Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Tribidrag

While on the search for the most talented and publicly renowned “People of Wine,” the editors of Oenologist.com were enjoying a particularly beautiful, blue-sky day on the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia.  Once again, we were joined by the very knowledgeable Agnieszka Grunwald Petrović of Istria Wine Tours.


Of course, in Croatia, most conversations with wine experts eventually include the global story of Zinfandel (a grape variety that is native to this country) and Croatia’s favorite winemaker – Miljenko “Mike” Grgich – now a resident of California’s Napa Valley, and a Vintners Hall of Fame Inductee.  Zinfandel, also called Tribidrag and Crljenak/Pribidrag in Croatia, and Primitivo in Italy, found its beginnings on Dalmatian islands near Split, Croatia as early as the Fifth century BC.


 “Mike’s life story is so intertwined with Zinfandel that a documentary on the origins of this Croatian-born grape featured his contributions. Filmed by Croatian National Television, “Dossier Zinfandel” premiered at the 2013 Napa Valley Film Festival in November.”  — Grgich Hills Estate

Agnieszka Grunwald Petrović is truly one of life’s lucky people; she combines her two passions when Istria Wine Tours offers searches for Croatia’s autochthonous wines while aboard her luxury 48-foot sailing yacht, the Gold One.


Miljenko “Mike” Grgich


Purchase Mike’s memoir A Glass Full of Miracles


The article below is about that important conference, courtesy of the Tribidrag Association.


Fifteen years after finding its homeland, Zinfandel has come back to his origins in Croatia – “I am Tribidrag” conference


The first international conference “I am Tribidrag” gathered industry professionals, researchers and winemakers to talk about the success of one of the oldest and the most widespread indigenous Croatian grape variety – Tribidrag also called Crljenak/Pribidrag in Croatia.  More than hundred attendees had a chance to taste twenty wines from different terroirs around the world – made from the same grape variety, Tribidrag. Last week the New World met the Old in Split through the one of the most planted red grape varieties in California, than originates from Croatia.


Split-Dalmatia County welcomed the conference and Douglas Jones, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Croatia stated that the “Story of the Zinfandel, or Tribidrag, is a story of new special connection between the two countries, Croatia and the United States.”


Revival of the Tribidrag in Croatia


Story about Tribidrag is indeed, much more than just a story about one grape variety; it was the trigger for scientist of both countries work closely for years in the search for the roots of Zinfandel. Carole Meredith, professor from the University of California, Davis, continuously searched for the roots of Zinfandel for more than 20 years. In this research Carole, met professors from the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Zagreb, Edi Maletić and Ivan Pejić and together they found almost forgotten, old vines of Tribidrag in Kaštela vineyards, near Split. “After the discovery, there were only 25 live old vines of Tribidrag in Croatia. Nowadays we are proud that the production is revived, and we have 10 hectares of new plantings here in Croatia.” presented professor Edi Maletić.


The surprise of the opening ceremony


Legendary Croatian winemaker from California, Miljenko Grgić, was one of the first to notice similarities between Zinfandel, and the wine he used to drink in his homeland Croatia – Plavac Mali. After coming to Napa Valley, he heard a story of a grape variety that no one knows where it came from and immediately shared his suspicions with the researchers of the University of California, Davis. The researchers already knew that the roots for Zinfandel needed to be searched in Europe, and then 40 years after Miljenko saw the first vine in the Napa Valley, the mystery was finally solved.


“It makes me happy that the interest in Zinfandel / Tribidrag didn’t disappear. This is a historical conference that will put the value to the grape variety of Tribidrag.” Miljenko Grgić mentioned on a touching video. Because of his age, he wasn’t able to come to the conference but you can take a look of the shorter version of his video, at the https://tribidrag.org/2017/04/27/mike-grgich-interview/?lang=en


How the Search Continued in Croatia


Professor Ivan Pejić described how the search, popularly called the ZinQuest, continued in Croatia. They were collecting samples of different Plavac Mali grapevines, more than 150 in total, and sending them back to the University of California, Davis for the processing. None of them were the right match, identical to the Zinfandel and Primitivo, but most of them were – relatives. That kept their investigation further and finally to the discovery of old Tribidrag vine, that was identical! “After the Tribidrag was listed in the wine bible, “Wine Grapes”, as the official name for Zinfandel and Primitivo the discovery became visible.” stated prof. Pejić.

The conference “I am Tribidrag” gathered two authors of the cult wine book referred at the wine bible, “Wine Grapes”, Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz. Together they put up panel about the “Tribidrag in the rest of the world”, which was closing panel of the conference on Friday, 28th April. “Everyone can be proud to be associated with this diverse grape variety. Tribidrag is the grape that played a big role in connecting the two countries, Croatia and United States. We all learned much at this conference. The only thing I can say at the end is I am Tribidrag” said Janics Robinson at the end.


“I am Trbidrag” Conference Program


The two day conference “I am Tribidrag” was organized with the goal of extending the knowledge about the Tribidrag grape variety and its revival here in Croatia. One of the guest speakers at the conference, David Gates from the Ridge Vineyards and the “Godfather of Zinfandel” Joel Peterson, also owner of one of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in California, presented the success of the Zinfandel in the United States. Zinfandel is still, one of the most planted grape variety in California thus one of the most popular red wines. The production methods are diverse, but it usually gives very powerful red wines with much character.

Another country where Tribidrag is going through a revival process is Italy where the variety is called Primitivo. Primitivo is the dominant grape variety in Manduria with noticeable progressive growth. Lisa Gilbee owner of the Morella winery in and one of the Primitivo producers in Italy presented the traditional Primitivo wines, high in alcohol content and dominant rustic notes on the nose opposing to the modern, more elegant trend in making wines out of this variety in Italy.


Production in Croatia is still very young and modest, since the first vineyards were starting to replant after the discovery in 2001. From the starting point of only 25 vines of Tribidrag, today we see more than 15 producers with 10 hectares of new plantings. Professor Edi Maletić and Goran Zdunić, Head of Department of Plant Sciences in Split, presented the 5 Tribidrags from Croatia.


Tribidrag, a grape variety with more than few names, spread to other continents too. Conference “I am Tribidrag” showcased some of the examples from India, South Africa, Australia and Chile.


Croatia – Wine Country on the Rise


Croatia is an Old World wine producing country. With more than 130 indigenous grape varieties on a relatively small surface of 56.594 km2, Croatia stands for boutique and limited series of wines. The attendees of “I am Tribidrag” conference visited Island Brač, Kaštela and Zadar region wineries and had the chance of tasting different Croatian wines made out of indigenous Croatian grape varieties at the opening day of the conference.


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Tribidrag Association – The conference is organized by the Tribidrag Association, founded by wine enthusiasts and renowned wine experts, with the aim of promoting indigenous grape varieties of Croatia. For more information visit the website https://tribidrag.org/?lang=en

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