Sure as Ščurek, Slovenian Wine Exceeds Expectations

Meet Stojan Ščurek, the patriarch of the Ščurek Wine Estate in Medana Slovenia, wearing his signature sunglasses.

As I make my way to the Ščurek family estate, I pass acres of vineyards owned by Kabaj, and then round a corner passing the local cooperative. I then ride through the tiny village of Medana until I wind down a hill and park.

It’s a modern facility, and though I hear voices and activity, at first I see no one. Then I meet one of five Scurek brothers, but not Tomaz. He guides me into the tasting salon where dark wooden tables and chairs sit on a stone tile floor. I walk down a few steps to a lower deck-level with large windows that open to expansive views of vineyards and gentle rolling hills. Surrounding all of this is a display of art—paintings, photography and painted sculpture. It’s like an intimate gallery—of art and wine.

Moments later Tomaz shows up and suggests we start our conversation in the cellar below.

The view toward Italy from the Ščurek tasting salon.

 

Wandering through the cellar at the Ščurek Wine Estate is like wandering through a gallery of art and wine.

I love wandering in the depths of wine cellars, barrel aging rooms, and anywhere making wine happens. As we wander the Scurek cellar, I’m taken back that the art gallery I enjoyed upstairs in the tasting room, continues throughout the cellar. Except here in the underground, the artwork dons the heads of wine barrels. Some of these in use, while others hanging on the walls or on barrels no longer in use.

Tomaz tells me that the family supported an art colony starting in 2001. As far back as 1997, long before they moved into this facility, Scurek featured artwork in their home and tasting room. The German art collective they support creates a new piece every year—like a vintage of wine — artists provide their interpretation and perspective. Though, instead of using canvas, they paint wine barrel heads—new artwork every year.

Some art is erotic, while other is whimsical or delves into darkness and light. As much as I’m enamored by the must and smell of the cellar which is especially strong today because they are in the middle of harvest. But the seduction of the wine-barrel artwork feasts my eyes and camera.

Tomaz is one of five boys that are the fifth generation of Scureks to live on this land. The estate dates back to the late nineteenth century. He tells me it wasn’t always in Slovenia, and they didn’t always make wine. But they always farmed—vegetables and fruit. And through wars, monarchies, and communism the land remained with the family, while the nation and politics often changed.

Today Scurek farms grapes from its 22 hectares of vineyards—thirteen hectares in Slovenia and nine in Italy. But it wasn’t until1986, when the family had only one hectare of land in Yugoslavia and nine hectares in Italy, did his father, Stojan, begin seriously making wine.

To wine buyers and lovers, where a wine comes from—soil, climate, and history—its origin as described on the bottle, is often just as important as what’s inside the bottle. So I wonder if Scurek labels the bottles of wine made from its Italian grapes as from Italy, perhaps one of the protected designations.

Tomaz explains that because of an agreement between the Slovenian and Italian governments, he cannot label and sell wine from those grapes as “Italian” because the cellar where they produce the wine is in Slovenia. However, if he sells those grapes to someone in Italy, they can bottle any wine made from them as Italian. It’s confusing, but apparently, it works.

The Scurek estate sits just fifty meters from the Italian border., Tomaz tells me his neighbor, who lives in Italy only fifty meters away, has a much easier time selling his wine—and commands a higher price—just because it’s labeled as Italian wine.

My mind drifts, and it occurs to me that destiny from the stroke of a pen that moved a border, and so this land, from one nation to another. And if not for the tumultuous history of these parts, Tomaz, his family, and this estate could be in Italy. Just fifty meters prevents them from bottling Italian wine.

This presents a unique opportunity coupled with a big challenge.

He admits that most people couldn’t place Slovenia on the map. So, Scurek and his neighbors, the fellow winemakers of Medana and Goriska Brda, must work harder and spend more to gain recognition on the global stage. The best way to do this is to make stellar wine and celebrate its uniqueness and character. Thanks to the commitment and work of Scurek and their neighbors, especially over the last ten years, both the quality and awareness of Slovenian wine has improved.

“We (Slovenia) don’t have restaurants all over the world,” he points out. “You can find Italian restaurants everywhere—there are a million or more.” This he reasons is a huge reason why most of the world recognizes and accepts Italian wine. In fact, some of the most critically acclaimed and sought after Italian white wine comes from here. The grapes, soil, climate, and geography are the same, but the borderline divides it. You can have an Italian Rebula Gialla, or a Slovenia Rebula—an Italian Pinot Grigio or a Slovenian Sivi Pinot. Only a border and language separate them.

People know Italy for wine, but they hardly know anything about Slovenia. In fact, most people do not realize that the first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, is from Slovenia. But most Americans couldn’t find on a map—let alone recognize it as a leading wine region.

So enterprising restaurants and sommeliers, who know better, often sneak Slovenian wine on their wine lists by listing them under Italy. This is not to be deceptive. Instead, it’s an attempt to educate. The appellation or the region is the same, only the nation is different. In Italian they call this region Collio Goriziano; in Slovenia, it’s Goriska Brda.

“Especially in New York,” Tomaz admits. “They don’t list as Slovenian wine. They list wines by the region and with Italian wines.” Perception, bias, and lack of understanding are significant obstacles for wine-producing regions such as Slovenia. I agree that it’s challenging to find Slovenian wine in most wine shops and restaurants in the United States. This is true of all the regions I’ve visited on this journey so far. That’s why I’m here today.

We walk past a barrel with erotic artwork depicting several naked women including one who appears to be satisfying herself. Then we pass another barrel filled with Malvasia that has been macerating for just over a year. In winemaking, maceration refers to the time where the grapes, skins, stems, and seeds stay in contact with the juice. During maceration, the wine develops character including color, tannin, body, and flavor. Typically white wines see little skin contact, or maceration, while maceration time for red wines can be anywhere from a few days to months.

“Would you like to try something from the barrel,” Tomaz asks. I nod with jubilated enthusiasm. For a wine lover, the excitement to try wines from the barrel gives us an opportunity to taste how wine is developing before it’s put to sleep in a bottle

Tomaz pulls the bung off a large six-hundred-liter battle and thrusts into it a long glass test-tube looking device. It’s called a thief because it’s designed to steal wine from oak barrels. He pulls the thief out, now with a few milliliters of white wine which he empties into my glass.

Tomaz Ščurek winemaker uses his thief to steal a few barrel samples from various vintages and styles of Malvasia.

“This is Malvasia from 2017, It’s been macerating for a year and a few days.” Tomaz, it’s like an orange wine, but was never pressed. This part of Slovenia and Italy is well-known for its “orange wines” made from white grapes. It’s the skin contact or maceration that gives the wine an orange or amber color. Except this 2017 Malvasia is more golden because it wasn’t pressed and there was less oxidation after fermentation. Instead, the wine endured a year-long maceration. The wine is crisp, and bright with minerality and good acidity.

Tomaz calls this wine, and those from the other barrels we will taste his “experiment.” He is experimenting with extra long periods of maceration, pressing and not pressing, and minimal interference. The Malvasia grapes come from a small vineyard planted in 1956. They have enough grapes for just one barrel. He ages the wine in a large six-hundred-liter barrel made from a mix of Slavonian oak (Croatia) for the heads, and French oak for the sides. He explains that because they use little sulfur, the more tannic Slavonian oak helps to protect the wine.

Today Scurek produces about 120,000 bottles of wine with each vintage. But during the Tito and communist era of Yugoslavia, and because the Scurek family were not members of the communist party, the government forbid them and others from bottling their own wine. The government required them to give thirty percent of their annual grape harvest to the state through the local cooperative—the one I rode past on my way here which is still operational but now privatized.

During Tito’s time, they produced wine, but just in casks and only for personal consumption. They could sell wine only during Osmiza, an eight-day period where farmers opened their homes and sold products produced on their farms. The tradition dates back to the mid-1700s when Roman Emperor Joseph II of Hapsburg issued an order that permitted farmers from this region to sell to the public—for eight days a year. But Scurek could only sell wine in cask.

The wine made by the cooperative was about quantity, not quality. Before Yugoslavia came under communist rule, some farmers made good wine here. But it wasn’t until the late 80s, after the death of Tito and with social and political tension threatening the future of Yugoslavia did Tomaz’s father, Stojan, along with several others of his generation set out to reboot the Slovenian wine scene—focusing on quality and indigenous varietals.

Tomaz tells me that in 1986 when his father bottled his first wine, even though it was illegal, could sell the bottles in Italy at a trattoria owned by his great Aunt.

Soon, Stojan bought a tractor—the first privately owned tractor in the town. Only the cooperative had tractors. This puzzled government officials. They wondered how and where did Stojan get the money. Not from wine, they assured them, but from fruits and vegetables grown on their Italian property. Scurek let others use his tractor, but the government would allow them to use the tractor only on the Italian side of the border—not in Yugoslavia.

Tomaz began winemaking when he was seventeen years old, though he admits he started drinking wine at twelve. He learned from his father and grandfather. He also studied enology and the culinary arts at the university in Ljubljana. We walk to another barrel of Malvasia (2016) from the same vineyard. This wine spent the same time in maceration but was pressed after a year. He wields the thief and pours the wine in my glass. It’s a much deeper amber color, owing to the pressing. Still with bright acidity and crispness. It’s perhaps the best “orange” wine I’ve tasted to date.

We then snitch wine from a large cask with a glass head, allowing us to look into the barrel.

“This is 2013 Malvasia, we fermented for one year, and then put it in this barrel, we cannot bottle or sell this wine, this is my hobby wine,” he tells me—an experiment. It’s a beautiful amber color and tastes clean, crisp, alive, and delicious. Wow!

In the late 80s when Stojan planted his first vineyards and started making wine, he focused on a white wine grape called Rebula, or in Italy as Ribolla Gialla. Scurek believes that Rebula originated on the Slovenian side or the border and arguably could be indigenous to the Brda Hills now part of Slovenia.

Though the history of Rebula can be traced back to the 13th century, over the years the number of acres planted in Rebula declined because of phylloxera and the decision by many farmers to plant more acceptable and higher yielding international varietals. Plus, Rebula is a finicky and challenging grape to grow. It prefers vineyard locations on top of hills here where the soil composition is rich in minerals, with sandstone, shale and marl and where it gets more sun exposure. They usually reserve these vineyard locations for premium and red varietals that command more revenue per hectare. But here, I soon learn, Rebula is king, and we’re hanging out in the House of Rebula.

During the years of Tito and the Yugoslavia republic, I wondered how difficult border crossings were for farmers and wineries who owned land that spilled over into Italy—considering customs, taxes, and bureaucracy. Tomaz tells me all they needed was a government document. Simple. Though during this time, he remembers, smugglers made more than the farmers—sneaking in coffee and blue jeans from Italy.

“Coffee cost maybe €10 for one liter in Italy, but these kids could sell for €100 in Yugoslavia,” Tomaz explains. “They sell just three or four liters of coffee, and they can buy a car.”

The border problems were much more difficult after Yugoslavia granted Slovenia independence in July 1991. He tells me that after the infamous “Ten-Day War,” the local people hired by the government to serve as border police took their new positions with too much pride and importance.

To exercise their newfound power and command respect and recognition the guards hassled the farmers who crisscrossed the border—sometimes impounding tractors and delaying workers. Plus, they only opened the border between 12-4pm—the hottest part of the day—too hot to work.

As we’re talking a loud and deep-throated bark and growl reverberates off the walls of the cellar. Soon a short-haired and short-legged dog runs into the barrel room, tail wagging feverishly. It’s Medo, the family dog. Though ten years old, Medo is a new addition to the Scurek family. Some months ago they traveled across the country to meet the friendly pup. Looking for a family to adopt Medo, the previous owners found Medo indifferent to the potential families hoping to take the dog. Medo would sniff the people, turn around and retreat to the haven of his home.

When Tomaz and the Scurek’s showed up, Medo acted out the same routine, except instead of retreating to the house, he jumped into the back seat of the Scurek’s car. That clinched the deal. Medo chose Tomaz and the Ščurek.

“ Medo means bear,” Tomaz tells me, “but Medo is more like a Teddy Bear.” Yes, his bark is much worse than his bite.

Before we leave the cellar, Tomaz suggests we try the Malvasia harvested and pressed yesterday. Fresh, crisp and bright. He tells me for 2018 yields were higher, and they will have enough to make two barrels.

We pass through another part of the cellar lined with wine bins filled with dusty bottles. I realize that most of the labels are from wineries other than Scurek. They are all various bottlings and vintages from wines made by their neighbors and friends here in Medana—most from the original five winemakers who along with Stojan Scurek rebooted the Slovenian wine business.

Rummaging through a couple of bins, pushing aside bottles including a large magnum from Movia, Tomaz digs deeper looking for a bottle made by a winemaker who no longer sells wine, but was one of the original guys. “It’s here, I just can’t find it,” he tells me. In another room, he calls the party room, wine storage bin lockers belonging to customers who buy wines here line the walls surrounding a bistro table with ample wine glasses hanging above.

The party room in the cellar is lined with wine storage bins where customers can store and age their wine.

Wines from some of the early pioneers in Medana Brda who helped reboot the Slovenian wine scene here in Goriska Brda.

Art lines the walls of another room, including a wildly painted wooden chair hanging off the wall by one leg. “I think that is the chair from my brother when he was in school.” Scurek supports and sponsors the German Art Embassy and Art Circle Project. A brass plaque outside the front door of the winery identifies the place as an art embassy. Here in this room, where a long bench stretches across three walls, I feel it is a perfect place to sip good wine, admire impressive art, and engage in conversations about art, wine, and life.

Upstairs in the wine tasting room, or salon, Tomaz pulls the cork on a bottle of bubbly—sparkling wine. He made the 2014 Scurek Brut Zero using the traditional champagne method (Methode champenoise) where the blend of Rebula, Chardonnay, and Glera sits on the lees for thirty months. To keep the sparkling wine pure, Tomaz makes it without adding liquor. It’s crisp, clean and the perfect starter for tasting the Scurek portfolio of wines. Tiny bubbles float in a golden hue where on the palate I get flavors of butter, honey, and a hint of toast and croissant.

You’ll find great views, interesting art, and amazing wines througout Ščurek Wine Estate.

While looking over the vineyards and beyond the Italian border, they bring a plate of cheese, cured ham, breadsticks and the next line up of wines. It’s mid-September, and the temperature in the region still soars—hotter than it should be. Yet for this heat, Scurek has great “patio wines” as Tomaz calls them. The perfect wines to enjoy on a hot summer day.

Winemaker Tomaz Ščurek with the family dog Medo surrounded by some of the art provided by the German Art Embassy supported by the Ščurek family.

First up is the Scurek Rebula Gialla 2017. Made from one hundred Rebula grapes, the wine receives a short maceration and ages for about six months in stainless steel tanks. Light yellow in color, easy drinking with hints of pear and jasmine. Lovely.

Tomaz pours the next wine, a one-hundred percent Sauvignonasse (Sauvignon vert or green sauvignon), or Tocai Friulano as it’s called across the border in Colio in Italy. Interestingly, although producers in Italy and Slovenia have been making wine from Tocai Friulano for hundreds of years, wine producers of Tokaji in Hungary feared confusion with its wine, so it went to court to seek protection of the name in the EU. Italy punched back, but after a long legal battle, Hungary won. Since 2007, the EU forbids both Italians and Slovenians to use the name Tocai. Which is silly, because they make the Tokaji from Hungary from a different white grape: Furmint.

A consortium of wine producers in Brda here explored alternatives to the name and settled on Jakot—a tongue-in-cheek slap in the face at Tokaj as Jakot is roughly the Hungarian wine spelled backward. Like the Rebula Gialla, the 2017 Scurek Jakot Gredič sees little maceration and is aged in stainless steel. The wine is more full-bodied with ripe tropical fruits and crisp with moderate acidity.

Marjana, Tomaz, and Stojan share good wine, food, and conversation in the tasting room at Ščurek.

Just as Tomaz pulls the cork on the next wine, his father Stojan walks into the room. His presence looms as large as his smile. I greet him, and after spewing a few words and questions, I realize he doesn’t speak English. But I am sure he understands much more than he speaks. I snap more photos. He then whips out a pair of sunglasses with wide, bright aqua-blue frames. Hamming it up for the camera, Stojan loves posing, smiling and laughing. I bang out more photos. Then he picks up the bottle of Jakot and pours a glass as Tomaz’s girlfriend, Marijana joins us.

During the week, Marjana commutes back and forth to her job in Ljubljana, about an hour and a half each. She’s a scientist, working in geology and geophysics. “So you’re a brain,” I ask her. She is working on two papers, and she’s on deadline. I share my own thoughts on writing creatively. With an easy smile and warm eyes, she admits it’s easy for her to write. “It’s nice because you have facts. If you don’t have facts, you have to have imagination. With facts, it’s easy to write.”

Stojan and his signature Ščurek sunglasses.

As we move to the more complex white wines from Scurek, I notice nobody else is eating the tasty snacks on the table, especially the beautiful ripe and juicy cherry tomatoes—the perfect complement to the Scurek 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, which in these parts is known merely as Sauvignon. They age the wine for one year in large oak casks. It’s full-bodied, fruity and a beautiful golden yellow color.

I’m impressed and taken back. Over the years my palate has tired of the many mediocre Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tasted from California and especially New Zealand. Tasting the Scurek Sauvignon reminds me of Italian Sauvignon Blancs I’ve enjoyed in the past and now serves as a reminder I should continue my exploration.

Next Tomaz pours me the 2013 Stara Brajda Belo, a magical blend of six white grapes from one of the oldest vineyards in Slovenia. The Stara Brajda is made primarily from three grapes including Rebola, Pikolit, and Pika with some small amounts of Glera, Tocai Fruliano, and Malvasia blended in for ‘seasoning.’ Tomaz ferments the grapes for seven days and then adds another seven days of maceration with thirty to forty percent of the skins. It’s then aged in large 500 liter Acacia barrels (puncheons). The wine is weighty and viscous with a distinct minerality and lovely explosive aromas of peach, mango, apricot, and floral notes.

Next comes the 2013 Scurek Dugo blend of Chardonnay and Rebula and made in a similar style as the Stara Brajda which he ferments for seven or eight days and then he adds a secret ingredient: one part of the aged Malvasia that we had tasted from the barrel in the cellar; the one with the glass head.

“This is like a spice we add,” Tomaz explains. It’s now much clearer what the possibilities of Tomaz’s experiments and hobby provide. The 2013 Malvasia sat for three years in contact with ten percent of its skins. I can appreciate and taste the minerals on my palate, combined with notes of spice and subtle hints of nutty almond and hazelnut. While the wine doesn’t have the explosive aromatics of the Stara Bradja, it packs a massive punch on the palate.

Tomaz describes the wine as having “more spice, oak, and cardamon with a hint of saltiness and balanced with minerality.” At that moment his eyes dart to the large windows on the other side of the room. “You need to see the vineyard, you must see the soil of this region which gives you this minerality.”

“Bring your glass so you can compare with the place,” he tells me before we walk outside, up the hill, past my motorcycle and into a newly planted and terraced vineyard. Pointing to a cross-section of the soil, I see it’s more flysch, or sedimentary rock with marl, limestone, and shale. It appears tough, harsh, and porous with the roots of the young cabernet vines buried below piles of loose rock.

“In here we have lots of siliceous rock, iron, magnesium… many minerals,” Tomaz picks up a few stones. “This is not really earth, soil — it’s rocks,” he says pointing at the rock piles. He then licks one stone and sips the wine. “You try,” I do the same, and he’s right—I make a connection from the minerals to the wine.

Medo, the dog, runs by us, into the vineyard, and back to our side. Tomaz jokes, telling me he hopes we are not licking stones where Medo has been.

“We call this soil Ponca in Italian or Opoka in Slovenian,” it’s the soil that the Rebula grape loves, but Cabernet doesn’t. Porous soils rich in minerals with sandstone, limestone and seashell fossils bring distinct and definite character to wines made from grapes grown here.

Back in the tasting salon, I see Stojan brought a jar of fish for four days has been marinating in olive oil and onions. Tomaz takes a bite and at once retreats to the kitchen for fresh lemon and local premium Slovenian sea salt—harvested from the first layer, or the flower of the salt—the highest quality. Now satisfied, Tomaz insists I try it with the remaining Dugo in my glass, as he opens the next white wine. The fish is delicious and pairs nicely with the wine.

The 2016 Scurek Kontra, which stands for opposite — or contrast—is a totally different wine though made from the same grapes as the Dugo. It’s a blend of fifty percent each of Rebula and Chardonnay. But here the wine spent one and a half years in the barrel with skin contact and was bottled just three months ago. It’s light gold and serves aromas of honey, oak, dried lavender, rose, and sage. Full bodied and with nice viscosity, The Dugo is layered with complexity and smooth tannins. An American sommelier, Levi Dalton, feels that the Kontra has the most significant potential for sales in the United States. I’m sold.

Enamored and seduced by this wine, announcing “I can smell the harvest—it’s invigorating and fresh.”

“That’s funny,” says Tomaz, “a few years ago the slogan for Slovenia was “Invigorates! Now they use “I Feel Love.”

Either way, I’m invigorated and feeling the love here at Scurek.

“Would you like some meat? My father would like to grill meat for you, ok?” Sure. Pop. The sound of another cork pulled. Tomaz tells me about Scurek’s flagship white wine.

The 2013 Scurek Rebula UP. “This is Rebula. This is 100% Rebula and made from a selection of the best grapes in our vineyards. It’s aged for three years in new five-hundred-liter oak barrels after spending seven days in maceration with 30% of the skins.

We laugh. He points to a sign that says “Home of Rebula.” While he takes a phone call, I sip the Rebula UP. It’s gorgeous with finesse, acidity, and that unique minerality coupled with nice fruit, flower, and hints of spice. I grab my audio recorder and dictate my thoughts:

“These wines are fucking off the charts. I’m just saying these wines are off the charts. I had no idea. In my glass, I’m tasting a 2013 Rebula. This is the current release. Oh my god, it’s freaking amazing. This is one of the best white wines I’ve ever had. Tomaz just poured it for me, and then he had to answer a phone call. I’m not even joking. This is not even a joke. I’m recording this, so it’s documented. These are probably the best white wines I’ve had in a long time. I’m in Slovenia. But right now I’m looking out, and I can see Italy. I know it’s crazy. These last two wines this Rebula and then the Kontra. Incredible. I’m at Scurek, and I’m telling you half of their vineyards are in Italy and half of them here in Slovenia. This is a wild story.”

When Tomaz returns, he tells me on Tuesday he plays football (soccer) with a group of winemakers, chefs, restaurant owners, and other friends. “We’ve been playing since 2008. But if I don’t play or find a substitute, I must pay—like €100. So I must find my substitute for today.” I feel I’m keeping him from his game, but he insists it’s okay, he’s having fun, and he found a substitute.

Pointing to the label of the 2013 Rebula, Tomaz explains why it’s colored yellow and amber gold, different from the white and olive colored labels of the other wines. “This is the color of the grapes,” he explains. “We celebrate the color of Rebula,” he explains. I’m enjoying this celebration here in the “House of Rebula,”

Tomaz corrects me when I read the label. “Up is pronounced “ooop” as in “scoop” and in Slovenian, UP means “hope.” I realize this is the only Scurek white wine served in a burgundy bottle. With the gold label and burgundy shape, the Scurek Rebula UP is like royalty and has the potential to age like—perhaps like a white burgundy. Hope.

We now move through the portfolio of Scurek red wines, beginning with the 2016 Scurek Cabernet Franc which has a subtle earthiness to the nose with pepper, sage, and mushroom with some spice and dark fruits and olive on the palate.

At that moment my new furry four-legged friend, Medo returns. She sits right by my side, figuring I’m an easy target for a piece of cheese, ham, or breadstick. Instead, I wave my glass toward his nose. Not interested. Seconds later I realize why Medo is back. Stojan emerges from the kitchen with a beautifully grilled ribeye, plated and served with roasted peppers basted in a balsamic reduction sauce with a hint of truffle.

Stojan disappears for a little while then returns with this tasty ribeye. Wow!

“Wait, wait,” I cry. “No, this is too much. We must share. Please.” The steak is grilled to perfection, just under medium rare, it’s tender and with lots of flavor. I get the okay to give in to the dog sitting patiently next to me. “Here you go Medo,” he devours a piece of the red meat.

“Wow,” I turn to Tomaz as he pulls the cork from the next red wine. “Does he cook for you like this?”

“No. He cooks for him like this!” We laugh.

I take a bunch more photos. Stojan pulls out the glasses again. Poses. “It’s rare, is that okay?” he asks, Tomaz translates. “Oh yes,” I say, “It’s perfect.”

I couldn’t leave without a selfie with Stojan and a pair of Ščurek Signature Sunglasses!

Tasting wines with Tomaz winemaker at Ščurek.

With his father sipping the next wine, and me enjoying his culinary creation, I wonder about the generations of Scurek’s who have tended this land over the ages.

“Your family has farmed this land for five generations, perhaps the last two or three in the wine business,” I think out loud as I frame my next question. “And so have the others here who are responsible for rebooting the wine business with you. But what about newcomers? Are there new people moving here to get into the wine business? Especially as it grows, matures and gains more acceptance—all the result of the work you and others are doing?”

“This is the true story,” Tomaz says. “We always have been an agricultural family. We are all agricultural families here. Everything we made at home.” Tomaz explains that this was true when he was a kid.

“Before around 1996, we make everything, there was nothing at the shop to buy—except sometimes we buy salt or pepper. But everything else we make the food, the wine, the olive oil, the meat, fruits, and vegetables.” He tells me they bought cheese from cheesemakers in the mountains, but they aged it at home. There were no shops, only a little tobacco store.”

Today he tells me everything is specialized, and many shops sell different things.
He pours me the 2013 Scurek Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown on a hilltop vineyard. I am surprised they make a Pinot Noir, He tells me it’s a different Pinot Noir, not like in Burgundy. Here the Pinot is “burned.” He is referring to the fact the Pinot grapes get lots of sun, and this is a much warmer or hotter climate than most Pinot Noirs come from. The Scurek Pinot Noir shows different character than those in cooler climates, and that this character reflects the origin, climate, and soil. It’s spicy and has many red fruit aromas and flavors.

Tomaz explains that “this is typical of this region. This Pinot Noir you can feel the cherry seeds, and this is the typical aftertaste of Pinot Noir grown in this region. It comes from the minerals in this soil.”

I’m usually hard on Pinot Noir, as it’s one of the most finicky and difficult grapes to grow. But the Scurek Pinot is fantastic and at €18 in Slovenia, a great value.

Just as he’s about to pour the next wine, a red blend, I ask him what I imagine is a tough question. “We’ve tried nine wines, plus the different Malvasia’s in the cellar” I set up the ask. “What wine would you make if you could only make one? If someone held a gun to your head and said, you could only make one wine. What do you make?”

Without a second of hesitation, Tomaz tells me “Rebula!” He laughs. “Rebula, of course. That was a stupid question.” Yet when I ask him if Rebula could be the defining varietal or wine that could emerge as the wine identity for Slovenia, he hesitates to commit. I ask him to consider what grape could define Slovenia in the way Malbec does Argentina, Shiraz for Australia, Sauvignon Blanc for New Zealand and in some ways Carmenere for Chile and Tannat for Uruguay. Could Rebula define Slovenia? He tells me that even though Slovenia is a tiny country, the four major wine regions are very diverse. Not one grape can be grown successfully in all those regions.

He pours me a taste of what he calls a “strange Bordeaux blend.” The 2015 Scurek Stara Brajda rdeče is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Fran, Refosco, and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. Beautifully aromatic and revealing a ton of red fruit the wine packs flavors of black cherry, anise/licorice, red peppers, baking chocolate, and plum.

We finish with the 2013 Scurek UP, it’s their top of line red wine and made from one-hundred percent Merlot that spent thirty days macerating, and then three years in a mix of three-hundred liter Slovenian and French oak barrels. Tomaz tells me these are the size used in Jerez, Spain for making sherry. The wine is intensely concentrated, with layers and layers of complexity and flavors of red pepper, blood orange, mocha, coffee

He sips the wine and then expresses, “it’s still too young.” I think in California some wineries just released 2016 wines. And this Scurek Up 2013 is the current release. We discuss the classic problem of releasing wines early—a dilemma facing many small wineries. Wine in bottles aging in the cellar represents cash flow. While most red wines need time before they’ve developed in the bottle, but many wineries cannot afford to wait. They need the cash-flow to finance the next vintage.

Our conversation drifts to winemaking styles and the other problem some wineries fall into: “I wanna be like…” Many producers in this region tried to make Merlot taste like the Merlot wines produced in the Pomerol district of Bordeaux. But Merlot in Brda ripens much more than in Pomerol. This is especially the case in the 2013 Merlot we’re drinking now. It was an overripe vintage. It’s better to recognize what makes the region, and therefore the wine distinct. Tomaz makes Merlot that tastes and feels like it’s from Brda.

As we sip more of the beautiful Merlot, I share the story of my first taste of Scurek wine in Albania. That night in late July after spending the afternoon with Flori Uka drinking wine, rakia, and smoking cigars, I show up at the Dinasty Hotel in Tirana where the charming and smiling Jimmy welcomes me with a chilled glass of Scurek Rose. I say, “Imagine that, my first taste of Slovenia was in Albania!” Jimmy was the first to suggest I come here.

Inspired by the story, Stojan dons his Scurek aqua-blue sunglasses and pulls a bottle of Rose from the fridge and pours us all a taste. It’s nice to wind down a great tasting with the simple taste of a fresh rose.

But that’s not all! “We must try something special downstairs.”

Back down in the cellar, we find that Tomaz’s brother has gathered together a few friends and a fellow winemaker. Congregating in the “party room” where the walls are lined with wine bins where customers store and age wine, we all grab a wine glass from a rack hovering above that round bistro table. Everyone is tasting wines, as I take pictures. It’s now officially a party. The slur of Slovenian is impossible to distinguish, but fortunately, some of them speak English.

They open more bottles open including a Marjan Simcic Pinot Noir, a Scurek Picolit, and one guest, the winemaker from nearby Carga Winery pulls the cork of his vintage 2006 Carga Cabernet Franc. Then someone has a great idea. We must document the history and celebrate the love of wine made around this village—the village of Medana and throughout the Brda region. So Tomaz, Stojan and the others scour the cellar for bottles old and new all produced by their neighbors. They line the wines upon a round table. I recognize some names on the labels, but not all. There’s Movia, Mavric, Kristancic, Simcic, Pulec, and many more.

I go live broadcasting the ceremony on Facebook—the Fountain of Brda as we call it—showcasing the dozens of bottles lined up. It’s the best of Goriska Brda and Medana—the wines, the people and the camaraderie. Once we finish the documentation, Stojan has another idea. He retrieves more than a half-dozen massive wheels of cheese they’ve made and are aging. This time Stojan creates a tower of cheese by stacking the wheels on the counter. He then puts on the signature Scurek sunglasses and poses for my camera, before cutting into one wheel and sharing cheese with everyone. Yum.

What a day and evening. The hospitality, the new friends, the food, the wine, and the Fountain of Brda, and the Tower of Cheese. Unforgettable.

I learned a lot today. Most importantly is that while Slovenia may have an identity and awareness problem, there is no problem with its wine—I cannot say I am surprised. I expected to find good wine. What I didn’t expect was this incredible indoctrination and study into the region, its history, and a peek into the possibilities and the future.

There’s one problem I know I’ll have: finding these wines in the United States. Like the Scurek UP wines, I have Hope—and hope to see that more of these wines are available for exploration—and appreciation; for wine lovers back home.

Now, with all that good wine and food, I’m happy that I will not need to ride my bike back to my room at Kabaj. The winemaker from Carga will take me home. Tomorrow I’ll return to retrieve my bike and walk through another of the Scurek vineyards.

For now, thank you to the Scurek family. Legendary. Good night!

 


Ščurek vino-wine
Plešivo 44, Medana
5212 Dobrovo v Brdih
Slovenia
+ 386 (0)5 30 45 021

 

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