In the eyes of the outside world, devastating wars in small countries tend to overshadow all else. Croatia, thus, is best known for its part in the conflict that destroyed the former Yugoslavia. But Croatian history did not begin in 1991. The country's cultural traditions date from at least the first Croatian kings, over 1,000 years ago, and produced, along the way, the cravat, the pen, Marco Polo--and Zinfandel. Croatians were making wine long before they were known as Croatians; Plavac Mali, which some believe is Zinfandel's direct ancestor, dates from Roman times.
Now this long tradition of winemaking is being given new life. In late July, members of an organization called Roots of Peace, working with the United Nations and the Croatian Mine Action Center, will travel to Croatia to remove land mines from one village and replace them with grapevines and wheat. This will be the group's third mines-to-vines mission in the country; earlier demining efforts were carried out in Dragalic and the neighboring Serb and Croat villages of Ciste Male and Ciste Velika.
Nobody knows how many land mines are still buried in Croatia, but estimates range as high as 3 million. Demining is an expensive (and, obviously, dangerous) process: Removing a single mine costs roughly $1,000. To fund their projects, Roots of Peace has enlisted a number of California vintners, including Robert Mondavi, Judy Jordan and Croatian-born Mike Grgich, as well as some corporate, nonprofit and federal sponsors. (This fall, Smith & Wollensky restaurants in seven cities will hold a series of $175-a-plate wine-tasting dinners to benefit Roots of Peace; for information call 800-638-6449, ext. 51.)
Since active minefields exist in former battle zones all over the world, Roots of Peace plans to take its work to other areas where, as in Croatia, people in need of massive economic rebuilding cannot even trust the land they stand on. The group hopes to plant rice in Cambodia and fig trees in Lebanon. And in Croatia, it has begun to replace the bitter harvest of war with the land's rightful crops.