"Watch where you walk, you sometimes find snakes among the stones," says our guide Miran.
"What sort of snakes?" I ask, not too fussed. For some reason European snakes never seem to induce the same dread that Asian snakes do.
"Oh, vipers usually," he replies, casually.
I look down at my flip-flopped feet - they look very bare and snake-bite-friendly next to the other two pairs of sneaker-clad feet next to me. Suddenly the thought of tramping through the gloriously green vineyards stretching towards the brightly lit Hercegovinian horizon seems less appealing and I teeter on the edge of the stony field, using my zoom lens a little more enthusiastically.
But the viper fears quickly fade as Miran points out the sights.
"Look at the two fields - the green grapes, Žilavka, grow in drier, stonier, whiter fields. The red grapes, Blatina, grow in less dry soil. Žilavka comes from the word "Zila" meaning roots because they need a strong root system to soak up the little water available in this region," he says.
I have heard an alternative theory about the name of the grapes - a variety that is indigenous to the south-western region of Hercegovina we are in. The word "zila" also means veins and some say the name refers to the thin, spidery veins one can see through the grape skin when they are ripe and ready to be plucked.
Either way, the yellowy-green grapes are bursting with flavour, a result of clawing their way up from the dry, limestoney ground. We break a few plump specimens and eat them - they are juicy and incredibly sweet.
"Most of the grapes grown here are Žilavka," adds Miran, gesturing us back into his car as we drive out of Plantaza Blizanci, a state-owned winery whose roots go back to the collective farming era of the former Yugoslavian nation.
Our journey to the wine country of Citluk from the picture-postcard town of Mostar takes us up winding hill roads. The view below of a patchwork of bright green vineyards is truly breathtaking - although the twisty road makes capturing it on a camera difficult as the fields disappear and reappear around bends.
Our next stop is the family-owned Andrija Cellars where we are taken around by the incredibly helpful vintner Martinovic Josip. Paintings of the original owner and his sons plaster the walls of the tasting room and kids are deftly fixing cork toppers to the bottles in an anteroom. "A good summer job," says Martinovic with a grin.
Outside, Martinovic proudly shows us the vineyard's newest addition - a branded touring bus kitted out with old barrels, tables and benches. "We wanted something to take visitors out right into the vineyards," says Martinovic.
Less chance of encountering any vipers, I think, so definitely a good idea :)
As we jump off the open bus, he points to a small white building in a neighbouring plot of land. "That's going to be a wine museum," he says.
The whole area seems to be gearing itself up towards creating a busier wine tourism industry, confidently building the infrastructure in expectation of the visitors to come.
But Miran says there's still lots more to be done and he is right. Driving through the region towards Mostar a few days ago I was excited to see several boards announcing the existence of a Hercegovinian Wine Route. But the reality is that there is still no easily bookable way to travel along the entire route. Individual travelers or groups of wine enthusiasts need to do much of the legwork themselves - emailing, booking and arranging one-off visits to various wineries in Citluk and neighbouring Trebinje and Medjugorje through local tour operators, like the one owned by Miran.
Although, it does mean you get an extremely personalised tour of the wineries - we have Andrija's vintner Martinovic exclusively to ourselves and he is very generous with the tasting session following the tour :)
First up is the winery's white Žilavka - which is served with cured meat and a dry cheese similar to the region's famous Livanjski sir from the town of Livno. The dry white is made from 90-95% Žilavka grapes and 5-10% Bena grapes which is another local Hercegovinian variety. It is delicate and soft - exactly how I like it and I am extremely disappointed to discover that the bottle I picked up at the winery got mistakenly left in London. The winery distributes its wine to 13 countries globally (unfortunately not Dubai or the UK) so I will probably have to keep my eye out for the wine in more obscure European countries.
Next is its red Blatina. A strongly red berry-flavoured wine made from local Blatina (85%), Trnjak - a local Dalmatian variety found close to the Hercegovinian-Croatian border (10%) and Allicante - a French variety used predominantly to add colour (5%). Medium bodied with a taste almost like jam, the wine went surprisingly well with the chorizo I enjoyed it with once back home. I am saving bottle number 2 for another spicy feast.
The jewel in the vineyard's crown is its Blatina Barrique - a well rounded barrel aged red made from 85% Blatina, 10% Cabernet and 5% Merlot. Having made a trip straight back to town from the vineyard toting our purchases, both the bar we stopped at for a drink and the restaurant we chose for dinner had the staff come up to us and congratulate us on our good choice of wine, so the Blatina Barrique definitely seems to have a happy local following.
Martinovic also generously let us taste the vineyard's grappa and a delicious sweet wine called Andrijana made from syrupy grape must. Sadly the vineyard was all out of the latter for commercial sale and was currently preparing its next batch. But that was definitely something I would happily have bought in bulk - sucker that I am for sweet wines :)
The tour of the vineyard was just another element that showed huge promise in this stunningly beautiful part of Eastern Europe - an area that was torn to shreds in a brutal Balkan wars of the 90s, yet has still managed to rise from the rubble and set itself back on the road to recovery.
All across Bosnia and Hercegovina, the wine was good and plenty, the vistas we spectacular and the people generally seemed keen to leave the past where it belonged and move ahead towards a brighter future.
I will happily drink to that!
We arranged the tour of Andrija Cellars through iHouse Mostar - a local travel agency whose Death of Yugoslavia tour is also definitely worth booking for anyone wanting to learn more about this country's complicated history (or simply for anyone wishing to visit a Soviet-era secret bunker!)
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