The love for wine in Croatia started in the 5th century B.C. when Greek settlers planted vineyards along the Dalmatian coast. Today, Croatian wine companies produce more than 50 million bottles per year and the country has over 300 wine regions with a large collection of independent producers. One of them is Zlatan Otok on Hvar.
The first thing I notice about Zlatan Plenkovi? is his eyes. They’re bloodshot from working long hours but they’re also a brilliant blue-green colour. When he talks about his passion for wine, they brighten.
“To me, wine is the only thing you can find that is completely pure,” he proclaims this and then holds a glass up to the light. His goal, he says, is to make wine “the way God intended” — simply and organically, with no pesticides. And, he says, of course it has to “taste good.”
Mission accomplished, Mr. Plenkovi?.
What started as a small pension on the north side of Hvar, in a small town called Jelsa, has developed into a wine dreamland called Zlatan Otok. This wine Neverland Ranch is complete with lodging and the Plenkovi?’s Bilo Idro restaurant, where you can sample their entire line-up of award-winning wines for nearly the same price as a glass at any neighbouring restaurants on the island.
In 1980, Zlatan began selling his homemade wine to friends and guests at his pension. In 1989, he started selling his wine in bulk, striking deals with distributors across Croatia and in select U.S. cities. He’s won more than 50 awards but still keeps the business a family affair. His three children — Antonia, Nikola and Marin — each have a role in the company.
A taste of heaven
Getting to Zlatan Otok winery is an adventure itself. Your choices are either taking a [rather bumpy] taxi boat from the main city square or slowly winding through narrow dirt roads along the island’s edge.
Zlatan may make some of the best wine in Croatia, but he’s also one of the smartest businessmen I’ve met. The only place to dock your boat on that side of the island is right in front of his restaurant. Once my feet were planted firmly on the ground, and the smell of an open-fire grill squashed all feelings of sea sickness, the sheer mass of Zlatan’s operation began to sink in.
This side of Hvar is one massive rolling hill dotted with acres of emerald green vineyards. At the very top of the mountain, just under the cross of the town’s Catholic church, is the winery’s main headquarters. From there, Zlatan’s land stretches down the hill and to the very edge where Hvar meets the Adriatic. It is here, on a handmade wooden dock, where Bilo Idro sits with some of the best wine and views in Croatia.
At the end of our visit we’re standing out front, watching as crystal waves crash against the restaurant’s stone walls. Zlatan is talking about plans for expansion — a seaside infinity-edge pool, larger hotel and marina — and I start to wonder whether all of these improvements are necessary. To me, this is heaven.
Zlatan reads my mind because as a group of Swiss tourists unload from their yacht [they’ve come from neighbouring island, Kor?ula, for the wine and food at Zlatan Otok], he jokes with them:
“You know what’s great about Kor?ula?” he smiles. “You can see Hvar from it.”
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