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The next Tuscany?

The rolling hills of Brda in Slovenia are covered with vines, villas and olive trees.

Brda’s history of being passed from one empire to another led its winemakers to develop a taste for different types of wines than those made in other parts of Slovenia and Yugoslavia. But a natural disaster put the region’s farmers on the path to becoming boutique producers with their own style and flare, making small batches behind bright, cheery villas.

“In 1976, there was an earthquake and a lot of small houses were destroyed,” Gomiscek said. “Everyone got a new house with little garage boxes. Everyone started to make wines.” When Yugoslavia broke apart in 1991, and Slovenia relatively peacefully became an independent nation, the winemakers could suddenly get bottles and corks. “Then all this started to change. We realized our wine from Brda has a style that suits the international palate.”

Now, Gomiscek said, “they start to work in the cellar when they are able to walk. You can have technological knowledge, but normally it is not enough. You must have a heart for the wine.” In addition to heart, or whatever it is that created the delicious and diverse wines on offer in the Dobrovo Vinoteka, “equally important is making a story,” said Dimitrij Piciga, general director of the Slovenian Tourist Board. Pressing into my hands a copy of “Wines of Slovenia,” a sleek pocket guide, he said that cuisine and wine is an easy way to promote the small country as a whole. Slovenians like to say that they “eat like Italians, work like the Germans and enjoy life like Slovenians.”

But it would not suit Brda’s winemakers to create a singular style, aping the Italian wines just over the border. The region is so small, in the end, that supplying big chain supermarkets is out of the question. Instead winemakers aim to supply restaurants and attract tourists.

So Gomiscek doesn’t resent the comparison to Tuscany: “You know, everywhere there is a ‘Venice.’ Maybe Tuscany was the first area east of France to define wine tourism. Now [Germans and Austrians] say they have Tuscany so close to their doors.”

And about those olive trees — they are not just a strategic ploy to play up Brda’s Italianate atmosphere. Back in 1929, the region was filled with olive trees. During the Great Depression, they were cut down for fuel. With newfound wealth and a growing wine economy, the olive trees are growing again.