Overlooking the vineyards of Goriška Brda stands a modest but elegant castle called Gredič, the story of which is key to the transformation of these villages from an impoverished backwater to one of the world’s most prized wine centers.
Goriška Brda is a cluster of 45 villages spread over 72 square kilometers (28 square miles). The region has a special terroir known as opoka in Slovenian or flysch in English, that carries over across the modern border with Italy into the Italian region of Collio. This was a single region from ancient Rome through the Second World War, when a border was inserted in the middle of the once-unified area. The feeling of unification is still so great that Goriška Brda and Collio have a cross-border initiation for a designation of origin status for their wine (DOC)—the first such case in the history of the EU.
What makes the soil great is the double-whammy of this having once been beneath a prehistoric ocean (resulting in the high mineral content of the soil), and the terrain pocked with small hills. Organic material runs down those hills when it rains and so they are not very fertile, meaning that vines grow slowly and sparsely, but what does grow is packed with goodness and of the utmost quality, their fruit far better and more sophisticated (this is why the best terroirs are spartan, and rich soil, like in rainforests, does not produce good grapes for wine). The poor soil is counterbalanced by idyllic climate above-ground. Goriška Brda enjoys plenty of sun, freshness from the sea without interference from its salt-licked winds (it’s about 40 km to the Adriatic), and the cool air sweeping down from the Alps.
The most famous owner of Gredič was Count Silverji de Baguer. He was born in 1838 in Odessa, where his father, Jaime, was the Spanish consul. In 1872, he married Cecilia de Catterini-Erzberg, the sole child of an aristocratic family from Goriška Brda. Through her, he inherited several properties here, including Dobrovo Castle and Gredič.
De Baguer was a diplomat, working for many years as the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See in Vatican City. He introduced Brda wines to the papal cellars, and is credited with bringing wine cultivation to the region. De Baguer recognized the potent terroir long before anyone thought in terms of “terroir.” He planted the first vines in 1880, and his vineyards expanded to cover 315 hectares that produced some 1,200 hectoliters of wines per year. Of course, grapes were grown and wine was made in the region before De Baguer’s arrival, but he helped to develop it in a more organized way, at a grander scale, and implemented leading technologies and scientific advances of the time. During his lifetime, sweet wines were preferred in this area, and he helped develop a taste and fashion for dry wines aged in glass bottles. He was also an early oenophile who kept an extensive archive of wines and notes on cultivation and what he had tasted. He was an enthusiast for the local Rebula varietal (Ribolla Gialla in Italian), a hyperlocal, indigenous ancient white grape written about by Roman authors, Boccaccio and a favorite of Habsburg nobility, but which had fallen out of fashion.
Baguer was such an influential figure, the driving force in shifting Goriška Brda from a humble place where wine was made primarily for local consumption into a place associated with good wine. To honor his memory, Zvonimir Simčič, a local who was Yugoslavia’s leading wine expert in the mid-20th century and who founded Klet Brda, Yugoslavia’s largest winery (and still the largest and most prestigious today), named the high-end range of wines produced by Klet Brda Bagueri, as a nod to his most direct predecessor as godfather of viticulture in the region. Simčič’s family later purchased Gredič and turned it into a hotel and wine tasting center.
Gredič was first built in the 17th century as a rural retreat. “Gredič” means fortress, but the design of the current structure makes it clear that this was never meant for fighting. Relatively large original windows, angled rather than rounded corners, and only a single tower mean that it would not put up much of a fight if attacked, so the name likely refers to an earlier defensive structure that was later replaced by the current, more sophisticated manor house. The tower, however, may be a holdover of an earlier period—it is needle-thin, consisting only of a spiral staircase, and the staircase winds counterclockwise as you descend.
The year 1774 is carved into the Palladian-style chapel adjacent to Gredič, so this may have been the year that the building as it can be seen today was erected. Count de Baguer died in 1927, leaving his estate to his firstborn daughter, the evocatively named Elvira.
Other owners included the Codelli family, and so the building was referred to as Villa Codelli. The Codellis were a fascinating bunch, none more so than Baron Anton Codelli III (1875-1954). A captain in the Austro-Hungarian Army, he served as director of the Duchy of Carniola and a district captain of the Postojna region (halfway between the Adriatic Coast and Ljubljana). He was a polyglot and adventurer, traveling to China, India and Japan. He studied law after his military career, but his passion was inventing. He filed patents for early electric vehicles and designed motorboats, rotary engines, lawn mowers and much more. He was most enthusiastic about the fledgling automobile industry, and he drove the first car in Slovenia, a Benz Velo Comfortable (which was probably not all that comfortable), a proto-car that looks like a stagecoach on bicycle wheels, which he took from Vienna to Ljubljana in 1898.
Goriška Brda was once so poor that, in Yugoslav-era Monopoly boards, it was the cheapest property you could buy. It was thanks first to Count de Baguer, and then to Zvonimir Simčič, that it became a stronghold for white wine that is considered among the best in the world. Its viticulture and the stories of these two men are embodied by Gredič castle.
Know Before You Go
Gredic is now a luxury hotel and includes a fine dining restaurant, as well as a tasting room. You can visit in a forthcoming Atlas Obscura tour (Prosecco and Penina).