I was put in contact with Bruno Trapan. He is the winemaker and owner of Trapan Winery just outside the city of Pula. That’s where the adventure began….
Looking back on my life, it should not be a surprise that I fell in love with wine. Wine was always around growing up because of my family, and living in Italy for four years sure didn’t hurt.
Yet, I did not become passionate about wine until I moved back to California. All the pieces suddenly fell together, and I wanted to learn how to appreciate the drink of the gods. I subsequently spent two years in California working in the wine industry, solely on the service side.
However, while working at a tasting room in the heart of Wine Country, I was exposed to the production side of wine. If I wanted to learn about wine, I needed to start from the beginning, and that’s out in the vineyards.
Working harvest became a dream of mine; I didn’t care where. I just wanted to work. As my girlfriend, Ashley, and I were planning our round-the-world trip, and I realized that we would be in Europe for harvest. My mind flitted through images of French chateaus and Italian villas.
What an experience that would be, working in the most famous vineyards in the world. Yet, when it came down to decide where I wanted to work, I didn’t choose the chateaus or the villas. I chose the underdog, Croatia.
I was killing two birds with one stone; I was expanding my knowledge of wine from around the world while fulfilling my dream of working a harvest. My mind was made up; I was going to work a harvest in Croatia and learn as much as I could about Croatian wine.
Through friends of ours in Zagreb, I was put in contact with a man named Bruno Trapan. He is the winemaker and owner of Trapan Winery just outside the city of Pula. Pula is situated at the southernmost tip of the Croatian region of Istria, and there are so many great things to do in Pula.
Four months into our trip, we found ourselves in Pula, and I decided to head out and meet with Bruno in person and talk about acquiring a job at his winery.
It was a friendly and informal meeting with a few glasses of Croatian wine, and next thing you know, Ash and I were moving into his guest apartment for the month as payment for my work at the winery.
It’s a strange situation when working in a foreign country, especially if the people you work with don’t speak your language. Being an outsider in a new culture can be alienating, but when you can’t understand the language at all, it can become isolating.
I was intimidated about what I was going to do. I had reached my dream of working harvest, but I was scared. It’s like your first day at a new school, but with the added pressure of not knowing how to communicate with anybody. I had to jump in feet first and what I found was a family that was welcoming and more than willing to show me the ropes of harvest.
My first day out in the vineyards started with the younger kids who took me under their wing as I did not know anyone. I helped them put out red crates along the rows, and we chatted, with me getting to know them.
It was a huge relief meeting these kids, and the alienation started to disappear. After we had finished, it was time for a quick breakfast with tea, coffee, water, homemade rakija – a grape spirit that can catch you off guard, and homemade pastries out in the vineyards. I watched as family and friends gathered around the food to catch up and, of course, to eat.
I stood by my new friends and just listened to their conversations while observing their interactions. I had no idea what was going on, but I was happy that I was being included. After our stomachs were full and the bellies warmed by the coffee and rakija, it was off to work.
I spent the morning picking grapes with them, getting to know them, and learning a little about the ups and downs of Istrian life. Conversations could be heard throughout the vines as groups of workers collected the grapes.
Every person was working whether they were 20 or 80 but with no haste or stress. It was a family affair, casual and enjoyable; it did not feel like work but more of something to do to pass the hours before lunch.
Lunch was the best part of the day; throughout harvest, it was always homemade, always fresh, and always delicious. I was led up to the table, where I was served polenta, wild boar, sauerkraut, and bread. The lunch was fantastic, the meat tender and the polenta perfectly cooked along with bread to soak up all the juices.
Of course, the meal came with wine and plenty of it. I have to say that Croatian food is simply incredible. People sat and drank just as much as they ate, and can I just say the Bruno Trapan makes exceptional Croatian wine. It was an excellent way to forget about the tiredness the morning’s work had brought. I sat with my group and found myself just listening and observing all the people’s interactions gathered around with plates of food.
My new friends passed the time, making plans for the weekends and joking around with each other. (Girls always seemed to be a favorite topic) The older generation would break out in joyous songs to keep the energy high and positive every now and then. Even though I had no idea what anybody was saying, I still found myself laughing along and feeling more and more like I belonged.
The day ended with a culmination of the days picking and loading all the grapes onto a tractor and then into a big truck. That is when the work became an endurance test, as each crate was around 40 pounds. Lifting and stacking crates on top of each other left me worn and drained with the warm fall sun beating down on me. As we worked putting the crates onto the tractor, the guys began to show off how strong they were and how fast and hard they could work. It was a competition indeed, but they always kept it light and playful.
The work was hard, but the company I was with made it enjoyable. I’m a wine geek so being out in the actual vineyards where the grapes come from helped me learn more about wine.
The most important thing I learned, though, is that it is not easy work, and it takes a group effort to get all the grapes off the vines and off to the winery. Even with the lack of communication, I felt like I was becoming a part of the family and actually started to understand the Croatian culture that takes place around the vines.
While I remember the hard work, it isn’t what I’ll remember best. I remember the people I worked without in the vineyards and in the cellar; I remember the great food and wine that was being served throughout the day. I remember joking and laughing even though I only understood a third of what was being said, and I remember going home after a 12 hour day with my body beat up but ready to get back at it the next day. It became a part of my life, apart of my identity whether I was out in the vineyards or helping in the cellar. I was becoming Croatian, learning about the struggles the young kids have finding jobs and making a living. This was a working holiday for me, but this was their life.
This is an experience I’m never going to have again. Yes, I could work harvest again just about anywhere, but it will not be the same. The work will stay the same, but the community of people I got to know won’t be. The songs will be different; the humorous speeches to rally the troops to work will be different. Croatian culture is unique, and the region of Istria has a spirit to it that is unique all on its own. I feel lucky that this family allowed me to be apart of it.
I’ll always remember those vineyards with the warm sun shining on my face as I worked. I will always remember the freedom that I felt to be outside working the land and what it felt like to put in a good honest hard day’s work. I will remember the people the most, their smiles, their laughter, and their perspective on life.
Life is not always easy, and money is not always there, but every year the grapes, the vineyards, the home-cooked meals, and the wine will be there to bring them together, and I was lucky enough to be apart of it.
How Do You Get To Bruno Trapan Winery
Trapan Winery is located just outside of Pula in a small town by the name of Šišan. It will cost you about a 27 euro taxi ride from Pula to reach the winery if you do not have a car. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm for tasting.
You can call and make a reservation or just stop on by; I recommend calling first. For around 11 euro, you get to taste five of their wines. The wine is fantastic, the staff is knowledgeable, and worth a trip out there. If you can’t make it out to the winery, you can always try some of Trapan’s wine at Bijela wine bar in downtown Pula on Kandlerova Street.
Address: Giordano Dobran 63, Šišan, Istarska, Croatia | P +385 98 244 457 | Website
What do you dream about doing? Have you ever been to Trapan Winery?