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Rebirth of a centenery olive grove in Draguć

by Gogo on May 23, 2010

in Olive oils

Arriving to Draguć, a village that once was a medieval castle

Arriving to Draguć, a village that was important town-castle on Venetian border

The weather is unusually cold and rainy for the end of May. Instead of wearing shorts and T-shirts, I caught a bad cold with nasty cough. Even after 10 days the cold does not want to go away. People start saying that, due to the Eyjafjallajokul volcano in Iceland, there won’t be any summer on Mediterranean this year.

To put these dark volcanic ashes out of my head I decided to beam me up back in time, at the beginning of August 2009, when on a perfect sun warm, shade cold day, I went to Draguć to discover an olive grove that is supposedly more than 300 years old.

The doors of Draguć

The doors of Draguć

Draguć is an ancient village on a curvy and panoramic road from Pazin to Buzet. In the times of Antique Rome it was a fortress that was securing the road. The name Dravuie first appears in a document from 1102 when the count of Ulrich II of Weimar donated the medieval castle of Draguć to the patriarchs of Aquileia. The Middle Ages brought to the village a lot of turnmoils, wars and devastation since it was settled on the border between Venetian Republic and territories of Habsburgs  (Holy Roman Empire to be more precise).

There’s no time for sightseeing and classical history this time. I quickly pass through the main street and arrive to the opposite end of the village – there, my guide to the history of olive tree cultivation in Draguć is waiting for me.

I meet with Oliver Blažević in front of the tiny Romanesque church of St. Roch famous for its frescoes from the end of 13th century painted by Master Anthony of Padova (not the Padova in Italy, it is the old name for Kašćerga – a village 20 km southwest from Draguć). Oliver is son of Ivan Blažević, a brave and visionary guy who, some 10 years ago, decided to put back in shape an old olive grove that was completely covered with dense forest. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Ivan since he was on a trip.

A stunning view on the Butoniga lake and valley

A stunning view on Butoniga lake and valley. Behind is the St. Roch church

We take a macadam road that descends steeply, following the southern slope of the hill on which Draguć is settled. Oliver tells me how they invested a lot of weeks of hard work with all sorts of heavy mechanization just to rebuild this road that leads to their beloved olive trees – “Before, the cows and sheep were eating the bushes and grass along the road maintaining it clean and wide enough for the traffic. Now, few people keep any animals here, so unfortunately we need help of the machines“.

Oliver's olive grove is on a steep hill

Heading down a really steep hill

The first olive trees are appearing. The entrance into the olive grove looks like a tunnel, as soon as you enter inside the bright summer light is eaten up by the network of interwoven branches of neighboring trees. A bit of dark Middle Ages atmosphere fills the air and suddenly you start to doubt: “Are we still on the sunny Mediterranean?”.

Entering into the dark forest

Some parts of Blažević's olive grove looks like a dark forest

I warned Oliver that the lack of light is not good for the olives – their yield is probably not great since the branches exposed to the North do not receive enough sun, but also the plants are more sensible to various pests since the humidity in the tree tops is high. “I know, here a drastic pruning is desperately needed, but my father does not want to hear about it. He think more pruning means less olives. Maybe next year I’ll change his mind (he smiles). We have to accept modern ideas.

The most fascinating objects are the trunks – from their size these olives are at least 300 years old, if not more. Some plants don’t have only one 1-1.5 m high trunk from which all other branches emerge.

Never seen olive trees formed in such incredible way

Never seen olive trees of such incredible form and shape

Often you find a huge stamp covered with moss, partly in a state of decomposition (maybe some trees were destroyed in a fire?), but then many vigorous branches push out and create a sculpture of most incredible forms and shapes. And the roots! Who can imagine how complicated is the root labyrinth that is hiding underground. I walked from one tree to another and admired these old creatures that maybe have seen the arrival of Napoleon troops in Istria in 1806.

These old olive trees are like Phoenix - they can reborn anew from the ashes

These old olive trees are like Phoenix - they can reborn anew from the ashes

If you are a fan of Avatar, you should definitely visit this magical place – here you really get the feeling the olive grove is not just a collection of individual trees, but that they are just buds of one giant underground tree living beneath Draguć.

The hill across is calling us

On the hill across delicious fruit is waiting for us

From the end of October and all through November we pick up the olives. To get olive oil of extravirgin quality, the olives picked up during the day have to be in the olive mill the same evening. Otherwise, the oil won’t preserve its fruity aromas and can even become rancid.” – Oliver explains.

The adventure is not over. Just across there is a hill seducing us with an innocent look and a vineyard waiting for us. We start to descend through high grass, cross some low shrubland and soon arrive on a wide meadow.

After many years, the olive color is slowly painting the hill below Draguć

After many years, the olive color is slowly painting the hill below Draguć

On the way down, I take a look back at the Draguć hill. It is clear how the effort and passion of Blažević family can now be seen from the satellite – the bright green of the forest is loosing the battle over the olive green.

Several fig trees surround a small vineyard. “Only two out of twenty rows survived, the rest we took out. We don’t need so much wine as before when the families were large. I think these vines are more than 70 years old. My father inherited this vineyard from his grandfather and it was time when every respectable family in the countryside had to have its own wine. On an ordinary day, at least 5 L were drunk. You know, when you work the whole day in the field, there’s nothing better than to drink a glass or two of bevanda with Istrian Malvasia (half wine, half water)” – Oliver explains.

More than 100yr old vines of Teran. Note the high density of planting

More than 70yr old vines of Teran. Note the high density of planting

He complains how it’s impossible to use mechanization in this vineyard since the vines are planted very dense. In the past, high density plantation was common simply because the land was expensive – today, in modern viticulture, it is a key factor to get wine of superior quality.

Fruit tastes better if it's eaten in front of the plant that produced it

Fruit tastes better if it has entirely ripened on the plant

My scalp is burning, it’s about 1 PM and the Sun is in the zenith. It’s time to slowly go back to Draguć. But only after we replenish our forces with delicious blackberries and pears we found on our way. I rarely buy fruits in the supermarket, they rarely have any taste – they are always picked green, unripe. But to eat fruit that has ripened on the tree is another story.

Finally,  after a demanding ascent, first houses of the village appeared through the leaves

Finally, after a demanding ascent, first houses appeared through the leaves

We needed 15 minutes of steep ascent to arrive in the village. Few glasses of water and a glass of Malvasia in Blažević’s house put as back on track. It’s time to taste Blažević’s extravirgin olive oil that won gold medals at olive oils competition: Vinistra 2007 in Poreč and Maslina exhibition 2010 in Split.

2009 Ivan Blažević Draguć extravirgin olive oil

2009 Ivan Blažević Draguć extravirgin olive oil

Deep green with golden reflections. The nose is vegetal – green grass dominates, later come out sweet aromas of hazelnuts and dry wood. In the mouth has strong body and structure, progressively bitter and peppery sensations get in intensity but always remaining in equilibrium. In the finish peppery notes persist, together with elegant hazelnuts notes. Due to its robust body do not use it with delicate fish, but with various minestrone, grilled meat, salads.

At the end, a big thank to Blažević family for their great hospitality and for showing me the ancient treasures of Draguć. If you pass through Draguć contact them and I am sure they can be your guide too.

Contact:
Ivan Blažević
Draguć 41
HR-52402 Cerovlje
Croatia


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

enogastromama May 27, 2010 at 18:47

Wow, vi ste mi pravo otkriće, odličan blog ili štogod. Napokon još netko tko piše o delicijama iz Istre. Dodajem vas na svoj blogroll!
Lijep pozdrav,
Enogastromama

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Gogo May 28, 2010 at 00:45

hvala puno, a ja već isto dugo mislim kako bi ti se trebao javiti i pohvaliti maštovite recepte, presočne fotografije i pitak tekst. primjećujem da smo možda kolege, ili si sommelier kao ja ili enolog, jer previše je tu detalja između redaka.
na hrvatskom pišem na facebooku, pa možeš lajkati slijedeću stranicu http://www.facebook.com/pages/Manjada/124543820909018

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enogastromama May 28, 2010 at 07:12

Ciao, već sam je lajkala jučer,:) Stvarno si super! I ovaj naslov Manjada mi je pre pre dobar naziv za blog. Mi viene voglia di far una manjada,:)
Ja nisam ni sommelier ni enolog,:) već samo veliki zaljubljenik u vina i dobru papicu s dosta dugim stažem- nazovimo to tako. A kad nešto volim, onda volim i dublje zaviriti u to područje, moram znati što se krije ispod površine… 🙂
Drago mi je da ti se sviđa i moj blog. Stvarno sam dugo razmišljala da krenem pisati, i onda jednog dana su se zvijezde poklopile- kako ja to volim reći -i krenula sam,:)
Čitamo se!

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