The production of wine on the Croatian Danube banks is mentioned for the first time in the 3rd century, during the time of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus. The fertile soil on the hills along the Danube has been giving recognizable and authentic wines since ancient times.
The European region at the border of Croatia and Hungary was named for viticulture and wine which has been produced by the locals since centuries. The originally Hungarian word Baranya means 'the mother of wine'. In Croatia the area features the Baranya wine country and in Hungary the well known Villany wine country.
The combination of loess (a yellow, porous sediment deposited by Danube winds) and chernozem, rich black soil deposited by the waters of the Danube on its banks, provides favorable conditions for grapevine growing. Loess provides the vines with minerals, while the black soil abounds in nutrients for their growth and development.
The foundations of Belje were laid by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was awarded with the estate between the Danube and Drava rivers for his great victory over the Turks at Zenta in 1697. At Belje he built a castle and unified 19 surrounding villages into an agricultural estate where he developed crop husbandry and livestock breeding and in the village of Kneževi Vinogradi, where there already were large wine cellars, he built an irrigation system and planted grapevine. Only the best was good enough for him and his vision is being followed today by Vina Belje.
Along with the diligent hands of the locals, the good positions of the 650 hectares of vineyards and the favorable climate, the south facing, gentle slopes of Banovo brdo protect the grapevines from strong gusts of northern winds and provide for proper insolation of each bunch of grapes.
The harvest is the peak of the working season in any vineyard, reflecting the hard work the winegrowers have exerted throughout the year, as it is the vineyard where the winemaking process starts. Most of the vineyards at Belje are harvested by hand, to select only ripe grapes, ready to be picked. Knowledge, experience and speed play an important role here, as grapes are picked at optimum ripeness.
Located in the heart of the vineyards, at the slope of Banovo brdo, the new Vina Belje winery boasts state-of-the-art technological achievements in wine production. The entire complex spreads on more than 10,000 sqm and comprises the wine pavillion and the winery, which can be visited as part of an organized tour.
The tourist visit to Vina Belje is best started in the vineyard. The belvedere at the Banovo brdo hill is surrounded by millions of grapevines and the right place to take a break and enjoy the view of the fruitful vineyards and the Croatian Danube valley. The professionally guided tour of the winery shows how hand picking meets state-of-the-art technology and presents the process of how Vina Belje were created, while the visit to the old cellars features a walk among oak barrels, tasting wine and the traditional specialties of Baranya.
The old cellars are Baranya's largest gator (wine cellar typical of the Danube Basin), first mentioned in 1526 in the descriptions of the Battle of Mohács. It spreads across three floors on an area that totals 1,200 sqm with wooden barrels made of Slavonian oak from the forests of Spačva. The cellars boast a rich wine archive with more than 20,000 representative samples and the oldest wine dating back to 1949. The cellars also feature a wine store and a wine tasting room for wines and traditional cured meat products from Baranya.
Among numerous global awards and recognitions for Belje's wines those particularly worth to be singled out are Decanter's Gold Medal and Regional Trophy 2010 for premium Merlot of the 2008 harvest and Decanter's Gold Medal and Regional Trophy 2014 for Goldberg Graševina from the 2006 harvest as well as numerous gold medals from the Mundus vini competitions for premium Graševina and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many wine experts agree that awards from these competitions are a reliable confirmation of the exceptional quality of the wines.
An important quality confirmation are also the Decanter and Mundus Vini Silver Medals for quality Graševina from the Select line, Belje's best selling wine which can be found in retail at the price of around HRK 30, and distinguished assessors awarded them more than 85 points for quality at both of these major competitions.
Graševina is the most widely spread wine sort in Croatia and on a global scale it is ranked 15 in terms of overall presence. This is a white wine sort typical of Central Europe and wine experts all over the world believe it originates from the Danube basin. Here, in the eastern part of Croatia, Graševina has found the ideal conditions for growth and has become naturalized to the extent that in Slavonia, Baranya and the Croatian Danube valley they consider it to be their cultivar. Graševina is a sort that provides numerous and various types of wine, from fresh and aromatic simpler wines to structured and exceptional predicate wines of the late harvest or ice wines. Graševina's recognizable features are its acids and the slight almondy bitterness.
A special winegrowing position at the very top of Banovo brdo provides the best grapes that Baranya can offer. This position is Zlatno brdo, Golden Hill, named Aureus Mons as far back as in the times of ancient Rome and called Goldberg today, according to the German version of the name. Graševina, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Goldberg vineyard provide wines for special occasions, wines to dream of, wines worthy of a Prince.