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Josip Brkić – Wine After War in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Author: Ian Bancroft

Josip Brčić began building his family’s wine brand during the bloodshed of the Bosnian War.

Today he is prospering 25 years ago, American diplomacy helped end almost four years of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, marked by an ethnic cleansing and war crimes. During the fighting, which ended in the break-up of Yugoslavia, more than 100,000 people were killed and more than 2 million people were displaced. The US and NATO broke an imperfect but significant peace in November 1995 at an air force base in Dayton, Ohio. Since then, the country has struggled to recover.

For winemaker Josip Brzyk, the adversity of war in his homeland means he is a bit surprised by a challenging growing season or the difficulties of getting his wines to market. He said he remembers the shells lying on his hometown litluk in the southwest of the country, since his first vintage wine was delivered in 1992. “All the money I put in the back of that truck,” he said. Fortunately, the consignment made it a market.

History of flexibility

Čitluk is located in the southern part of Herzegovina, in a mountainous region known for limestone soil. Brkić is a bit taken aback at how he put things in dark times. Peace did not immediately bring prosperity.

“It was very difficult to become a small producer after the war,” Brick recalled. “We had a lot of technical problems with electricity and water, and there was no company to print the label. All our equipment had to be imported from Italy at great expense.” As a result, many new post-war manufacturers quickly fell by the wayside, leading the state-owned conquerors — the remnants of communist Yugoslavia — to pursue quantity over quality, as they almost always did.

Although less acreage is cultivated today before the war, there are clear signs of a revival in the country’s wine industry. Domestic per capita alcohol consumption has more than tripled in the last 15 years, although it is lower than in the EU. Average, and “Herzegovina Wine Route”, have helped showcase domestic wines in an ever expanding tourist market. While many winners still cultivate their small vineyards for personal consumption or to barter with it, some have expanded into international markets. Despite the lack of access to capital and small industry support, producers like Brick are beginning to prove that they are “making genuine, honest wines” as they plant it. The heritable heritage of Herzegovina, where 2.2 million cases of annual wine production in most of the country, can be traced to Roman times. The region saw a wine renaissance after the Austro-Hungarian Empire conquered the land from the Ottomans.

Some 50 different varieties were cultivated here, before the locals considered avilavka (pronounced “zee-love-ka”) and blatina the most suitable, the region being given a Mediterranean climate and karst limestone-rich soil. was. The former is a white variety famous for its freshness and acidity; The latter is a red grape that gives spices and coffee-tinged flavors.
In recent centuries, winters have often harvested vine from the most famous vineyard known as Karski Vinogradi, or “Imperial Vineyards”, located near the source of the Boona River just outside Mostar. Local authorities imparted education and supported new technologies.

When Bosnia and Herzegovina were part of socialist Yugoslavia, the production of alcohol was centralized. In 1979, Josip’s father, Pasco, established the country’s first private vineyards on the rolling grounds of litluk. At that time, only state-owned companies were allowed to market their liquor; Private manufacturers can only sell in clear, unbaked bottles without their own brand.

After Pasco’s death in 1989, Josip took over the reins, becoming the country’s youngest winner. Only three years later, however, Bosnia and Herzegovina plunged into violence. As fighting encroachment, Brick and his family lived with fear, uncertainty and scarcity.

“The war in Herzegovina was quite brutal,” Brick said. “I spent the entire war as a soldier while at the same time working in the vineyards. I managed to save the vineyards, although some were directly affected by the shelling.”
Brkić released its first wine bottle under its own label in 1994, with few signs of curb on hostility. Getting his wines to the capital, Serjevo, which was under constant siege by Serb forces, required a dangerous journey on Mt. Igman. The narrow, winding road up the mountain was the only way into the besieged city. In 1995, three American diplomats in a French armored vehicle died tragically on the same road. As Brickey warns, “It’s very difficult to explain to someone who didn’t live here.”


Succeed and listen to vines

As an uneasy peace settled in the country, Brickey struggled to achieve his goal, “to find his place in the wine world.” He received orders in the late evening and completed them himself the next morning, “working all night to prepare everything for delivery.” Over the last 15 years, Brkić has felt safe enough to use in its basement and vineyards. During a 2006 visit to an Italian wine fair, he encountered a biodynamic agricultural philosophy. He had a deep influence on them. “Your whole life looks at the hill in front of you and never asks what lies ahead of it, only to discover that there is a whole new world. It means you can’t go back.” In 2007, he produced his first vintage (name meaning “Moonwalker”) of Mjesečar, the first wine he made using biodynamic techniques.

But over time, Brick’s ideas developed and he doubted the dogma of biodynamics founder Rudolf Steiner. Now he tries to find his way. “I don’t agree with his views very much,” he said. “Of course, naturalism is still a priority in alcohol, but the methods are different. Now I listen more to my feelings and follow my thoughts.”
One idea he is trying in the cellar is the aging wine in a barrel made of trees near the vine. Brkić eats most of its white wines on lees in a 250-liter Bosnian Oak Peak made from trees grown near Bugojno and Kupres, about 80 miles north of upitluk.

Bracic’s only red is the 85-15 mix of Plava grada, Blatina and Vranc. It is aged in a mixture of American, Hungarian, Slavonian and Bosnian oak casks.

Peace has brought expanded markets for Bosnian conquerors. Consumers in Europe and America now buy more than 60 percent of the current production of bric, and they see more opportunities for the region’s indigenous varieties. But as international recognition grows, domestic preferences favor foreign wines, and government support is almost nil.

He hopes that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to enjoy peace and explore the complexity of wines made within the country’s borders, perhaps raising a glass of avilavka or Blatina for a future without war. This is, after all, a country where people “struggle for their own happiness,” he said, “and do not surrender easily.”

Ian Bancroft is a writer and diplomat based in the Balkans. He is the author of Dragon’s Teeth: Tales from North Kosovo.


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