Newborn babies in Croatia were once bathed in wine. “Today we are born in hospitals, so we don’t do this,” says wine producer Alen Bibić in his commanding voice, as he cracks a gentle smile. “But wine has been a part of our culture for 2,000 years.” Bibić, who inherited his vineyards from his grandfather, has seized the opportunity to redefine the indigenous grapes of his native land, particularly Debit, hoping to take the grape’s visibility worldwide.
Debit is an aromatic white grape native to Croatia’s rugged limestone-rich Dalmatian coast. Used for centuries widely because of its reliable and high yields, it earned its name during the time of Napoleon when landowners would trade in their grape crop to cover their tax debts. After Croatia won its independence in 1991, growers were no longer forced to sell their grapes to the state-run cooperatives. Producers like Bibić hope to elevate grapes like Debit to the top of the Croatian wine map.
Upon approaching BIBICh winery, situated at about the middle of the country’s long coastline, scrubby grassland sprinkled with soft pastel and fragrant wildflowers leads to jet black barn doors. Amid his contemporary winery’s dining room, he says, “We are not doing this to make a lot of money because we are already born rich with all these beautiful things around us.” referring to the land and vines as the fruit of his culturally-rich existence. “It [Debit] was the first wine I tasted in my life. I was six,” he says as he remembers getting half water and half wine in a cup on Sundays. It is still a tradition today. “Wine here is not just to drink, it’s part of the culture.”
Taking great pride in the native grape, he has redefined Debit, helping it shed its usual one-dimensional image by coaxing out all aspects of its personality. This has inspired him to make the wine in a multitude of styles: an effervescent, BIBICh Brut, a young and fresh BIBICh Debit, a barrel-aged, single vineyard style, BIBICh Lučica, named after the vineyard his grandfather planted, and an orange wine, Bas de Bas, which is fermented in large stone vessels. All are among some of the best in the country.
“We we are not selling wine as our major interest. We are here for the people who live and work here, and for our ancestors. We just need to keep it going, produce good wine, have fun and be happy, that’s my major goal.”
Naturally, Dalmatian culinary traditions have been inextricably connected with wines and there are few places on the coast that witness that better than the neighboring town of Skradin, located just down the hill from his winery. Locally famous for delicious dishes and great wine making traditions, it is just a matter of time when this region will see international recognition. Bibić and his wife Vesna deliver world-class food and wine pairings that are equally stunning and divinely delectable.
Among the dishes is Skradin rižot (risotto), which they say has always been made by men. “If your wife calls you and you say you are making Skradin rižot, her reply is ‘OK…’” says Bibić. “So we have some peace with our friends, we drink some wine. We are not eating because we are hungry, but it’s more of a social moment.”
Alen Bibić is known for his strong feelings about promoting the indigenous grape varieties of the North Dalmatia region, but also produces several wines made from grapes he loves, which is probably why Bibich has a fairly broad portfolio that includes sparkling, white, rosé, red, and dessert wine. Many are exported mainly to the United States.
But to taste his food with his wine, you’ll have to go to his dining room in Dalmatia.