All of us have probably found ourselves in a situation to safeguard a discovery like a hidden gem. I had that situation a few days ago when tasting the wine treasure of Saša Ćasić from Donja Obrijež near Pakrac, while wondering all the time how is it possible that his young man, who started his wine story 14 years ago, simply seems non-existent.
Saša will tell you that two horrible years, leaving him with no wine from the 2016 harvest, struck him so much that he is at an impasse on how to satisfy the needs of his regular customers and that he has no inkling to advertise something he cannot supply to new customers. But his winery stands at 14 hectares, not a modest production which does not find it important to be in the media, the capacity of Saša’s cellar for his Graševina, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Rhine Riesling, Frankovka, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is 100.000 litres! Organically certified, ecological, wines without a drop of chemistry. This is what the great Ivan Enjingi advised him at the very start, and Saša embraced his life and wine philosophy with both hands. Even more, Saša bought from Ivan 40 Angus cattle, a Scottish-Canadian breed, with which he completed the ecological cycle at his estate. Saša thus does not have to worry about his pastures overgrowing, as the Angus completely clear them.
When Saša began with wine growing, back in 2003, he was only 19 with a piece of land inherited from his grandparents. Neither he nor his family knew much about wine growing, or wine production. He almost did not know what to do on such a large space. His father wanted to plant hazelnuts and walnuts, and Saša tirelessly sent invitation to renowned winemakers asking for advice and an estimate on the usefulness of the land.
The only one who answered the call was Ivan Enjingi, who did not find it hard to get in his rundown Golf and drive almost a hundred kilometres for an unknown kid of 19 who wished to be a great winemaker.
Enjingi’s estimate was almost euphoric. The soil was ideal, claimed the wine genius, climate fantastic and it was a true miracle no one in the area had decided to plant a vineyard before. Enjingi advised Saša to set up an ecological production right away and to go beyond selling grapes and bottle superior wines.
“He promised to bestow all his knowledge on to me, but that I would have to work hard and study fast,” said Saša to us at his estate, where the Ćasić last name dominates from the roof of the gazebo.
And so it began. When the first real harvest came around, Saša drove a tractor trailer with grapes to Enjingi’s cellar in Hrnjevac each day. Technologically Saša had nothing. Not a cellar nor barrels. But he had a great will and faith that his immense effort would overcome the material shortcomings. When bottling came around, everyone was shocked. In the huge stainless steel tank, provided by Enjingi, the very first wine by Saša was superior!
“We could not believe it, his first work had surpassed the teacher,” Enjingi told us.
Overjoyed with results, Saša decided to expand the vineyard some more. He needed money to buy the land, submitting a project to a large Croatian bank, but – after an expert opinion by their advisor, one of the largest Croatian winemakers, they denied him a loan of 400 thousand kunas. The explanation was – “Saša does not have enough experience or knowledge to cultivate four hectares of land!”
Saša became obstinate, and his mentor was more furious. He could not believe such talent was being cut at the root. He decided to help him himself. Instead of the planned expansion of four hectares, Saša’s vineyards very soon grew to fourteen hectares.
Ivan Enjingi never “forgave” himself for it.
“I was very wrong not to bring Saša to work for me! His talent and work deserves to take over my business. An exceptional and special young man, which is why his wines are so special,” Enjingi confined in us.
Almost 14 years after he met him and introduced him to the world of wine, Ivan Enjingi now says Saša “has progressed significantly, but that progress might have been bigger and faster with a financial push.”
“However, what he made is also fascinating, without anyone’s help! I claim responsibly, and I’ve helped many people in the vineyard and winery, some of them now renowned names in the wine world – I have never met someone so gifted and versatile as Saša Ćasić! The boy understands everything, is incredibly hardworking, needs no one to fix something for him, as there are no secrets for him in mechanics, tractors or electronics. If I could give him advice retroactively, then I would certainly keep him more by my side, as he deserved to pass some growing phases without punches, which unfortunately he did not,” recalled Ivan Enjingi the work of Saša Ćasić.
Anyone who knows Ivan Enjingi, brutally sincere and honest winemaker known for his sharp tongue, it is rare, almost impossible to hear praise from him about other winemakers. Hence, when he mouths lovely and chosen words about a colleague, then that’s that!
And Ivan said Saša’s wines are truly special and original.
“Saša did not sell out to the chemical industry, Saša’s vineyards have no chemicals. If we know that wines are a reflection of the soil where grapes grow, then I can responsibly say that Saša has HIS wine! It is rare today, almost impossible, to find such model vineyard in which nature, practically, takes care of everything. This is why many winemakers, and Saša is not one of them, can hardly say their wine products are their wines. Their land has long ceased to be just nature,” explains Ivan.
This is why Saša claims the purchase of Angus has finally closed the ecological cycle and that he produces everything he needs for the vineyard on his estate. He refers to his own fertilizer, protection with indigenous bacteria, treating vines with milk…
Saša never misses an opportunity to mention his teacher.
“Mister Enjingi taught me everything and I will never be able to repay him for that. My starting knowledge was equal to zero! Thanks to him, I skipped ten steps in several years and began producing superior wines right away. It is rare for someone to help you selflessly today,” said Saša.
His experience with this approach to vineyards and wine production is that “ecological production is significantly cheaper, which is not negligible!” Due to this experience, Saša does not regret the investments in vineyards which he claims will be complete when the number of Angus reaches 60, the estimated amount needed to take care of 14 hectares of vineyards.
Before Angus Saša kept Mangalica pigs at the estate, as his ultimate goal was to have a family farm where “Mangalica salami and bacon would be part of the offer,” just like the ducks in the nearby pond were meant to be an attraction next to horse riding. But the ducks did not live to see a family farm, flying away, just like the two riding horses he kept in a specially built stable are not there anymore, replaced with Lipizzaners bought in Lipik stables, meant to pull the carriage with guests touring the vineyards.
Saša also meant to have horse meat and horse salami on offer, supplied by his neighbours, but the poor economic situation in the Pakrac area and Donji Obrijež, one of the rare villages dominated by the Italian minority, caused a migration of the populace, including the neighbours. Around the large gazebo, with a view of Saša’s vineyards, he planted a mixed orchard where something is always in season and can be picked. Only a few good years in the vineyard and Saša will finally be able to start on of the best village tourism stories in Croatia!
Just like his bottles, from day 1, began to tell a story of Pakrac through a copy of Banovac, a medieval Croatian currency coined in Pakrac, whose good quality brought it to Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Bosnia.
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