Meneghetti Wine Hotel & Winery is located in Istria, a peninsula on the Adriatic in Croatia regarded as the world’s best olive-growing region and famed for having produced oil for Roman Emperors. As well as making wine, the hotel grows olives: every October marks the start of the annual harvest.
In the fourteenth edition of Flos Olei, an international guide to olive oil producers, some 56 Istrian olive oil producers have been included among 500 farms of excellence from across five continents. The simple fact that this small region can command more than ten per cent of the content in the 2023 edition of this well-respected publication speaks volumes about the quality of olives that emanates from its sunny climes. The Meneghetti’s groves are counted among this special list.
A symbol of strength, peace, loyalty and fidelity, olive oil seems always to have been treated with great respect. There are countless legends, stories and anecdotes related to what might be called the Queen of the Mediterranean: olive oil is mentioned regularly in the Bible; the winners at the Olympics were crowned with olive wreaths; its unifying qualities can be seen emblazoned on the flag of the United Nations.
Thanks to Greek colonies and the Roman Empire, olive trees found their place in Istria, whose landscapes are covered with the trees’ signature silver-green leaves. Since ancient times, olive oil from this so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ has been considered the best from across the entire Mediterranean – as such, it was destined for the tables of the Roman Emperor himself. To be held in such high esteem has ensured the inhabitants of Istria have passed their passions and knowledge about olive oil production to future generations.
In mid-October, the Istrian peninsula visibly relaxes after the crowded summer months. As the nights grow colder, and fog hides the morning sun, the vegetation changes to autumnal colors. The grape harvest is over, and hardworking winemakers now complete their work in wine cellars. But in the olive groves, like the one at the Meneghetti, near the town of Bale, workers toil all-year long, pruning, hoeing, and watering in dry years – continuing a tradition that stretches back to the mid-19th century when Mr Meneghetti supplied officers and soldiers of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy with oil and wine.
Growing olives culminates in the harvest, the exact timing of which is dictated by the taste of oil from first-pressed fruits: based on expert analysis of the olives’ ripeness, a multi-day harvest is then carefully planned. Broadly, olive picking across Istria begins each year in October. A comparatively early start preserves the best and healthiest ingredients – the polyphenols (antioxidants) and aromatics.
The hotel's cultivates four varieties: leccino (the most widespread variety in the world – dark green, full of flavour, and with a fruity scent) and three indigenous varieties, comprising buza (oil with a very fruity character), rosulja or rošinjola (boasting an intense aroma, a distinct but moderate piquancy and bitterness) and bjelica or bianchera (characterized by the scent of freshly mown grass). The collection ranges through a spectrum of color, from green through to reddish-brown and dark brown hues. (The hotel also bottles oil blended from a selection of the most widespread varieties in Istria, under a special label, Izbor.)
Olives are picked by hand or using special combs to separate the fruits from the branches. A net spread under the trees catches falling fruits, ensuring the quality by causing minimal damage. The olives are taken straight from the groves to a cooling chamber to rest.
That same evening, they are processed in a nearby olive mill with the latest technology. The reward? A green-yellow cascade of olive oil of the most intense taste and smell: a precious, gourmet delight. The whole process is then repeated the next day.
The hotel’s restaurant offers finessed cuisine made with all-local ingredients. As well as tasting oil on its own, or comparatively, pairing oils with dishes is a delicious adventure: leccino for fresh cheeses and salads; rosulja when light meat is on the grill; bjelica to accompany red meat. Connoisseurs even extend pairings to desserts and ice creams. In all these combinations, and more, there is something to suit every guest's taste.
For a fully rounded gastronomic experience, Meneghetti also produces its own wine. A renovated wine cellar consists of tasting rooms alongside a wine archive. Local malvasia grapes and international varieties such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and white pinot are planted in the hotel’s vineyards. Bottlings extend to fourteen labels, including sparkling wine and brandy, though the most celebrated are Meneghetti Red and Meneghetti White.
The hotel’s rooms, suites, villas and residences all benefit from views of its beautiful olive groves, vineyards or plantings of aromatic herbs – guests are free to walk among it all. When doing so, remember this is not just any olive grove, it is among the world's best.