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Two brothers, prosciutto and orange wine with a view to Goriška Brda

 

The sign "No Pizza, no Coca-Cola, no Pommes Frites" greets you at the entrance door of the Klinec Homestead in Medana known for its sustainably produced wines and excellent cuts of meat, all served on one of the most beautiful terraces in Goriška Brda.

Maybe it’s the full shade of the mulberry tree under which you are sipping a glass of amber-coloured Rebula, maybe it’s the view that stretches all the way to Italy, or the smell of the smouldering wood of the grapevine used by Aleks for the open fire over which he roasts large pieces of meat.

Once you visit the Klinec family, you effortlessly become their regular guest. You come for lunch and in the evening you find yourself together with Aleks and Simona at one of the wineries across the border.  You drop in “for a drink” and you end up sitting with the family around a large roasting cauldron full of roasted veal.

Wine and food are a story of their own, but it is the homeliness and the innate sense of hospitality that keep you coming back to Medana, a place so inextricably linked to the story Slovenian wines’ success abroad. It was the entrepreneurial folks from Brda with their natural attachment to Italy who first broke free from the shackles of cooperative mass-production in winemaking and focused on boutique family wine-growing with an emphasis on quality.

Medana in Goriška Brda
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Viticulture from the cradle

One such Brda resident is Aleks Klinec, the fifth-generation winemaker who was among the first in Slovenia to turn to strictly organic production practices at a time when many mocked him for digging his own grave with macerated, unfiltered wines, with no added sulphur, and a complete return-to-nature approach when it came to working in the vineyard without herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Living soil, living wines.

He has not succumbed. He is after all a Bric, as the residents from the Brda are called.  Like the hospitality industry and wine growing, walking against the wind has also been with him since the cradle. His mother comes from a family that was engaged in the hospitality industry and as a little girl, during the Italian occupation in WWII, she moved the boundary markers that divided the Brda villages and with them entire families, and thus “returned” with her own bare hands her home village to Slovenia. When she grew up, she crossed the border with a bit less secrecy to help Joško Sirk from La Subida.

Times have changed and today the Italians come from the far end of the “boot” to dine and drink with the Klinec family. “Che meraviglia”, “How wonderful”, a group of Sicilian winemakers and wine importers are enthusiastic one afternoon as they sit at a wooden table under the vines spreading across the terrace, and the sound of a popping cork breaks through the birdsong when Simona pops open a bottle of champagne.

Aleks Klinec
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

A place where even vegetarians convert

Nika, Aleks’s eldest daughter, starts bringing plates with albumin curd, homemade olive oil and pink pepper to the table, honey-coloured Malvasia is being poured into glasses, and if you are sitting in the right place you might even see the Krškopolje (black-belted) pigs rutting around in the soil along the vineyard slopes.

The same pigs that a moment later appear in front of you as an assortment of deliciously smelling cuts of meat, prosciutto, salami and pancetta, all made by the Klinec family. Capocollo is accompanied by courgettes, eggs and herbs, while the sausage is mixed into a salsa served with pasta.  This is not the ideal place for vegetarians and the Klinec family managed to convert quite some of them.  If anywhere, then here.

Cuisine in Medana
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The next course also follows this spirit: gnocchi are accompanied by curry-scented rabbit, in-between, just for a little bite, a concrete portion of calf’s liver with sour cherries, sautéed red onion and white polenta is being served; Malvasia is replaced by Orthodox (a white local wine), then you change to Gardelin (Pinot Gris), while at the end, the pork chop with figs is served with Mora (velvety wine, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc).

“Would you like a digestif? Tropinovec (Pomace brandy)? Ruta (Rue Grappa)? Orehovec (Walnut liqueur)? Or would you prefer a brandy made of mulberry, peach buds or purple coneflower? “Maybe you would like to return to the bubbles?” asks Simona, as she serves a still warm cherry strudel and a flourless chocolate cake with pistachios. Or all of the above? This is the issue when you visit the Klinec family; moderate eating is never really an option. Neither is the sense of time.

The ambiance in Medana
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Wine and art

You can feel the homeliness in every pore of the rustically furnished homestead, ranging from the homemade brandies in the giant glass bells behind the counter, the open fireplace to the bouquets of colourful wild flowers adorning the tables.

The central dining room presents a link between the past and the present with an old chest, grandmother’s clay models for potica cake and a crucifix in the corner, and modern canvases on the walls, bearing works produced at the art colony hosted by the Klinec family for over 20 years.

Both families, that of Aleks and his brother Uroš, have always been closely connected with art and have supported painters, poets and musicians from all over the world.  Aleks was the one who started the Days of Wine and Poetry in Brda in 1997, at a time when Medana was still considered a place at the end of the world.

Boutique tourism? Forget it. These were the times when guests were sleeping in barns and on the winemakers’ sofas.  Today, accommodations are no longer a problem and the Brda region has become a destination that equally attracts foreign and domestic guests to the point that it is often impossible to find a spare bed over the weekend.  And believe me, after all the wine, you’ll need a bed.

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

At Nejka and Uroš's Homestead

Among the most visited places in Brdo is definitely the Lower Klinec Homestead, Klinec Plešivo, run by Aleks’s brother Uroš and his wife Nejka. If the upper homestead is distinguished by genuine warmth that takes you back to another time, embraces you with homeliness and sates your carnivorous impulses, the lower Klinec Homestead is a more modern, polished version of all the above.

“Enjoy the little things,” says the decorative pillow on the armchair standing on the breath-taking terrace. “The good things in life are meant to be shared” is another quote on the wooden board next to the breakfast table. From there you can enjoy an excellent view to the estate of Marjan Simčič in Ceglo, to La Subida on the Italian side of the border, and to the open fireplace where Uroš is confidently turning beef cheeks, giant Florentine steaks or some other piece of meat he gets from the local farmers.

Over the years, Nejka and Uroš have become a synonym for the combination of the entrepreneurship and innate hospitality so typical in the Brda region.  Nejka is in charge of the impeccable modern design and the interior of the complex, which resembles more of a stroll through a modern art gallery than a boutique hotel.

Cuisine at Plešivo
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

A boarding house that could be a gallery

Years of artists’ colonies have left their mark in this homestead too, transforming the entire dining room into an exhibition space of hand-painted bottles, plates and ceramic tiles, over which the Last Supper painted by Klemen Brun, a painter form Nova Gorica, dominates.

A close friend of the Klinec family is also Etko Tutta, an artist from the Brda region, who designed one of the five guest rooms. Each room is the work of different artist and each has its own features – from the more avant-garde to romantic in red.

Dried meats, prosciutto
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Apart from Tutta, Franco Dugo, Boris Zaplatil, Jože Skubic and Rudi Skočir have left their mark here; it seems, however, that the view of the picturesque vine-growing hills from all the rooms is still the most impressive canvas of all. The mists rising slowly over the green fields paint landscape settings that in the window frame really look as if they have been painted with a fine paint brush.

The corner of your eye spots a bit of turquoise interrupting the green – a pool with a view – while the vine-covered pergola is hiding a row of tables outside, decorated with pots of lemon, olive and rhododendron trees.

Klinec Plešivo wine with a view
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

A tribute to the seasonal and local

Everything served is seasonal and, where possible, locally produced by small farmers in the wider region. On the table there are always goat curds from the Žerjal Farm in Tomaj. Vegetables are from the nearby farms and so are the apple, elderberry and mint juices. The organic rye and spelt flakes are stone-ground, cheeses are produced at the Orešnik Farm, while yogurt comes from the Idrijske Krnice village.

But here, too, a special place belongs to prosciutto.  The one made by Uroš is renowned as perhaps the best prosciutto in our country and is also in high demand among the Italians.  What is the secret? There is no secret, Uroš says. Like his brother, he makes prosciutto from Krškopolje pigs, which are raised in perfect harmony with nature and are outdoor fed without artificial feeds.

The two brothers make all their meat products in a traditional way, without the use of preservatives; all they add is salt and pepper, and garlic soaked in wine to their salami.  It takes Uroš an average of four years to age his prosciutto to develop its wonderful tertiary umami flavours; alongside his flagship product, in his curing chamber next to the kitchen he also cures and ages salami, sausages with ingredients stuffed into natural casing, pancetta, capocollo and more.

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Food and wine pairing

Uroš, who is also the head chef of the Plešivo Klinec Homestead, incorporates his cured meat products organically into the rotating weekly menu, be it homemade gnocchi with sausage or ričota (barley risotto) with roasted prosciutto. Dinner usually starts with an excellent beef tartare and ends with a proper steak, accompanied by a glass of the full-bodied red wine produced by Uroš’s brother.

The wine selection here is broader because Nejka and Uroš want to present to their guests the best of what the Brda region can offer, including the wines produced by winemakers living in Italy. When the evening gets really lively, they add a bottle or two of champagne to the selection. The guests sip their champagne under the stars on the illuminated homestead, which also serves as an alternative wedding venue.

Uroš Klinec
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The charm of Goriška Brda

The Brda Hills are often given as an example of how a once remote and rural region can develop enormously, and of how far it can carry Slovenia’s voice into the world of wines being exported from Medana, Ceglo, Vipolže, Plešivo and Oslavje to the best restaurants and enotecas in different world’s capitals.

The region that many call the Slovenian Tuscany is not on the world map by chance.  Ambitions here have always been very high, but they are underpinned by the potential and innovation of the people from Brda, and last but not least by their tenacity and perseverance.

Here, amid the softly rounded hills, old villages, vineyards, wine cellars and cherry orchards, stories are born by authors who could very early recognise that Brda’s true market value lies in its unique terroir, where the Alpine and Mediterranean worlds merge and where history has moulded and strengthened the inhabitants, softening their sharpness with the unmistakable Italian taste of “la dolce vita”.

“Breakfast tomorrow?” Nejka asks the guests before they go to their rooms late in the evening. “You won’t be up too early, will you? We are not used to getting up early here.”

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