„A mosaic of wine and railway by a biodinamicist in love with powerful tractors“

Interview with Danijel Bastijačnić, owner of Lunika Winery By Željko Garmaz

My first encounter with Danijel Bastijančić from Brajkovići took place several years ago in Borik, a district in Rovinj. I had heard about him and his extreme experimenting with malvasia and teran so I called him and asked him to bring me a bottle of his treasure and to allow me a glimpse into his world. I couldn’t even take a picture of him, he came from the darkness and vanished into the unknown. He almost tossed me his Malvasia Lunika without turning off the engine of his motorbike.

– ‘Wait until the teran is ready. It’ll be a bomb. See you at the next Vinistra’ he uttered and disappeared.

The next time I saw him, was ineed at ‘the next Vinistra’. I have to admit that what surprised me was the fact that such an unconventional winemaker dared exhibit at a manifestation so conventional in its character and which is not exactly the place for a teran that had been skinfermentin for one year. But what surprised me even more was the fact that Daniel was shocked at the fact that his wine had not been given the authorization for market placement from the state bureau for viticulture and winemaking. I genuinely believed that his disappointment would be everlasting and that his endeavour at unconventional winemaking would end up in a flop.

However, our third encounter presented me with a new Daniel Bastijančić. There was no sign of disappointment and failure. Moreover, rarely had I seen such a degree of optimism and energy, not even in very successful winemakers whose enterprise was ever growing.

– ‘I am very satisfied with the development of my winemaking story. People here are sceptical when it comes to organic/bio/eco production. They think it is all a scam. And the same goes for other winemakers. This is a production method that anyone can try, but few succeed in. Because, for example, not everyone has the position which allows for it. As for me, I was able to go through 2018 with only four grapevine treatments. Two before and two ofter the flowering.

‘But, what has happened to you? Just few months ago, you were so disappointed that I was concerned about your health.’

– ‘Honestly, I haven’t changed anything in the production process. But I am not giving up on sulfur-free wines even if it is difficult to put them on the market. I have obviously learned to be patient. And I’ve noticed a huge interest in these type of wines even outside Istria. Here are some data about my aged malvasia – only 12 mg of sulphur. Those who saw it cannot believe it. I also made an experiment to test oxidation and volatile acidity i.e. to see how long this type of wine can resist once the bottle is open and the wine is left in a half-litre jug. I kept the wine 5 days. On the first two days the wine was excellent. Even on 25 degrees Celsius in the kitchen. On the third day it started to decrease in quality, even more on the fourth day. On the fifth day it wasn’t for the market anymore. Our problem is that people judge wine by what they experience after the five days in the jar. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, I am steadfastly going on and this year I’m going for 12.000 bottles.

‘And what about that teran that skinfermented for a year?’

– ‘Those who tried it told me it would reach its top in two year’s time. But some caterers asked for it so I decided to put it on the market.’

Even if his family has been in winemaking for exactly 100 years, selling bulk wine, Daniel from Brajkovići, iz a new entry in the croatian wine industry. And what an entry has it been – he appeared with a malvasia fermented in the skin for 200 days!! Daniel is firm in his intent not to produce widely available industrial wines. For this reason his droplets will be available in mini series of 2.000 bottles.

  • ‘People ask me how I can wait so long for the wine to be ready. The answer is very simple: my 2015 harvest was absolutely terrific – so it would have been a waste of wine not to fully exploit it. We harvested at the end of October, had 2 clusters per vine, with 20 units of natural sugar, which was fenomenal. It was worth the wait. And I couldn’t imagine a better debut on the wine scene.’

He named his winery Lunika, an acronym of his daughters’ names – Lucija and Anika. But the name is also reminiscent of the moon and biodynamics. Indeed, during the launch of his wines in the restaurant Viking in Lim Channel, he emphasized the fact that his wines are absolutely sulphur-free.

  • ‘I opted for this because every wine has a small ammount of antioxidants allowed in biodynamics. And this is achieved with a healthy, untreated grape, long maceration and high alcohols. My malvasia fermented on the skin for 190 days. It’s an extreme example. I think that only Kabola winery has had a longer maceration period on one instance, and they have kept the wine in clay amphoras. Given the conditions, it comes as a surprise that my malvasia has managed to keep its golden glow and its yellow-green colour. The only reason my Lunika Malvasia is not orange is because it wasn’t kept in a barrel. But next year I might change something,’ Daniel says.

As Daniel recounts, his great grandfather started planting grapevines in 1915. He had a hard time finding grafts. And this is how the 6 acres vineryards came to be. 45% of it is malvasia, the rest is yellow and red muscat, teran, borgonja, pinot gris and cabernet sauvignon.

  • ‘I am probably the only one in Istria who can pride on growing this genuine red muscat in its vineyard. In 1984 the Institute for Agronomy in Porec discovered that we had this sort of muscat grapevine in our vineyard. The directors of the Institute got in touch with my father and asked him to sell him that year’s harvest. He agreed without hesitating. That year they produced a supreme wine with that grape. The following year they asked for the grafts and created a plantation in Poreč, which they registered as Muskat Ruza (Rose Muscat).
    But that is the red muscat originally from our vineyard. Anyway, it seems that their clones have wekened, as the quality of their ‘muskat ruza’ isn’t even close to the quality of my red muscat.

Daniel is a passionate soul, and the only reason why his winemaking story started only recently is because he is an absolute motorhead.

  • ‘I’m in my 40s now and I have just started with the cellar. And I’ve spent three cellars in sports cars so far. Sports cars are expensive so I have redirected the investments to the cellar. When the cellar is profitable, I hope to get me something from the octane world.

His favourite is a Subaru Impreza WRX STI, the same model that has been at the top in the racing world. So he found himself in the company of Colin McRea, Richard Burns and Petter Soldberg, rally champions who reached the podium in the same model in which Daniel’s wife as passanger dug a whole into the floor by pressing an imaginary brake pedal.

  • When this happened I realized that it was high time for me to change my vehicle for something more commercial and less powerful. Honestly speaking, I had never been fooling around with those sporty models. They were so powerful, more than 300 bhp, that just turning the engine on meant you could hear them in the range of several kilemeters.
  • I am crazy about tractors. Whenever I have to use it, I don’t get off. I eat and sleep on it.
    At the moment I have a 80 bhp Goldoni, a vineyard tractor perfect for our job. The first time I used a tractor I was seven. Should I somehow hit the jackpot, I would get myself a 800 bhp Fendit. People ask me what I would do with it. My answer is, well, I’d drive around in it! Those Fendits are a marvel of thechnology. There are pictures of women, on facebook, with these tractors because they found out they are more expensive than BMWs.

It is fascinating how Daniel holds on to his boyhood fantasies. It comes as no surprise to see him every yeat or on the 1st of May competing in the world championship in ‘plufism’.

For those who don’t know, and they are all those who don’t live in that particular area of Istria, plufism is about assessing ‘plufs’, ‘plafs’ or ‘plifs’, sounds that rocks make when plunged into the water. This bizzare discipline was invented by Daniel’s friend Mladen Sošić, known as Tralalaj.

  • ‘As kids we would guard the cows and have fun by throwing rocks into swamps competing at whose rock would make the best sound – ‘pluf’, ‘plaf’ or ‘plif’. The same happens during our championship – the audience decide which competitor will pass to the next round,’ Daniel explains.

While establishing a solid fundation for his winery, Daniel redirected the same boyish enthusiasm to packaging. He decided to tell his passionate love story with the old railway track connecting Rovinj to Kanfanar from 1876 to 1966 and which went past his house in Brajkovići.

– ‘It took us a long time to decide how to name our wines so that they would become instantly recognizable. Firstly we worked for a year on the name of the brand, Lunika, which is an acronym of my two daugters’ names, but which also reminds of the connection to the Moon, so crucial in biodynamics. But it also means the unique – l’unica! But once we became acknowledged, we had to find the names for the wines. Names that would make the wines distinctive, along with their quality. The history of our area came to play. And that old railway track which hasn’t been used for so long, but which was a constant presence in our childhood. This railway is known as ‘La linea’ (the line), so we decided to name our business ‘Pod Liniju’ (Below the line) , as our whole estate is located below the railway line, flanking this forgotten and neglected route.’

Then from the archives of the etnographic museum, someone brought up the marvelous love story between an Englishman and a Istrian woman, which happened while he was travelling from Kanfanar to Rovinj. Each label is part of this mosaic of wine and railway, and the names are dots connecting the whole story. Prima volta (The first time), Viaggio Lungo (The long journey), Mifior (My flower), Stazion (Station), Tender, Regalo (Gift), Carbun (Coal), Sorpresa (Surprise), Ritorno (Return), Makinista (Train driver)

– ‘I called the first wine, my basic malvasia, ‘Prima volta’ because of the first time someone took that train from Kanfanar to Rovinj. Along the journeys there were stations, and the train called at Okreti, Sošići and Rovinjsko Selo. ‘Stazion’ is the name for the second malvasia, and the third one, the one skinfermented for six months, is called ‘Viaggio Lungo’, the malvasia which had a long journey. Soon I will have a fourth malvasia, ‘Ritorno’ , which has been aging in wooden barrels. The young man presents the woman with a flower, Mi fior, a copper rosé borgonja. And all of this coud not be achieved had it not been for coal, Carbun, and the Tender (the coal-car), the names for the two terans. The arrival in Rovinj came as a surprise, Sorpresa, for both the woman and the wine lovers. And there is also a gift for her, Regalo, which is a yellow muscat. A train driver or Makinista, a pinot gris, manages the whole story.’

– ‘Well, Daniel, what has spured you to this approach in winemakig?

– ‘Well, this is the old way. There was a time when everyone was an organic producer. On the other hand, whenever I feel tired or uneasy, I go to the vineyard, below that line. There is something special about that place. I immediately pull myself together and start feeling much better. My experience in the vineyard has always been a signal for me to transfer it into the bottle. This was my drive. Everything we do in the vineyardis transformed into wine. And that’s all.