Wine, woman and … basement

8 December 2021.

Written by Matija Čaić

Kutjevo is a small town located on the southern slopes of the Papuk Mountain in Slavonian region. It is squeezed between the two hills, so, as though they did not allow it to expand, it remained among the smallest towns in Croatia, with just over 6,000 inhabitants. From such position in the “corner” derives the name Kutjevo which can be roughly translated as “corner city”.

Kutjevo wine tradition

Thanks to its position and orientation towards the south, and very fertile Slavonian soil, Kutjevo region became the largest Croatian wine producer. Only the company that owns the Kutjevo castle and its basements produces 5 – 6 million liters per year, mostly Kutjevo Riesling, which is exported to all continents except Antarctica. Obviously it is so cold there that it is still necessary to drink something stronger than wine.

Kutjevo wine tradition dates back to 1232 when the missionaries from Cistercian order came here and built an abbey with wine cellars. Meanwhile, the abbey was demolished and for unknown reasons abandoned. In 1735 the castle was built on its place, although abbey’s remains can still be seen as part of the castle.

croatia, travel, tourism, wine, castle, slavonija, basement, wine basement, baron, empress
Kutjevo castle. Author: Wikimedia Commons, Dalibor Ribičić

This complex now consists also of a large square courtyard and church, so a visitor has a lot to visit beside cellars.

Baron and empress

Franjo Trenk was an Austrian baron, a soldier and a generally peculiar figure who loved Croatia and this part around Požega after having studied and lived a good part of his life there. He often spoke for himself: “Ich bin Slawoner.” Or in English: “I am a Slavonian.”

On one occasion in 1741, the Austrian empress Mary Therese, who was equally famous for her reforms for advancing the monarchy and the insatiable libido, traveled from Vienna to Osijek and, having heard that he had a large basement of fine wine, decided to visit her friend Trenk.

Empress’ first duty is to look after the quality of the empire, including the wines produced in it, and she allowed the baron to walk her through the basements and to offer her this excellent riesling for tasting.

Empress did not know, or knew too well, that Kutjevo wine had a strong aphrodisiac properties.

Starting to try one by one barrel, and there were lots of them, it turned out that the Baron and Empress at one point drove the servants, told them to leave them alone and locked themselves in the basement. Fortunately, the Austrians are very meticulous people who like to keep statistics and complete documentation about everything. So the two of them, each time they threw themselves to each other trying to quench the passion enflamed by the wine, drew a dash on the basement wall.

For seven days they were closed only occasionally opening the door to their servants who brought them food and treats. They came out probably because the temperature in the basement was far above the optimum, and the wine would spoil, and they could not allow it.

As a permanent seal of the love marathon, there were seventy dashes carved into the wall and a print of a empress’ behind embedded in a stone table that began to melt from the heat of passion. When they got out, empress quickly gathered her servants and without saying goodbye continued her trip to Osijek.

Basement today

I do not know if today’s tourist offer in Kutjevo consists of the repeating of 1741 venture, but it is certain that the basements with its secrets are still there, and the wine is even better and more varied. Those who want to try their luck can put their palms at the place where empress melted the stone plate and make a love wish that will be granted sooner or later.

Those who are happy with their love life can explore the dark and coweb-covered corners in search for a perfect bottle of wine, or by tasting it directly from oak barrels. The largest one has volume of 53 520 liters. This barrel was made by special craftsmen and assembled on the spot as it could not go through the cellar door because of its size. It is decorated with carvings showing details of work in the vineyard, and is protected and impregnated with flaxseed oil.

The wine cellar, along with the complex of the palace above it, is definitely something you should visit if you are traveling near Kutjevo, and after having a few glasses of favorite drinks you can relax by the green hills and forests of Papuk Nature Park.

Background picture: Wikimedia Commons, Donatus Darko Tepert

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