We’d had enough of Dubrovnik old town and wanted to escape to somewhere… well… else. Somewhere the visitor to local ratio was better balanced. Somewhere that balance was reflected in the price of food and drink.
We were underwhelmed at pricey Buza and then presented with a mediocre, microwaved meal that cost us more than any other we’d had in Croatia.
The plan was to buy a bottle of Croatian wine and head back to the Hotel Lapad to sit on our balcony, drinking the wine and wallowing in views over Gruz Harbour.
Trouble is we’d committed the basic error of not taking note of shop closing times. The sexy looking wine shop we’d passed up a side street pre-dinner, when we commented ‘we’ll pick up a bottle there later’, was now closed even thought the night was still young.
Living in Spain, we tend to operate on Spanish time – shops are open till at least 10pm. A booze shop near us doesn’t open till about 11pm. But then I reckon there’s an illicit den of iniquity going on in there as hordes of people go in, yet when you look inside there’s always only one old guy and his equally old mate leaning on the counter having a chin-wag.
The upshot of this is that we’re sometimes caught out with dining times and shop opening hours when we travel.
We could have bought a bottle of plonk in the hotel, but why pay 3 times the price of what you’ll pay in the local off-licence?
The plan was we’d make our way back to Lapad district and hope somewhere would be open en route.
By the time we were 100 yards from the hotel, we were still wine-less.
And then we saw a door in an old stone building beside the port was slightly ajar. The light from inside was a welcoming golden colour and it had a look of a place where we’d find alcohol. Closer inspection revealed the words ‘vinarija’ and ‘winery’ on a long black flag beside the entrance
A peek inside revealed treasure – a couple of old armchairs, a few oak barrels strewn around, a distressed pale blue cabinet filled with wine bottles and a simple but extremely inviting looking wooden bar.
The place was clearly closed but, as the door was ajar, we ventured inside anyway, shouting hopeful ‘hallos’.
A ruggedly handsome man with chiselled features appeared from another room, his amused expression saying ‘why are there a couple of tourists wandering around my closed winery?’
We explained our plight and the man laughed, motioning we should follow him to the bar. He grabbed some glasses and a bottle of wine and poured three generous measures of Plavac Mali – result.
Mato was a sea captain by trade who, with his brother, has become a wine producer. The wine comes from the family’s vineyards in nearby Peljesac. Like the best wine producers, Mato was passionate about what he was doing and, even though he was officially closed, happy to share his wine and give us a tour of the only truly authentic winery in Dubrovnik.
He didn’t really have to take the time to show us the wine cellar with its rows of bottles and Hungarian and French oak casks; one sip of the dark, fruity, spicy Plavac Mali and we were sold.
It was a wee cracker. Exactly the sort of wine we’d drink all the time if we could get hold of it – smooth as you like with bags of peppery character. We heard Joe Wadsack waxing lyrical about Croatian wines at the World Travel Market in 2012. Whilst we’d quaffed plenty of good wines in Croatia up to that point, Mato’s Plavac Mali made us realise why Joe enthused so much.
We bought a couple of bottles of the Plavac and let Mato close up properly so that he could get home to his family.
As well as being cock-a-hoop at finding fabulous wine at decent prices, the chance meeting with Mato changed our view of Dubrovnik and the people who lived there… or outside of the old city anyway. He was a genuine and extremely likeable guy who was infectuously enthusiastic about what he was doing. For the first time we felt we’d had a taste of the real Dubrovnik.
Mato’s Plavac Mali is labelled Lekri – which may, or may not be the name of the shop. I’ve heard it also called Skar. Take note, if you see a bottle anywhere don’t hesitate, buy one… or two… or three. The winery is a short distance before the Hotel Lapad.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+