The Momjan region in NW Istria, not far from Buje and the Slovene border has a special place in the Istrian wine producing region. Not only because the picturesque little town of Momjan, on Sveti Mauro Hill, at 270 m, is surrounded by a hillocky area ideal for vineyards and olive groves, but because the landrace variety Momjan Muscat (grown alongside Malvazia and Refosco) thrives particularly well on these outstanding positions. And so there is no accident in the region having produced a number of excellent winemakers, classified in the upper ranges of the Istrian winemaking scene.
Along with already celebrated Gianfranco Kozlović and Marino Markežić Kabola, the Momjan trio is completed by Rino Prelac, confirming the winning combination of winemaking and catering for both activities. Although by trade a toolmaker, since 1988 Rino Prelac has been running the Rino Tavern, and with his 28 years of experience, has identified clearly the tastes in food and wine of the guests who visit him from, particularly, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and Austria.
The parents of Rino Prelac, and theirs too, traditionally dealt with farming in this little holding in the village of Merišće. They produced about 2000 litres of wine, mainly for home use. In 1988 Rino Prelac rented the premises of an old tavern owned by Buje city, and opened it on his own account. At the beginning the fare was much more modest than today’s, but was enriched with many Istrian specialities. In 1994 he bought up the place, and now runs it with his wife Timka, who is also the chef.
Rino and Timka rapidly saw that the family production of wine did not meet the needs of the tavern and so – while expanding and remodelling the premises – bought stainless steel containers to be able to produce more wine of their own. A self-taught winemaker, Rino industriously studied everything he could about grape growing and winemaking, and picked up from all around lore about improving the business in vineyard and cellar.
After his first gold medal at Vinistra, he started to plough his own furrow in winemaking more thoroughly. He bought all the contemporary equipment for winemaking, as well as land on which he planted vines, increasing the initial 2000 to today’s 40,000, at five locations. Most of the land is wholly owned, a little leased.
The first bottles with the Prelac label, Malvazia and Momjan Muscat, from the 1996 vintage, appeared on the market in 1997. Malvazia, Momjan Muscat and Refosco are the leading varieties in Rino’s vineyards, with smaller quantities of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Prelac is a great admirer of Muscat, aware of its uniqueness and connection with the Momjan terroir.
He produces about 55,000 litres of wine a year, and fills about 30,000 bottles of single varietal wine, selling the rest in bulk. Using his own grapes, he started producing small quantities of sparkling wine in Italy (a third each of Malvazia, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) because in his hospitality business he had noticed an increasing demand for such wines.
He exports to Italy and Austria, and the markets of the Far East are opening up for him.
In Istria a lot of good Malvazia is produced, but Momjan Muscat can’t be reproduced in other areas, and it’s a real local treasure. I’d like to point out that Momjan Muscat with the 2106 vintage is getting appellation controlée. And so I think we have to devote ourselves to it to the maximum and brand it as a speciality of the region, says Rino.
He plans to build a contemporary cellar and tasting room, and Rino and Timka hope to involve their children in the business. Daughter Melissa has taken a degree in agriculture at Zagreb, agricultural ecology major, and son Denis is finishing a degree in electrical engineering in Rijeka.
I am inclined to do business carefully, advancing bit by bit, not exposing myself to unnecessary risks. I think that ambitions have to be brought down to a human scale, and I don’t intend to increase our hectarage. After almost 30 years of hard work in hospitality, and in parallel in winemaking, my wife and I have a right to take a break and hand over part of the job to the children, whom we are always going to support if they decide on the business, says Rino.
Through the synergy of innkeeping and winemaking, the Prelac family has occupied a strong position in the business of world of the Momjan region, and have left their well educated children to make their own decisions about whether to follow the paths of parents.