Meet the Award-Winning Croatian Producer Who Sea-Ages His Olive Oil

Winemakers have been aging their wines under the sea for years. Denis Plastić decided to try it with olive oil and the first results are promising

Denis Plastić
Mar. 3, 2022
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Denis Plastić

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Maturing and aging wines in the sea is noth­ing new. Underwater wine cel­lars have been spread­ing world­wide for the last 10 years and are no longer a nov­elty.

However, aging extra vir­gin olive oil under­wa­ter is new. After being pro­duced on land, the oil is aged for six months in the sea.

My sea oil has not lost any­thing even after 14 months. Neither in struc­ture nor taste. It retained its fruiti­ness and spici­ness as if it had been processed yes­ter­day.- Denis Plastić, wine­maker and olive oil pro­ducer

If the seabed suits the wine, it won’t bother the oil either,” thought Denis Plastić, an award-win­ning Croatian wine­maker and olive oil pro­ducer.

He decided on the exper­i­ment, the first of its kind in Croatia (and pos­si­bly in the world) because he knew dark­ness and the appro­pri­ate tem­per­a­ture help pre­serve extra vir­gin olive oil. Coral Wine, an under­wa­ter wine cel­lar in the Adriatic Sea near Plastić’s olive grove, had all these ben­e­fits.

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Marko Dušević, the owner of the Adriatic Shell Company, designed the cel­lar 10 years ago. He also owns a mus­sel and oys­ter farm near the island of Pag, known for its salt pans, wines and sheep cheeses.

It may also become famous for its olive oil from the sea,” Plastić added with a char­ac­ter­is­tic smile.

Plastić has been aging his wines for 10 years under the sea. Coral Wine pro­vides aging ser­vices to wine­mak­ers, and Plastić is the first to try it with olive oil.

In the under­wa­ter base­ment, between Pag and Vir, a small resort town on the main­land penin­sula, divers low­ered 120 of his half-liter bot­tles to a depth of 30 meters into one of the eight cages.

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The bot­tles are made of ceramic and painted black on the out­side. They con­tain oil from the Oblica, Coratina and Leccino vari­eties har­vested in 2020 at the time of opti­mal ripeness and processed the same day.

The oil is stored in stain­less steel con­tain­ers. After two over­flows, in late November and December, the oil was poured into the dark bot­tles in mid-January 2021.

These were under the sea for a full six months, exposed to the sea cur­rents, which carry algae and other marine organ­isms. They hold on to the bot­tles so that each one, cov­ered with sea scars” and var­i­ous over­growths, looks like a lit­tle mas­ter­piece of nature.

They look unique,” said Plastić, who was very sat­is­fied when the divers deliv­ered him aged bot­tles.

As soon as he arrived home in Nadin, about 50 kilo­me­ters south­east of Vir, Plastić eagerly tasted the con­tents of his nat­ural mas­ter­pieces.

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It has a good tex­ture, and addi­tional bit­ter­ness has devel­oped,” he said of his first impres­sion after tast­ing the oil. It is spicier than the same oil from the fam­ily cel­lar.”

The exper­i­men­t’s true pur­pose was to deter­mine whether immer­sion and aging in the sea would pro­long the shelf life of olive oil.

My sea oil has not lost any­thing even after 14 months,” Plastić claimed. Neither in struc­ture nor taste. It retained its fruiti­ness and spici­ness as if it had been processed yes­ter­day.”

His exper­i­ment aroused inter­est from the Institute of Public Health in Zadar, which includes a mod­ern lab­o­ra­tory for chem­i­cal analy­sis and a panel of cer­ti­fied olive oil tasters.

The exper­i­ment is inter­est­ing,” said Benito Pucar, a food tech­nol­o­gist and head of the health ecol­ogy and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion of the Zadar Public Health Institute.

We are ready to par­tic­i­pate by ana­lyz­ing the new oil from the last har­vest that will be aged in the sea for two, four and six months to deter­mine the max­i­mum esti­mated shelf life at sea,” he added.

At the same time, the researchers will ana­lyze the qual­ity of the same oil (after four, nine, 13 and 18 months) stored in the fam­ily cel­lar for an esti­mated shelf life of 18 months.

The com­par­a­tive analy­sis will best show whether aging in the sea affects the qual­ity of olive oil,” Pucar said.

The story of Plastić’s fam­ily farm began in 2012 when he started work­ing with Dolina Maslina and Bovan, local pro­duc­ers owned by his two broth­ers-in-law, Mirko Krtalić and Neven Klinac.

Together, they rented 100 hectares of karst land­scape that had been neglected and left uncul­ti­vated for years not far from Nadin, one of the most eco­log­i­cal places in Croatia.

A total of 33,000 olive trees were planted here in an ideal area for olive grow­ing and has hosted trees since the time of Liburnia and the Ancient Romans.

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Before plant­ing, the three invested enor­mous effort and energy in clear­ing old groves and mac­chia, extract­ing roots, dig­ging and plow­ing, remov­ing large stones and crush­ing the entire sur­face.

Only then was it pos­si­ble to plant olives accord­ing to a spe­cial plan and care­fully selected vari­eties. The major­ity are domes­tic Oblica, Istarska bjel­ica, Buža, Rožinjola and Lastovka olive, but they also grow the Italian vari­etals, Coratina, Leccino, Pendolino, Cipressino and Ascolana.

We have selected vari­eties that are at the fore­front of the most impor­tant prop­er­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil – fruiti­ness, bit­ter­ness and spici­ness,” Plastić said.

The olive groves are at an alti­tude of 160 to 200 meters, where the sea and moun­tain air from Velebit mix. The days are warm, and the nights are cold, which affects the qual­ity and accu­mu­la­tion of dry mat­ter in the fruit.

Fresh air is con­stantly flow­ing. The grove receives the bora from the north, a cold and strong north­east­erly win­ter wind. The breeze is a mis­tral on the sea­side, a cold and dry northerly wind. Both of these sig­nif­i­cantly reduce the pos­si­bil­ity of attacks by dis­eases and pests.

We don’t have the Peacock Spot at all, which is a big prob­lem else­where,” Plastić said.

He and other olive grow­ers in the area rarely spray their olives. When they do, they use only the means allowed in organic agri­cul­ture.

From the begin­ning, our pro­duc­tion is based on the prin­ci­ples of unique olive oil: vir­gin soil, indige­nous vari­eties and organic agri­cul­ture,” said Valentin Krtalić, a young agron­o­mist who took over the man­age­ment of Dolina Maslina.

Fruits are picked by hand and processed using mod­ern cold pro­cess­ing tech­nol­ogy. The oil is stored in stain­less steel tanks and poured into dark ceramic half-liter bot­tles.

The most impor­tant thing is that the prod­uct is ok,” Plastić said. We have feed­back, and none of the cus­tomers has any neg­a­tive objec­tions.”

2Storije, his Oblica, Leccino and Coratina blend, has been awarded at var­i­ous com­pe­ti­tions, includ­ing the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, where it received a Gold Award.

Being the best at the largest, most pres­ti­gious olive oil com­pe­ti­tion in the world is the dream of every pro­ducer,” Plastić said. Dolina Maslina also earned a Gold Award for its Istrian Bjelica mono­va­ri­etal.

Plastić and his fam­ily are also hop­ing for suc­cess this year since the oil from the last har­vest is also excel­lent.

Maybe bet­ter than last year,” Plastić said.

He is proud that he and other fam­ily mem­bers are the founders of a coop­er­a­tive. In the groves, they join forces and learn from each other. Clean bill, long love” is the Dalmatian ethos of work­ing together.

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Neven Klinac, Valentin Krtalić and Denis Plastić

Their exam­ple is also encour­ag­ing oth­ers to engage in olive grow­ing. A new plan­ta­tion was built on 30 hectares of a sep­a­rate fam­ily grove. It was incor­po­rated as part of Dolina Maslina, bring­ing together seven fam­i­lies of vet­er­ans of the Croatian War of Independence.

OPG Plastić, Dolina Maslina, Bovan and Veterans com­prise about 50 fam­ily mem­bers, includ­ing 35 chil­dren.

Some chil­dren of the com­pa­nies’ founders have already grown up and become agron­o­mists and other pro­fes­sion­als, but all of them are con­nected by olives.

Our mis­sion is to pro­duce top-qual­ity, eco­log­i­cal, autochtho­nous olive oil that we cre­ate accord­ing to the mil­len­nial Croatian tra­di­tion,” Valentin said.

All that remains is for the exper­i­ment to suc­ceed so that the liq­uid gold from Nadin, aged in the Adriatic Sea and dec­o­rated with coral, gets into the hands of dis­cern­ing con­sumers.


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