Mikulic brings wine, faith from Croatia to Colerain Township
By Steve Trosley
The Catholic Telegraph
What do devotion to the Blessed Mother, the fuel pump in the B-1 bomber, and a popular Colerain Township winery have in common?
The answer is Kreso Mikulic, age 79, native of the Medjugorje region of Bosnia, patent holder of the B-1 fuel pump and owner and master vintner at Vinoklet Winery. Mikulic, an ethnic Croatian, has imported white and red wines made by Podrumi Andrej in Medjugorje and labeled with a portrait of the Blessed Mother, whom local tradition holds appears there annually since 1981. (The Vatican has not approved the apparition as genuine.) The Bishop of Mostar blesses both the vineyards and the final product.
Mikulic has deep spiritual and familial ties to the region. He recounts that his mother and friends stormed heaven with prayers when the post World War II Communist government of Josip Broz Tito imprisoned his brother for the crime of fighting with the Croatian Army.
“I remember my mother teaches us the prayers and we say them all the time. She put a small stone with a sharp edge under my knee when I pray, so I would understand suffering,” he recalled.
“But let me tell you about a miracle, or it seems like a miracle to me,” he said excitedly.
This veteran spinner of yarns launched into the story of 2,000 rosaries that he purchased in Medjugorje to decorate the bottles of wine he was bringing back from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Mikulic has made some arrangements to fly out of Croatia from its capital city, Zagreb. This involved traveling from Medjugorje to Split, and then taking a bus to Zagreb. He boarded one bus and put his luggage, including the rosaries, on board. He went into the terminal for a bit and returned and boarded a bus, but when it arrived in Zagreb, it was not the bus with his luggage.
Frantic and saying prayers his mother had taught him, he went searching the long line of buses in the terminal until he found the one with his luggage. There he learned that the first bus had taken a vastly different route and made numerous stops.
Somehow, the bus carrying him and the one carrying his luggage arrived in the same place at almost the same time. Mikulic said he asked a fellow traveler, a priest, if it was a miracle, “and he said, ‘accident or miracle, it seems like your prayers were answered.’”
His prayers for his brother were not answered when the family learned in 1948 that he had been executed by a firing squad. Mikulic, who apprenticed as a carpenter in his teens, would complete his studies at the University of Zagreb and become an electrical engineer. He worked his way to Canada and with a briefcase full of patents (the B-1 bomber fuel pump and hydraulic systems for the Army’s Blackhawk helicopters among them) he joined into a partnership in Chicago. When that business failed, he found a job in Cincinnati. “I knew nothing about it. I thought it was a village.”
He found a small farm in Colerain Township in 1980. “The lady who sells tells me half the work is God’s, the other half is mine,” he recalled. “I looked at all of the woods and weeds and told her God had been much busier than she had been.”
His father had owned a small winery in Croatia and, as he toured the acres of carefully cultivated wines, he explains he has studied the art of winemaking with the same diligence as he studied electrical engineering. “What you call a successful hobby?” he asked quickly hitting the punch line: “A business.”
“Everything here I build,” he said pointing out the three ponds, buildings supported by reclaimed hand hewn timbers and gently sloping vineyards that were once deep ravines that he leveled with “17,000 truckloads of dirt, 40 tons each truck.”
“We have the prettiest sunsets here you’ve ever seen,” he said pointing to the west and acknowledging, “Yes, you can see all the way to Indiana.”
Guests will find him eager to offer a compliment, “Why not, it costs you nothing and it makes people feel good,” and a well rehearsed, self-censored joke. His hearty voice comes with a joke about his bomber-wingspan sized mustache, but don’t worry about him interrupting your meal; he rarely stays in one spot very long.
He has won awards (Best Ohio White Wine 2012) and his successful restaurant hosts a number of regular events and private parties. His annual Arts and Wine festival will attract hundreds to the site Sept. 7-8.
And this year, he will also offer the special wines of Medjugorje, each with a “miracle” rosary around its glass neck.
For more information, see www.vinkoletwines.com.