Post image for Giorgio Clai – preserving the signature of Nature

Giorgio Clai – preserving the signature of Nature

by Gogo on April 9, 2009

in All wines

Last weekend I went to an interesting wine event Vino Vino Vino 2009, located in a beautiful Villa Boschi, in Isola della Scala just 3o km south of Verona. The fair presented wines from more than 150 producers around the world who think that in the wine a signature of the place where the grapes were grown (more precisely terroir – see post scriptum) should be preserved. These winemakers believe in “wines made how nature intended them”.

Just at the entrance, I was happy to see the exhibition stand of Vesna and Giorgio Clai who own a small winery in a pitoresque village Krasica near Buje in Istria (here is the map to visit them). They were the only winery from Croatia on this event, and the pioneers of the biodynamic viticulture in Istria. Last year we went to visit them during the Wine Day in Istria (an open wineries event held every year the last sunday in May) and they were very friendly and enthusiastic to explain us how they make wine. The same warm welcome happened here in Villa Boschi, and it was a pleasure to talk again with Vesna and Giorgio and taste what is new in their winery.

Clai family decided not to follow the modern style in making Istrian Malvasia that dominates in the last fifteen years, where any contact with skin is avoided, selected yeasts are used in fermentation, and the entire vinification is happening in large Inox barrels. There is no doubt, thanks to this style the modern Malvasia has become maybe the most popular white wine in Croatia due to its easy drinkability, good acidity that makes it a perfect match for fish based dishes, and its crisp, floral and vegetable character.

Instead, Giorgio returned back to roots and wanted to produce a different Malvasia. He is proud of his hard work in the vinyard since he believes that only healthy grapes will give a good wine, not later interventions in the wine cellar. In the vineyard he uses only treatments based on copper and sulphur and does not use chemical fertilizers. He produces Malvasia vinified with extended skin contact in oak or Inox barrels where only indigineous yeasts present on the berries start fermentation. It is the same process used in the old days, when most of rural families have produced their own wine.

I remember that most of the time this old “rural” wine was not very drinkable, due to its high acidity and even oxydation. In these days, wine was treated as an everyday food and not a luxury, and a profound knowledge about winemaking was not common as today. But sometimes, when the vintage was exceptionally good and the peasant was more careful (or just had luck), Malvasia did not become too acid and was able to keep a great vitality even after two years.

There is no doubt, extreme care and a great deal of experimentation is needed to produce a good Malvasia using this “old” vinification, but for Giorgio it was a great challenge. He has found that his Malvasia just needs maturation in wood of few years to become a really elegant and complex wine with a great body, aromas of wet soil, the barn and mature fruit, good acidity but silky and mineral on palate. More to come soon when I do a proper tasting of this exceptional wine that needs time to be fully appreciated.

In conclusion, Clai’s Istrian Malvasia is totally different from other Malvasias you can find in Istria.

Clai Bijele Zemlje winery
Vesna and Giorgio Clai
Brajki 104, Krasica, HR-52460 Buje
tel. +385 (0)52 776 175
mob. +385 91 577 6364

PS: Terroir and natural wines

There are certain winemakers who do not believe in technological wines produced with highly sophisticated vinification techniques that are used for production of wines with constant quality throughout the years, even if the vintage was not very favorable. Instead, they believe in natural wines or wines that are intimately connected to terroir – or to the position in space and time from which the grapes are coming from. The space, or geographic position, determines the type of soil, exposure to the Sun, microclimate, drainage of the terrain… The time, or the vintage, adds casualty in the process of winemaking since the weather conditions may be very different from year to year. These factors are more likely to be felt in the final bouquet and taste of the wine if the interventions in the wine cellar are minimal.

View Clai Winery in a larger map

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah April 14, 2009 at 10:25

Dr Gogo! I can barely wait to try this old-school Malvasia. I am sorry that I will miss the open vinery eveny in Istria at the end of May, but it is probaly a good thing. Otherwise I would never get any work done. This blog is a MARVELOUS idea. If you write, I will read! Ciao


Dr. Gogo April 15, 2009 at 01:57

Thanks Sarah for your support! When you come this summer be prepared to carry with you a case of selected wines for you and Žaba. With Istrian Malvasia in it of course. I hated how good wine is way too expensive in USA, and is treated as a luxury product for the rich.


Anonymous May 14, 2009 at 15:09

Your post has made me even more excited that I’m traveling from Washington DC to Istria for Open Cellars Day this month! Do you have other favorite stops, or suggestions for travelers to get between the vineyards? Any suggestions would be appreciated!


Dr. Gogo May 15, 2009 at 02:30

Many thanks for the encouragement. Nice to see that Americans are also reading this blog.

Follow the posts in the next few days. I am finishing the reports from Vinistra, the annual wine fair in Istria, where I discovered what would be interesting to visit during the Open Cellars Day. On the fair there is never enough time to understand fully a wine.

Appart Clai, there is also Roxanich winery that makes Malvasia using traditional vinification and maturation in large oak barrels. They also have good reds. Tercolo winery from Nova Vas makes Istrian Malvasia in a sort of New World style, a very funny wine, with aroma of exotic fruit. Not so usual for Istria.

I suggest you to take a room in Motovun, old medieval town in the center of Istria.


Anonymous May 16, 2009 at 09:02

Thanks for providing the link to the Roxanich winery. We’re a trio of red lovers visiting from the States, so I think we’ll enjoy that. Thanks also for your suggestion of Motovun. Looks perfect. We’ve hit a bit of an obstacle, tho, and while I know your specialities are wine and physics, I’m hoping your knowledge of the area could help settle our minds. We see no buses running from Porec to Motovun on Sundays. Would you know if it’s easy enough to hire a car or taxi, or is there some other form of public transport? Thanks for your help — and the entertaining intv with the urban winemaker!


Dr. Gogo May 17, 2009 at 07:47

Istria is not famous for its reds, especially if you search for Californian or Bordeaux style. The most famous red here is Teran, a cousin of Refosco, which is a rustic wine, with spiky acidity and low tannins. Only if you try it here with local food you will start to love it for its simplicity and sincerity.

Otherwise, some good Merlots are emerging in the last few years, and Syrah is getting more and more popular. Then, Cabernet Franc gives better results than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Some tips for travelling in Istria. You MUST rent a car, since public transport is slow and inefficient. And wineries are always deep in the countryside, between the hills. I recommend you to have a good map (print the Google maps satellite view). It helps if you know Italian a bit since most people are speaking it.

Near Motovun there is Tikel agrotourism, it is my friend who is also a winemaker, and has lodging capabilities, a restaurant, a donkey, his olive oil. The house has a beautiful look on Motovun.

Hope it helps, I am sure it will be a sort of adventure.


Anonymous June 5, 2009 at 04:54

Motovun was glorious! Thanks for that suggestion because we would have missed it otherwise. Between the white wine and the truffle oils and pastas, we were in gastro-heaven. Thanks again!


Dr. Gogo June 5, 2009 at 06:37

WOW! I am so glad you had such a great time, partially because of my writing here.

Are you a professional wine/food journalist? I would have joined joined you on Wine Day in Istria, but this year I decided to go to Open Wineries is neighbouring Italian region Friuli, as you can see from my latest post. Too bad! But Istria is beautiful throughout the year, so it is never too late.


putnam weekley March 5, 2010 at 19:53

I tasted Giorgio Clai’s wines last fall in New York, and am finally expecting to get my greedy hands on them. You’re post helped me understand these wines better. Thank you!


Gogo March 8, 2010 at 01:19

Glad that I helped you and that people in Detroit know about Istrian wines. Check out the latest post I wrote about Clai’s Sv. Jakov Malvasia. But be careful, because this wine has high alcohol content but at the same time it is so easy-to-drink 🙂


Tomislav Brajnovic May 28, 2010 at 11:54

Dear Dr. Gogo, you have a very nice and interesting web site. I agree about Clai wines, definately the best wines in Istria.
I tried recently his Refosk that is not yet on the market, and it set a new high standard in my head. I am an artist living near Rovinj, and if you ever come to this region please contact me, I will introduce you to some friends that have interesting wines. Greetings from Tomislav!
Here is a link to a “wine project” I recently realised:


Jelena M. Bressan August 5, 2010 at 16:08

Beautiful wine! Serious producer!


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