most sought-after oysters, and the nutrient-rich conditions are ideal for the wine, too. Because with Edivo, it’s not solely about the taste, but also its presentation.
The bottles and amphoras themselves are covered with layers of shells, coral, and debris; the wine can be purchased as a standalone bottle for INR 5,000 or with an amphora for INR 20,000—delivering showstopping souvenirs with a one-of-a-kind presentation. Visitors to the wine bar pick the specific bottle or amphora they’d like based on its appearance; therefore, storing the wine in the type of conditions that help build that aesthetic is crucial.
The deeper and murkier waters at Edivo’s main areas of production prevent novice divers from exploring them, even with a guide, so any other treasure hunters out there will have to settle for the gorgeous environs of the winery’s public site for the time being, though Edivo isn’t stopping there. “We are also starting to organise dives in Dubrovnik,” Mratović says. “It will be spectacular.”