Late last week, at the Razzmatazz cafe in Ilica Street in Zagreb, which is partly located in a beautiful basement space, a master wine workshop was held by Jo Ahearne, an Englishwoman living in Croatia.
Ahearne is part of an elite group of 400 wine experts from about thirty countries from around the world who proudly carry the prestigious title of the Master of Wine, of which there are just approximately 120 women. The title which enables recipients to reach prestigious jobs in the wine industry has been established by the Institute of Masters of Wine, and it is received only after successfully passing three demanding exams, one of which involves the blind tasting of 36 wines, a theory exam which deals with wine production, wine business and “contemporary issues,” as well as the final essay of about 10,000 words which must be original and investigative.
The master's workshop was organised by Jelena Bulum from the Women on Wine association, with the aim of not just introducing the wines of Jo Ahearne, but also of presenting her life story, how she came to the island of Hvar, and which lessons she has learnt from her rich professional and life experience.
Jo presented all four of her currently available wines, which she paired with the food provided by Catering Lisak. The salmon canopies were paired with Ahearne’s Pošip 2016, a precise and balanced wine of oily texture, solid structure, optimal freshness and very powerful, but unobtrusive concentration, different from most other pošips.
Many were delighted with her macerated blend of Bogdanuša, Kuč and Pošip, named Wild Skins, which, according to some wine critics, is one of the finest Croatian macerated white wines. It was paired with chicken fillet leafs on spicy cream. The famous Ahearne Rosé Rosina 2015 was also tasted, paired with a tuna steak in black sesame served on a dark crispbread, as well as elegant, gentle and untypical Plavac Mali Ahearne South Side 2014, with Istrian calf and dumplings. Everybody agreed it was the best wine that could be produced in that challenging year for wines. The sweet surprise at the end was the mini Sacher cake.
In addition to enjoying the wines and food, thirty guests and journalists learned that the Londoner from the East End was a fan of West Ham (which was until recently managed by Slaven Bilić) and that as a young girl she went to West Ham’s football games at Boleyn Ground several times a year. Her wine career took her to many different parts of the world, where she worked for various employers – such as Harrods and Marks&Spencer, Charles Melton and Pipers Brook boutique wineries, as well as famous Australian winemakers Jacobs Creek and Hardys. However, she made her first wine on Hvar, and the Croatian wine scene was first really introduced to her two years ago when she launched her Rose at the Pink Day in Zagreb.
“If I could get just a kuna from everybody who has ever asked me about the reasons for coming to Croatia, I would have a fortune,” says Ahearne and continues. “As someone who does not come from a family or country with a long wine tradition, I knew I would have to make my own wine somewhere abroad, and the only question was where. Croatia won me over with its beauty when I attended the Wine Expo Festival in April 2014 and joined a group of journalists who visited several Dalmatian wineries. I realised that the vineyards here were struggling to sell their grapes. Since I do not have the money to buy land and I used to work for over ten years in Australia, where vineyards often sell their grapes, I immediately thought I should stay in this beautiful country and start buying them.”
As soon as she came to Croatia, Jo immediately started making her dreams come true and, with the help of the legendary Hvar winemaker Andre Tomić, she made her first harvest in 2014, a very troublesome year for winemakers. She says that Andro Tomić and his children Sebastijan and Janica still support her in dealing with the vastness of Croatian bureaucracy.
On Hvar, she misses the diversity of London food and culture, and she sometimes misses the noise and bustle of a large city, which she makes up for by coming to Zagreb, where she visits cinemas and galleries, trying to learn as much as possible about Croatian art. Asked about her favourite wines, she says it is difficult to give an answer, but emphasises Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Grenache... Given that she lived in Australia for ten years, she loves the powerful Barossa Shiraz. She highly respects wines from the southern parts of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. In the summer, she loves Rose wines of the Provence style, appreciating their freshness, and she considers the balance between fruitiness and minerality as essential.
The life message she tried to convey to her guests is that you should never be afraid of challenges and new beginnings. Life should be lived and enjoyed in all its forms, even in its not most beautiful moments, which is also how she chose her song of the evening – Something Changed, performed by her favourite band Pulp. In the end, she presented a clip from her favourite Christmas movie, Elf, in which Santa Claus comes to New York. “Because, if you do not believe in miracles and Santa Claus, you cannot believe in your dreams. But, there is also something in good wines as well.”
Photos by: Silvija Munda