It’s cold outside, it’s raining cats and dogs. You come inside and suddenly you are in another world. A world of a hundred years ago. I fold the umbrella. In front of me is an antique table with brandies and wine, old mugs and bottles. To the left a fire crackles in a beautiful ancient hearth, to the right is an old drawer laden with wine bottles, and on the walls are old photos and faded pictures of saints. Before World War II, such pictures were an indispensable part of the interior of any home.
It is a small room, maybe 30 square meters, which evokes life of a well-to-do family in the past in an Istrian village, at a glance. Yes, I entered the new wine museum in Grandići in the Barban area — a kind of treasury of the ethnological heritage of Istria, which opened its doors in September last year. It operates on the principle of an eco-museum.
The name of the place is “100% made in Grandići by Johan and Matija”, and it occupies a stone house that has remained intact for more than 300 years. Here, old tools and appliances evoke the way people used to live and work in the Barban area — how our ancestors made wine, brewed brandy and made wine vinegar.
The biggest winemakers
At the door we are greeted by the owner, a fifty-year-old Edi Radola, an olive grower of the Barban area, whose goal was to preserve and disseminate traditional Istrian values and customs. Together with his partners, Stanko Ružić and Deniz Šverko, he runs the OPG Brig small farm, producing vinegar, homemade wine (teran and malvazija from the Grandići area) and create useful items from olive wood. All their products are on display in the museum; the potable ones ready for tasting in the nearby wine cellar and tasting room after a tour of the house.
— Why is this place a wine museum? Because about fifty years ago in Grandići Johan and Matija produced about 6,000 liters of Teran every season. I only knew Matija. They died without children, having dedicated their lives to the making of wine. They were one of the biggest producers in the Barban area. Some of their barrels could hold two to three thousand liters. Work was long. Spraying the vineyard sometimes took Johan 15 days. Matija sewed soft pads on the belts of the spray canister backpack to make it easier on Johan’s shoulders.
The house still features remnants of the winemaking trade, such as dark spots on the wall from old spills of red wine. Interestingly, one of Johann’s ancestors used to sell teran to the well-known Barban canon (high priest) and scientist Petar Stanković, who wrote a widely known scientific paper on that wine variety. His paper was one of the foundations for the Croatian claim in the dispute between Croatia and Slovenia in Brussels over the rights to the teran name, eventually amicably resolved. It can thus be said that it was this family that helped the world know about teran now, says Radola as he takes us on a tour of the ground floor of the museum.
Authentic untouched ambience
The first room, the one with the fireplace, used to be the kitchen as well as the dining room and the living room. This was where the family life took place. No additional space was really needed. From that room, a wooden staircase leads you down to the cellar, which Radola had preserved in its original form. It now holds wooden barrels in which Radola makes a special kind of vinegar with sugar and honey, as well as some old vineyard, soil tilling and wine cellar tools, such as sieves, clippers, sickles, billhooks, old hammers, and much more. There are also two depressions in the floor of the cellar. Radola says they were used to beat hemp plants to separate their fibers. The house also has old original furniture that Radola has restored. Upstairs, not for sightseeing, at least not yet, are rooms that Radola would like to remodel and make them available for staying overnight.
— According to their documents, the life of this family can be traced back to 1791. The documents should all be translated now, so that we can get to know it in more detail. According to some documents, we can see that Johan took out an agricultural loan in Vodnjan. We know they were quite wealthy. They had a servant in the house, a local woman, and boškarin cattle, and employed people to do farm work. Johan died sometime in the 1970s, and Matija in the 1990s. No one has lived in the house since, says Radola.
— Everyone loves to come and see this museum because it has an intact authentic ambiance. At the same time, I have connected the house to the story of the crown of King Tomislav, which was told to me by a priest, Don Luka Kirac. Everyone knows the legend. For me, it fit the story of the house very well, because I found a carved stone head while digging the pit for the swimming pool over, across the yard. It is said to represent King Tomislav.
This was confirmed to me by the Croatian Restoration Institute in Juršići. Of course, there is no crown. Although the legend is associated with the village of Belavići, the crown may well be hidden in any village here, including Grandići. Interestingly, the crown was never found, and people are still searching for it, says this lover of history and tradition who has invested his entire self into the arrangement and decoration of the house.
He believes that old taverns and stone houses are something original that can intrigue everyone, and his wish is to tie all family farms in the Barban area into a network and set up a walking trail for both locals and tourists.
— I would like the family farms to join a network with their taverns and smokehouses and offer everything they have. People will thus circulate from village to village, from family farm to family farm and enjoy the delicacies and typical products of the Barban area. The whole idea is still in its infancy, but I believe it will be realized, concludes the head of the museum. The house of Johan and Matija will be a perfect place for presentation of the whole story and will provide the opportunity to sell home products at the doorstep.
Vinegar for wealthy families
Radola is especially proud of his home-made vinegar. This one is really special because it is not made from wine, but directly from grapes. Once upon a time such vinegar was made by wealthier families.
— Vinegar for poor people used to be made from sour wine, while the fine one for the rich was made from grapes — from chasselas and isabella, somewhat better varieties. The production process was the same as for wine. The juice would be made from the fruit first, and then left to acidify. At that point, sugar and honey were added. Vinegar should mature in wooden barrels for as long as possible. It would first be kept in a large wooden barrel and then transferred to small ones. It must not be allowed to acidify completely, stresses Radola.
Traditional building with clay
Radola also shows guests the old craft of traditional building with clay mud. In cooperation with Vodoprivreda and Natura Histrica organizations, he wants to revitalize the local Gustovac pond, the habitat of the strictly protected chanterelle turtle, the so-called frog turtle.
— Vodoprivreda, the water utility, is the owner of all ponds in Istria, and following the example of the Slovenian part of the Karst, we would like to renew ours, too. Gustovac will be cleaned and clay will be brought in for shoring up the banks and the bottom. In spring and autumn the pond is full, but it dries out during the summer drought, which is not good for turtles, Radola explains.
In addition, as part of the “100% made in Grandići” project, planned together with Natura Histrica, a kind of theme park would be created around the Križica area near the village of Orihi.
— Križica is special — he says. — There is a cave there that could be open for visitors. The entire area is overgrown with sage, helichrysum, and juniper. The idea is to mark the space with a plaque in three languages. There are plenty of old dry stone walls there, in ruin and disrepair, and the idea is for tourists who walks or runs through the area to be encouraged to pick up five rocks from the ground and place them back on the walls. In time, the traditional dry walls would be restored, thinks Radola.