Vineyards cover large tracts of the Pelješac peninsula, starting in Ston and stretching all the way northwest to the outskirts of Orebić. Vineyards slot into the bowls of fertile soil that sit between Pelješac’s interlocking system of mountain ridges, or spread down the steep slopes of the peninsula’s southern coast. Although the white Rukatac grape is cultivated on Pelješac with moderately successful results, it’s the velvety red wine produced by the indigenous Plavac mali vine for which the peninsula is famous. Generally, these reds have a deep colour, and are rich, fruity and full bodied, with lots of tannins and a comparatively high alcohol level (13-15%). The moister soil of the vineyards found slightly inland produce Plavac mali that is lighter and marginally less distinguished than the Plavac mali that originates on the stony southern coast, where arid conditions and salty breezes produce vines that are low in yield but rich in flavour. These south-coast wines are so specific that they were among the first Croatian wines to be accorded an appellation denoting the precise village they’re from, notably Dingač and Postup, the shore-hugging settlements just east of Orebić. Harvesting the vine-clad slopes above Dingač and Postup involves back-breakingly hard work. Some of the vineyards are so steep that grape-pickers have to harness themselves with ropes and almost abseil down to gather the crop.
Wine tourism is increasingly big business in Pelješac and it’s an ideal place to cruise the wineries, sample and buy. An increasing number of top Pelješac wineries such as Korta Katarina and Saints Hills now have visitors’ centres where you can taste wines and buy bottles. The village of Potomje, just inland from Dingač, is full of small family wineries, many of which sell their produce from a small farmhouse shop or a summer-only roadside stall.
Set up in 2006 by Lee R. Anderson, an American entrepreneur who fell in love with the Croatian coast, Korta Katarina has quickly established itself as one of the highest-rated local wineries. Their current HQ occupies a newly opened building (part of which is earmarked as a luxury hotel) on the eastern outskirts of Orebić. The shop just inside the gate sells Korta Katarina’s Plavac (made from Dingač and Postup grapes), Rose, and highly popular white Pošip made with grapes from Korčula just over the water. You can also book a tour round the cellars, followed by a tasting session in the Neo-gothic function room. The Korta is planning to open a wine bar and bistro at this location, hopefully in time for summer 2014.
Founded by entrepreneur Ernest Tolj, the Saints Hills winery produces highly individual wines from a number of different localities, guided by an enterprising oenological team led by French specialist Michel Rolland. Saints Hills’ wonderful Dingač is aged in barrels for 18-24 months. Saints Hills’ Sveti Roko, a plavac made with grapes from vineyards at Komarna, just opposite Pelješac on the Dalmatian mainland, came fifth in Time Out’s ‘Battle of the Bottle’ annual wine-tasting weekend in 2013. They also make St Heels, a rosé made from the local Plavac mali; and the white Nevina, a blend of Malvazija and Chardonnay that originates from Saints Hills’ vineyards at Radovani in Istria. Saints Hills’ brand-new wine cellar and tasting centre stands on the edge of an ancient-looking hill village in the heart of the Pelješac peninsula. Concrete and wooden barrels fill several halls at the bottom of the bulding; while the tasting rooms and restaurant on the top floor offer wonderful views of the Pelješac countryside. Visitors can choose between a standard tour of the cellars followed by a glass of wine; a tour followed by a tasting session accompanied by tapas-style nibbles; or a 5-course dinner in the winery’s restaurant, each course accompanied by an appropriate wine.
Beside Pelješac's main road, at the heart of local wine scene, just after Potomje towards Orebić, is Wine Bar and Shop Peninsula. Over 60 wines from Pelješac and Korčula, hard to find elsewhere, makes the effort to get there worthwhile. Aside from famed Plavac reds and Pošip whites from little boutique wineries and available by the glass, you can pre-order some great fish or meat, prepared on an open fire behind the bar. Friendly service and reasonable prices.
One of the first of the Pelješac winemakers to carve out an international reputation, Frano Miloš started straight after the collapse of communism by buying up land from the state wineries, going on to develop his delicious ‘Stagnum’ range of wines. These are mostly dry reds made from the local Plavac mali grape, although Miloš also produces a refreshing rosé. Miloš’s sunlit tasting room, built into a rocky mountainside, is the perfect place to spend a laid-back afternoon.