Home / Red Variety / Blatina / The unfamiliar story of Herzegovina’s Vinarija Škegro


With their innovative approach to winemaking, Škegro Family Winery is making a profound contribution to realising the full potential of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s indigenous varieties – Blatina, Trnjak, and Žilavka. The latter, in particular, could do for the country’s wine reputation what Malvazija has for Croatia and Grüner Veltliner for Austria.

The origins of Škegro Family Winery are familiar to many vineyards in Herzegovina, the south-western part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. ‘Wine stories here always start the same – there is some grandfather with vines’, Bariša Škegro explains. His grandfather, also named Bariša – who features prominently on the label of their Krš Orange, made in honour of the old-style of simple winemaking – had some 2,000 vines that he tended with affection. ‘Back in 1996. we purchased a stainless-steel barrel and became a winery’, he tells me with pride and nostalgia.

The subsequent evolution of Škegro is anything but familiar. Located in Ljubuški in western Herzegovina, near the spectacular Kravica waterfall, Škegro Family Winery today boasts some six hectares of vineyard. With the aid of grapes bought in from trusted neighbors, they produce approximately 20,000 liters a year. All their wines are produced from indigenous varieties – red grapes Blatina and Trnjak, white Žilavka – with a maximum of ten percent of other varieties (such as Grenache or Alicante Bouschet). Žilavka, in particular, has the potential to be for Bosnia and Herzegovina what Malvazija is for Croatia and Grüner Veltliner for Austria; a signature white variety that puts the country firmly on the international wine map.

Since their first serious vintage in 2009, Škegro has emerged as one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leading producers. ‘We are writing history right now. Hopefully, the next generation will reap all the good stuff’, Bariša says with contagious optimism. He speaks about the challenges of being a first-generation winemaker – building of a brand and investment in capital expenditure, in particular – especially given the substantial competition that exists in the world of wine.    

That was the same year they started collaborating with an ambitious young winemaker, employing ‘new and revolutionary steps for the region’, according to Bariša. They used cover crops to balance and fertilize the vineyards, abandoned the use of herbicides, and avoided constant tilling of the soil. After almost a decade, the vines have now reached ‘great natural balance, producing an amazing quality of grapes even without heavy irrigation and fertilization that almost every winemaker claims as necessary for the region’, emphasises Bariša.

‘We produce what we like to drink – we don’t think first about the market’, Bariša insists, adding how ‘winemaking is a hobby – we all have our day jobs’. Bariša travels some 500 kilometres weekly to tend to the vineyards, before returning to the office on Monday morning. It is a reality that currently ensures a comfortable degree of independence. ‘We don’t have to compromise’, boasts Bariša. He hopes it remains as such.  

Visitors to their vineyard describe their wines as ‘heroic’ due to the hilly terrain and need to do everything manually. The climate here can be severe. Last year they had fifteen days in a row of forty-one degrees Celsius. Fortunately, the two types of soils – deep fresh white silty marl and a warm red calcareous clay – are well suited to viticulture in such climes, giving opportunity to make fresh whites, as well as big opulent reds within difference of less than 500 meters. One plot located high above other vineyards in a windy south-east oriented natural stony amphitheater, where the risks of pests and infection are substantially lower, is likely to be dedicated to organic production in future.

The most unique and exciting part of their portfolio is a little known Trnjak, a grape I confess to be trying for the very first time. ‘Every vineyard in Herzegovina grows Trnjak’, Bariša explains, ‘as it is needed to fertilize flowers of our other significant red variety, the female Blatina’. Though every Blatina will contain some Trnjak, the latter was rarely if ever produced as a mono-variety until neighboring producer Nuić began experimenting back in 2012. Škegro quickly followed suit, planting a hectare of pure Trnjak and releasing their first vintage in 2016.

‘Blatina is gentle, fruity, elegant, with low tannins, but Trnjak is robust, with a big tannin structure and full body’, says Bariša. Their Carsus Trnjak is aged for one year in a mixture of 500 and 225 litre barrels from French and Hungarian oak. They still carefully test the extent to which Trnjak takes new oak and experiment with older barrels and different ageing time. There are plans to use untoasted larger oak barrels, which Bariša expects will give purer fruit flavors. The wine’s structure suggests considerable ageing potential.

Their orange wines, Krš Orange, have also aroused considerable intrigue, Bariša having been inspired by wines he encountered on his travels through Slovenia. Žilavka – Herzegovina’s signature white grape, renowned for its mouthfeel, is macerated for twenty days in open vats before being aged in neutral oak barrels for a year. They aim for ‘natural balance, purity of flavors and precision, and have released only selected vintages (2015, 2017, 2018, and 2020). The hands-off, traditional and therefore risky approach to making this wine meant that other vintages lacked such purity and balance.

Over time they have refined their approach to producing Krš Orange. Today they produce orange wine from two harvests. The first, smaller batch, is crushed before the rest of the grapes, just to produce a strong pied-de-cuve natural yeast starter, then added three days later to the whole just picked big new batch. Bariša explains how starting fermentation earlier means that all berries start fermenting by the second day after crushing, not like previously waiting sometimes for days and risking microbial spoilage and loosing purity of fruit.  

‘We don’t have a tradition of one hundred years’, Bariša points out, ‘but we are dedicated to exploring what elements are needed to unlock the potential of our terroir’. He is not averse to taking the hard way. This philosophy ensures that Škegro Family Winery is well on the way to bringing Blatina, Trnjak, and Žilavka to international prominence. 

Tasting highlights 

  1. Krš Bijeli Zilavka 2019 – 90 points – peach and blossom, with a slight nuttiness and hint of lime zest. Notable mouthfeel supported by refreshing acidity. Medium finish.
  2. Krš Orange Žilavka 2018 – 91 points – savoury and nutty notes, with pear and tangerine on the palate. Refined structure once the wine has time to open-up. A wine whose texture fascinates.
  3. Carsus Trnjak 2017 – 88 points – packed with red fruits (sour cherries, cranberries), with hints of white pepper. Silky tannins, with a medium finish. A relatively unknown grape with immense potential for creating expressive, complex wines. One to watch.
  4. Krs Crni Blatina 2018 – 89 points – blackcurrants and cranberry notes, with cloves some earthy characteristics. Easy tannins and acidity.

Ian Bancroft is a writer based in the Balkans.

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