A charter vacation aboard Penny Mae in Croatia will teach you a little something about the country’s history and its terroir.
Story Cecile Gauert
I was curious but not expecting a revelation when I opened the first bottle of 2006 Plavac Mali, which was delivered in a beautiful case stamped with the name of the winery—Korta Katarina. It was packed with great care and arrived at perfect temperature. I uncorked the bottle and poured the densely red liquid into a large Riedel wine glass. The first sip more than intrigued me. Bold, rich and complex, the wine had as much personality as a distinguished Burgundy red. I owed this pleasant revelation to a wine distributor from Minnesota, named Katharine Anderson Groethe. Katharine only recently entered the wine world. The 40-something-year-old daughter of Lee and Penny Anderson—entrepreneurs, yacht owners, philanthropists and owners of the Korta Katarina winery in Croatia—decided to help her parents market their wines in the United States a few years ago. She got a license, set up a distribution company, and marketing Korta Katarina’s wines became a full-time occupation for this mother of three.
The Andersons, who own the yacht Penny Mae, a 138-foot Richmond tri-deck yacht now based full time in Croatia, have liked wine and supported the Naples (Florida) Wine Festival for many years. But, like many wine enthusiasts on this side of the world, they knew little about Croatian wines until they went to the former Yugoslavia several years ago on a humanitarian relief mission. After they helped rebuild schools destroyed during the three-year war that tore through Bosnia, they decided to explore the region. In nearby Croatia, they discovered wonderful wines.
As it turns out, the Dalmatian coast and islands of Hvar and Korčula, now so popular with the yachting set, are home to a centuries-old tradition of winemaking. Long before luxury yachts dropped anchor in the pristine waters and stewards in full regalia poured Prosecco into long-stem glasses for their elegant passengers, the Romans left their wooden ships to enjoy the local wines grown on these very hills. And Zinfandel, a quintessential American wine (or so many believe), apparently has historic roots in Croatia. While the local wines are delicious, they are little known outside of Croatia because the country only exports about two percent of its production. The wineries, often run by families, are usually very small.
The Andersons were smitten. They started to look for a vineyard they could buy to produce wine for export. They found nothing suitable until they came across commercial land for sale in the small town of OrebiĆ, about two hours away from Dubrovnik. It was nicely sloped and offered beautiful views of the Mediterranean. It also had a charmless edifice of about 50 rooms that once hosted communist leaders. But here it was, acres of land and a winery, in the heart of the Croatian Riviera. They bought the place and refurbished the building and winery. Korta Katarina’s first vintage was 2006: two reds, two whites and a rosé.
While the wines received excellent marks from the noted Wine Enthusiast, finding a market in the United States proved difficult. The wines did not have a reputation, and the recession did not help. Now, seven years after their first crop, the Andersons are starting to make headway. Last year, they opened the winery to the public. The original building is being transformed into a 14-room luxury hotel, which may become a Relais & Châteaux or similar luxury outpost in months to come. And Penny Mae, the family yacht, is becoming part of the equation. The Andersons asked their longtime captain, Mike O’Neill, to join them in Croatia. Mike, an experienced charter captain, has embraced the idea of a charter program that includes land tours and wine tastings. After all, food and wine are a big part of a charter experience, and Penny Mae also has an excellent chef who can pair food and wine beautifully. In addition, the crew can taylor a charter itineray to include excursions allowing wine enthusiasts to discover the area’s rich wine heritage. O’Neill likes the country very much, and has put the off-season months to good use doing additional training, visiting potential sites and writing a blog.
Katharine is happy that O’Neill has returned. “He is like family,” she says, as she enthuses about the future.
“I am passionate about the wine,” she says. And she seems equally fond of the country and its people. “I have been all over the world and I am a scuba diver; the water there is unbelievable. I think Croatia has more natural parks than any other country in the world.”
She recalls fondly her latest trip there with her family on board Penny Mae in Croatia. She found the locally farmed oysters and fresh sea urchins delectable. I wish I had a few of these locally grown oysters and urchins handy when I opened the bottle of white Posip several weeks ago for some friends. They proved unnecessary. The wine was crisp and zesty, and it was soon gone. The Korta Katarina wines indeed have been a revelation. A glass of Posip on board Penny Mae, now that’s a pairing.
For the full itinerary of a trip onboard Penny Mae, click here.