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Grape Spotlight: Croatian Korčula Grk

By Winecompass
Grape Spotlight: Croatian Korčula GrkGrk is an autochthonous Croatian grape variety that grows exclusively on the south Dalmatian island of Korčula. More specifically it is planted in the sandy and very dry soils around the village of Lumbarda at the easternmost tip of the island. Here, the strip of land between two coastlines is very narrow thus the grapes receive plenty of exposure from sunlight and reflection from the sea.

Grk is also an ancient grape, perhaps older than the vines planted by the Greeks who settled in Lumbarda in the third century BC. They named the island Korkyra Melaina (Black Korkyra) for its dense Mediterranean vegetation.  Interestingly Grk translates to Greek in Croatian but DNA analysis does not match any known Greek grape. In the local dialect, Grk refers to "bitter" which resembles the naming of Negroamaro across the Adriatic in Puglia. Since inhabitants of Korčula were seafarers and travelers (Marco Polo (1254-1324) was purportedly born on Korčula) perhaps the concepts in the naming grapes traveled across the Sea. This happened with actual grapevines for Primitivo as the Croatian Tribidrag was transferred to Italy between 200-300 years ago.

The quest to determine the origins of Zinfandel to Primitivo and to eventually Tribidrag & Crljenak Kastelanski also includes Grk. Dr. Carole Meredith analyzed various DNA fingerprints of vines in search of a match for Zinfandel and this led to Plavac Mali being designated an offspring. In addition, her analysis showed that Grk (along with other local varieties Plavina and Vranac) shared genetic markers with Zinfandel. This helps prove the antiquated nature of these grapes. 

Like two other central European grapes, the Hungarian Kéknyelű and Herzegovinian Blatina, Grk has only the female functional parts of the plant. Thus it is not self-pollinating like the vast majority of grapevines and requires a male pollinator. On Lumbarda, its relative Plavac Mali is the primary pollinator, planted in alternative rows as both varieties blossom at the same time and with hopes that the wind will carry the pollen to the appropriate plants. 

Winemaking on Korčula probably started with the Greek settlers and continued with the Romans but its practices were codified in the Statute of Korčula of 1214.  This is the oldest legal code of the Croats and a subsequent version from 1265 has been preserved to the present day.  It codifies both winemaking practices as well as the trading of wine - specifically the prohibition of imports in large quantities. In contemporary times, winemaking has been modernized particularly from young oenologists such as 30-something Igor Radovanović.

After graduating from high school, Radovanović enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, and afterward consulted with several wineries in Smokvica and Čara. This led to working with Testament Winery near Šibenik and Black Island Winery on Korčula and specifically Posip and Grk. On Korčula he created his own small garage winery where he produces several craft wines which are noticeable by their "kružić križić" (circle cross) label. 

One of these wines is the Radovanović Grk 2020 ($39) available in the United States through Croatian Premium Wine Imports and not to be confused with the Serbian winery Radovanovic.  This wine is exceptional and showcases the heavy density and body of Grk wines. It features candied summer fruit, melons, a hint of that Black Korkyra, and surprisingly sufficient acidity. Yes, it stretches the budget but with the small-scale production - well worth the outlay.

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