A Genuine Winemaker Discovered in Istria, Croatia

by: Dr. Elinor Garely – special to eTN and editor in chief, wines.travel |

Then, I had the good fortune to attend a Croatia wine event in Manhattan.  I had no expectations and purposefully did not read wine reviews before attending the program. I wanted to be totally open to a new wine experience and objective about my comments.

In the Know

·         Where is Croatia?

It is bordered in the southwest by the Adriatic Sea (the northwestern arm of the Mediterranean Sea). Slovenia and Hungary border the country in the north; Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia border on the east. Croatia has a short border with Montenegro and shares maritime borders with Italy.

·         Where is Istria, Slovenia?

 It is the northwestern peninsula of Croatia.

·         Why is Istria interesting?

The area has been a leader in branding and the development of winemaking over the past decade.

·         Is Istria part of a larger wine-producing territory?

Istria is bounded by Italy and Slovenia. Friuli (Italy), Primorska (Slovenia), and Istria (Croatia) are historically known as the Julian March. Italian linguist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli used the term (1863) to demonstrate that the Austrian Littoral, Veneto, Friuli, and Trentino (part of the Austrian Empire) area shared a common Italian linguistic identity.

The economy has always focused on agriculture, and wine has been the most important commodity. In the 4th century BC, Greek colonists started wine production on the Adriatic coast. Romans and later modern Croatians expanded the Greek grape cultivation tradition. The quality of Croatian wines improved following Croatia’s secession from the former Yugoslavia.

According to the Croatian Central Bureau of Statistics, Agricultural Production report (2019), Croatian farmers cultivated 20,000 hectares of vineyards and produced 108,297 metric tons of grapes and 704,400 hectoliters of wine. According to the 2014 Wine Institute report, of the 69 million liters of wine produced in Croatia the local market consumes 46.9 liters per capita annually.

Major grapes?

The Malvazija Istarska grape is dominant in Istria and it produces one of the main white wines of Croatian Istria and the north Dalmatian coast. It was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece. The Malvazija grape produces a wine that is fresh, light, aromatic, and deliciously acidic, making it perfect for summer. It pairs well with cold salmon and shrimp.

Teran is the dominant red grape from Istria, Croatia, and is found mostly in the western part of the locale. It is a late-ripening variety, grows in large clusters, and the berries are densely packed. The vine requires lots of sun. Known as Teran-Croatian Istria (Hrvatska Istra) the varietal is typically fresh, and fruit-forward with well-balanced acidity, firm tannins, and notes of berries and spices.

·         Do Croatians drink wine/beer/spirits?

Men in the country drink four times more alcohol than women. Out of the alcohol consumed, Croatians favored wine, followed by beer and spirits. Wine is popular and locals enjoy wine with their meals. A popular mix is a wine diluted with either still or sparkling water (gemist- white wine and carbonated water), and bevanda (red wine and still water).

There is no legal minimum age for drinking in Croatia; however, you must be 18+ to purchase alcohol, and drinking/driving laws are strict.

Croatian winemakers exported $14.3M in wine (2020), making it the 47th largest exporter of wine in the world. The primary buyers are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, the United States, Serbia, and Montenegro. The fastest-growing markets (2019-2020) were the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Canada.


In 1996 the Croatian Institute of Viticulture and Enology was developed with the mission of supervising the country’s wine industry and regulating winegrowing/production and standards (based on the European Union wine regulations).

Croatian wines are classified by quality:

  • Barrique: appears on labels to distinguish wines that have spent time in oak
  • Arhivo Vino: rare designation for a wine of excellent quality meant to be aged long-term
  • Vrhunsko Vino: premium quality
  • Kvalitetno Vino: quality wine
  • Stolno vino: table wine

Other Terms

·         Suho: Dry

·         Slatko: Sweet

·         Pola Slatko: Half sweet

Wines may qualify for a geographical origin stamp if the wine is produced from grapes grown in the same wine-growing region. For higher quality classifications (i.e., premium quality) wine with a geographical origin stamp must meet criteria for the type of grape, the position of the vineyard (winegrowing hill) with the distinct quality and characteristics for the variety.

  • Grape varietal stamp: 85 percent of the grape type whose name it carries
  • Vintage designation (Arhiv) must be kept in cellar conditions longer than its optimal maturity period and not less than five years from the day of processing grapes into wine, of which at least 3 years in a bottle
  • Croatian wines do not have a DO or AOC system

Fakin Wines

Fakin is a family winery that has a 300-year history of farming in Istria (located in the northwest peninsula of Croatia), with grapes being sold to other Istrian wineries that won medals for wines made from Fakin grapes. Marko Fakin took over the family business and started his wine production in 2010 in his garage, drying some grapes for sweet wines in his house.

At the 2010 Croatian Winemakers of the Year national competition, Marko Fakin and his wines won awards. Since this success, Fakin has grown from 2000 bottles to 120,000 bottle production with a total of 82 vineyards in Motovun, Istria, Croatia.  He finds that his success is a fortunate combination of the micro-climate of the Mediterranean that is affected by the Mirna River that circles Motovun, and the significant difference between daytime and evening temperatures that develops the complexity of the grape aromas. His success can also be attributed to the white soil that supports such grape varieties as Istrian Malvazija, Teran, and Muskat.

Fakin focuses on sustainable and organic farming practices. His Teran grapes are hand-harvested and following vinification, aged in stainless steel for 8 months. This leads to a medium-bodied, beautiful ruby red wine that presents complex aromas of berries and earth. Malvazija Istarka is the queen of white grapes and presents white peaches and pears with palate-pleasing hints of stone fruit flavors that lead to a clean, crisp, dry, and memorable finish.

The Fakin Wines – In My Opinion


The very good news is that Fakin wines are not “vintage Tuesday.” I could actually taste the hands of the farmer and the vintner in the bottle. Finally, a winemaker who is sure of his art, his craft, and the science and not going to let a number system determine what he was going to capture in his bottle

I could use the word “authentic,” for Fakin wines, but the word is overused (even abused). Perhaps a better descriptor is “true.” What makes Fakin wines important (to me) is that I am able to experience the winemaker in the wine. Croatia (at the moment) allows the vintner to take his/her vision of what a wine should/could be – and bring it to life. Marko Fakin clearly has a mission combined with the palate of a sommelier creating wines that are true to his vision and his mission – that a winemaker must intimately know his grapes to make an excellent wine.

Curated Recommendations

1.       2020 Fakin Malvazija. 100 percent Malvazija Istriana. A premier wine with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) that originates on Croatia’s Istra Peninsula. Currently the second most planted variety in Croatia after Grasevina. Harvested by hand. Maceration 3-6 hours; aged in stainless steel for 6 months.

Notes: To the eye, this dry white wine presents a light golden yellow hue with hints of green. The delicious aromas released from the swirl suggest a light hint of Asian pears and tangerines. On the palate, a mélange of peaches, apples, honey, grapefruit, almonds, and stone fruit warmed by the sun, intermingled with lemon citrus presenting a clean, clear acidity that creates a happy palate. Full flavored and memorable but not “pushy” – all the way to the end. The taste experience is subtle but distinctive creating a happy camper.

2.       2019 Fakin Teran. Grape variety – Teran. Harvested by hand. Maceration and fermentation for 21 days. Aged for 8 months in stainless steel.

This dry red wine is made from the important red grape variety in the Istrian region. It presents a ruby red color that morphs to brick red tones as it ages. The nose is happy with full and strong flavors and fruit forward. It delivers acidity and tannins that suggest the hand of master winemakers.

Notes: The aromatic fragrance on the nose brings spice and berries to mind. On the palate, it delivers blackberries, plums, blueberries, oak, tobacco, cloves, leather, earth, and chocolate. A musty herbal bouquet of wild strawberries adds breath and life to the palate. Tart black cherry and craisin blend with notes of steely minerality and red raspberries that linger and last.

Next for Croatian Wines

The wine industry is competitive and annually there are more than 36 billion bottles available worldwide, with more than one million wine labels. Winemakers struggle to be unique and secure a position on the world stage and Fakin has met the challenge. When looking for a wine that brings a soft, delicious experience to your nose and palate, do not miss the opportunity to capture a few bottles of Fakin wines for the next lunch, brunch, dinner, and special occasion.

© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

This two-part series takes a look at the multiple environments that create a memorable (good or bad) wine experience.

The wine purchase decision is more complex than the choice for many other products. While taste is a dominating factor, it is the risk that concerns consumers the most. Because almost all purchase situations do not include the opportunity to taste wines before buying, consumers use information from the bottle and label as clues as to what lies inside the bottle.

The wine consumer puts value on their wine experience based on information: Intrinsic (smelling and tasting) and extrinsic (origin, bottle form/color, brand, packaging, award, price, consumer involvement in purchase).

Read Part 1:  Wine Is a Head Trip Not a Geography Lesson

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