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And Again the Vines Bore Fruit
by Polona Preseren

It all begins at a celebratory feast, which is marked by a drop of vintage wine. And so it was in times past, when, especially on feast days, tables were laden with delights and dishes were always accompanied by excellent wines from Slovenian wine-growing regions. Especially cherished was the wine on Martinovo (Martinmas), when must turns to wine. As Martinovo approaches, which is on 11th November, the must turns to wine, which has long been a reason for joy, and so it has remained to this very day.

Furthermore, the new wine has to be tasted and on this festive day; many Slovenes set off on trips around wine-growing regions, where they taste local wines in traditional wine cellars. Slovenes celebrate Martinovo at the weekend, and if the 11th happens to be in the middle of the week, we celebrate it twice. Usually, we serve the traditional goose with flat cakes and red cabbage. As tradition goes, on this day the table must be amply full, with goose or turkey or other poultry with red cabbage on the menu. This feast day has its roots in the pagan past, when farmers gave thanks for their harvest, whereas in feudal times, it coincided with the settling of the debt with the feudal lords. Thus, as in the past, celebrating Martinovo remains a very popular tradition, especially in Slovenian wine-growing regions. It is a day when we pay homage to our wines.

On other days in the year, however, all the luxury of delight can be perceived on the many wine roads and in traditional inns. The inn is the heart of the Slovenian catering industry. The former must offer at least three meals, characteristic of its region, besides its drinks. They are commonly family- owned, and keep to tradition in their design as well as in what they have to offer, while they keep to the principles of healthy eating in their food preparations. The culinary menu is complemented by excellent Slovenian wines, especially in wine-growing regions. Characteristic of every inn and its homeliness is its pristine hospitality - this is another reason the guests keep coming back!


The Slovenian poet France Prešeren, author of the national anthem Zdravljica, begins his poem citing "Friends, sweet wine our vines have yielded, reviving our veins, lightening our hearts and eyes…". Whoever likes Slovenia also loves its vineyards, which stretch out across the landscape, and also stretch out across the price range of the wines. Wine-growing has a long tradition, as the vine has been grown here since antiquity, although it temporarily faded away after the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was resurrected in the time of Franconian rule in the 8th century. In the middle ages, its growth was limited due to Turkish invasions and peasant uprisings, although with major reforms and the development of the growing techniques, the wine-growing industry was brought back to life.

In the middle of the 19th century, Slovenian wine-growing was threatened by vine diseases, which affected a good portion of the plantations. With vaccinations and State support, the wine-growing industry was helped back on to its feet. New varieties were planted and so the quality of the wine was enriched. Today there are around 24,000 hectares of vineyards in Slovenia, which are cultivated by wine-producers, who care for their land and wines. They stretch out across our small but picturesque country. In wine-growing, size is relative and the quality of the wine is not diminished just because it comes from a small geographical area. In wine terms, Slovenia belongs to the old European region. It has an elaborate origin protection and control system. Wine-tasting is compulsory for every wine before it acquires permission for trade; the produce is limited as far as surface areas under cultivation are concerned, while wine-growers are becoming ever more aware, considerate and adherent to the principles of sustainable wineproduction. Moreover, Slovenian wine-growing includes influences from French, German and Italian counterparts, both in vineyards and in production.

Viniferous Regions

Slovenia has a unique geographic setting in the world. It would be difficult to find a country which has such diverse environmental and climatic influences over such short distances and which has, in addition, such a variety of soil conditions. Slovenia is a small wine-producing area and the variety is truly large here, as a wine-lover can see and taste so many more different wines than almost anywhere else. We can divide Slovenia into three wine-growing regions: Podravje, Posavje and Primorje. Each one has its own specific characteristics and microclimate, which is why each one can, in line with its long tradition, serve up an original autonomous wine selection and local specialities. This is why the range of Slovenian wines is wholesome and includes almost all types, from dry white and red wines to fortified wines and special types (late harvests, selected berries, selected dry berries, ice wines and sparkling wines).

The wine region of Posavje, located in the heart of Slovenia, is famous for the little big wine, the Cvicek, with an alcohol content of 8.5% barely still a wine by European standards. Cvicek, whose properties were described in books dating back as much as 200 years, is a combination of two grape varieties, which gives it a distinctly light ruby colour, a fruity aroma and pleasant freshness.

Cvicek, which is in itself a Slovenian speciality, is characterised by a fresh taste and low level of alcohol and is a very drinkable wine, which is certainly kept by every vineyard cottage in the region.

Vineyard cottages are small, private wine cellars, as the region is characterised by small wine-producers, who have always stubbornly defied natural and social conditions. It is this Slovenian wine region that has suffered most from the consequences of the two world wars, and in between them the great economic crisis, which is why many inhabitants emigrated, above all to the US. The Posavska region is also known for its predominantly rather sweet wines, which have received their fair share of medals at international wine fairs.

The region in the south-west of the country, Primorska, is aptly named (Primorska-by the sea), even though only a small portion of it actually lies by the sea. This is the western part of Slovenia, where the warmth of the Adriatic is enriched by the influence of Istra. Summers are very hot here, winters temperate. This region too is very fortunate in the number of varieties it boasts, where due to the warmth and sunshine the red wines, which are given a special flavour by the iron-rich soil, prevail. The wine-growing region of Primorska is made up of the Briški okoliš with the renowned Rebula and White Pinot, the Vipava region with its wonderful white and red wines and especially a topnotch Cabernet Sauvignon, the Kras region with its Teran, Refošk and Terra Rossa, which is a blend of Teran, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the Koper region with its Refošk and Malvazija. The Primorska wines are dryer, contain more minerals and more pigment than wines of other regions.

A special part of Slovenian land is the territory on the right bank of the Soča river. These are the unique Goriška Brda, where the warmth of the Adriatic and the gentle breezes from the Alps, which give its wines, both of the autochthonous Rebula and Pinela, as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot and Merlot, a special character. We can drink a toast with these wines in the finest restaurants in New York, London, Milan, Berlin, Tokyo and Moscow. Nevertheless, the doors of the local Briška inns are always open to visitors.

Podravje, which stretches across the North-West of Slovenia, is characterised by sediments which were formed by lively geological activity and the remains of the Panonian sea, as well as thermal and mineral springs. It is this soil that is the factor behind the speciality of the wines in this region. The climate is typically continental with its abundance of sunny days, which sometimes result in dry spells, while Winters are relatively cold.

The production of wine was present in this region as far back as ancient times. The archaeological findings actually testify to the fact that Celtic and Illyrian tribes living in the area were accustomed to it. In all likelihood, they derived their knowledge of these wines from the Greeks. During the time of the Roman Empire, the region gained a reputation for good wines and was among the first to establish commercial wine-growing. Today the region is known for its early and late grape-harvesting. The temperate climate and the particular soil are ideal for producing strong and aromatic white wines. Wines, which are definitely worth trying here are Renski Rizling, Laški Rizling, Sauvignon, Šipon, Grey Pinot, White Pinot, Traminec, Yellow Muškat and Radgonska Penina. In Podravje, in Ptuj, we find the oldest wine cellar in Slovenia, while in Maribor we find the oldest vine in the world, a venerable vine over four hundred years old. The old vine presents a starting point and a final stop for many a wine route which weaves through the Maribor wine district. In honour of the vine, various festivities called 'From Vine To Wine' are held each year.

Wine Routes

Wine shops are the most appropriate place for wine tasting and purchasing in Slovenia, as they usually offer a wide variety of wines, or a visit to the actual wine-producer. Obviously restaurants also have a quite handsome selection of wines, which suit certain types of food, even though restaurants tend to favour one wine region over another. Slovenian wine connoisseurs, and there are many, as Slovenians love a drop of vintage wine, have the habit of choosing their "personal" vintner, with whom they purchase wine for domestic consumption. They usually stick with small vintners, for some it is their profession, while for others it is a hobby and they do it out of love for the wines. It is understandable that such small vintners do not produce a lot and do not market their wines or their best vintage, as their primary concern is quality. The shortest way to such wine-growers is the wine routes, which weave their way around wine regions and are clearly marked on most of the tourist maps. At the moment there are around twenty wine routes in Slovenia. Most of them are in Podravje, although each wine region has at least one wine route. Such wine routes are usually marked on local roads, from where access to the vintner is available. Once there, the tasting of suitably chilled wines and a cured meat and cheese board along with home-baked bread await the visitor.

Wine in Economy

In Slovenia, wine-growers produce around 60% of white wine, which is also the most consumed, although the consumption of red wines has been growing lately. In the last few years, Slovenian wine-growers have produced around 100 million litres of wine on average per year, while the Slovenian market has lately seen a slight fall in wine sales and consumption. Slovenia is not only a producer and exporter of wine, the majority of which is quality wine, but it is also an importer. The majority of wine imports come from Macedonia, while other import regions include Italy, Germany, Chile, Australia and California.

Slovenian wine-growers tend to stress that our wines have a very favourable quality and price ratio. We are somewhere in the middle by European standards, but getting better and making greater inroads with each passing day. A certain portion of our wine is exported, so the overall situation had taken a bit of a downturn after joining the EU, especially with regard to administration and distribution matters. At the same time, however, Slovenia also obtained better security and recognition through accession. Simultaneously, the Slovenian market will slowly be opened to the arrival of a greater share of foreign wines, which will stimulate the winegrowers into producing even better quality wines.

Some Slovenian Wine Varieties

Slovenia is home to autochthonous wine varieites. But due to the fact that Slovenia's wine regions are cut across by borders in some places, certain varieties belong to both countries on either side of the border. Such cases are Rebula or Teran, which are native to both Slovenia and Italy. The same goes for Šipon, which has its roots here, in Austria, in Croatia and in Hungary. The autochthonous Vipava wine variety is green and has a good chance to develop. The Friuli-Briško area is home to the Friuli Tokaj.

Sometimes it is difficult to speak of imported varieties, especially if one variety has been produced in a certain place for two to three hundred years. With acclimatisation, such a variety slowly becomes naturalised. Our varieties are mainly naturalised - and here we are referring to wines such as the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and White Pinot. Thus, the Slovenian character is reflected even in world-renowned varieties.

Slovenian vintners who wish to preserve the tradition of Slovenian wine-growing are well aware of this, even though customers often demand market orientation, a kind of membership ticket to the market place. It is important that the wine-grower produces a wine that has an international style, and gains the trust of the wine connoisseur. More and more connoisseurs want the wines to represent the characteristics of our region, so that these are felt in every glass of wine. This is where our future lies. The wine should not hide particularities, it must accentuate them.

The Osmica

Particularly in the Slovenian coastal regions of Kras, Goriško and Vipavsko, the Osmica, which opens its doors at about this time, is traditionally present. The Osmica is a form of open wine sale along with other home-made specialities, such as smoked ham, homemade salami, sausages, Prata (a dish made with beef sausage encased in pastry), cheese, cabbage and turnips, while for dessert, stuffed dumplings are a must. The Osmica came to Slovenia by virtue of a decree by the Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria-Theresa in the middle of the 18th century and kept its tradition even under Italian occupation until the second world war, while in the Primorska region it still exists to this day. And why Osmica (number eight)? The name tells us that the farmer had to sell the previous year's wine, homemade food, home-baked bread and pastries for eight days. The osmica has always been extremely popular and people always loved to visit them. It was a time of relaxation, pleasant gathering and interesting conversation; everything was pleasant, delightfully home-like. The wine was drunk either in the cellar from the barrel or in the courtyard sitting on benches made of ordinary boards, while the local people helped themselves to a cold-meat platter, home-baked bread, hard-boiled eggs and sweets.

Particularly well-visited were the Osmica events in Kras, where they squeeze Teran out of the Refošk vine, a very healthy dark wine, which deliciously complements smoked ham, the second most famous Kras speciality - a leg of pork (prosciutto), cured and dried in the Kras wind, known as the Bora. Both are offered at Osmica events in Kras. And what better occasion than the festival of wine!

(Content abstracted from "Slovenija.svet" published by Slovenska izseljenska matica.)