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Slovenia's Many and Varied Wines
by Jagoda Vigele

Excerpted from Rodna Gruda, English Section February 1984

Nature has endowed Slovenia with a variety of climate and landscape which can be found in few places covering such a small area in the world. The specific kinds of climate have provided many and varied possibilities for the growing of the grape-vine. Thus, at this meeting-point of the Mediterranean, the Pannonian Plain and Central Europe, since prehistoric times people have been occupied in growing grapes and making wine.

Before the Romans, the Celts had cultivated vineyards, and this process was certainly improved by the Romans in Pannonia. By the Middle Ages, vineyards had been developed in all those areas where they still exist today.

The cultivation of vineyards went through good times and bad times. Sometimes historical circumstances were favourable for such work, and sometimes, for instance at the time of the Turkish raids, they were unfavourable. At the time of Maria-Theresa, the cultivation of the grape-vine was at a high level, and during the last century the Archduke John of Hapsburg paid particular attention to the viniculture of Styria, as his morganatic marriage connected him with Pekri-over-Maribor.

During the last century a lot of damage was caused to Slovene vineyards by the vine flea. Not all the damaged vineyards were renewed. For comparison, today there are approximately 21 thousand hectares of vineyards in Slovenia, whereas one hundred years ago there was a total of 32 thousand hectares of vineyards, not counting the Slovene Littoral area. Of course, due to modem methods of work, the amount of grapes grown is far greater today than it was then.

In the past, historical conditions were not favourable for the small scale Slovene viniculturalist. For long centuries, he had to serve the needs of his feudal masters and the monasteries, and later on all the best vineyards were in the hands of the rich, mainly foreigners. These conditions were only changed at the time of reform, after the victory of the Slovene people against the oppressors in the last world war. After many years of development, Slovene vinculture has reached a high standard, so that large quantities of selected grapes are grown in a modern way in the large vineyards belonging to both society as a whole and to individual growers. Today, in some areas, those farmers who cultivate their own vineyards have joined together to form collective-farms, which provide better opportunities for progress and development.

The wine-producing regions

Today Slovenia can be divided into three wine-producing regions: the Podravsko region, the Posavsko region and the Karst-Primorsko (Slovene Littoral) region. These regions can again be divided into individual wine-producing areas (>>okolisi<<), and so on. Of course it is always true that the

particular kind of grapes which is most suited to a particular area is that which grows bests there. However, by means of modem vinicultural methods efforts are being made to achieve even more, to introduce improvements and to eliminate weak points.

The Podravsko wine-producing region is particularly famed. This is the region where the best Yugoslav wines are produced, which can stand with pride next to other top-quality wines produced in other countries. This region includes the Ljutomer-Ormoz district, the Radgona-Kapela district, Pohorje, Kozjak, the Maribor district, and Haloze with its nearby areas

The Posavsko region is well-known for its very potable, mainly red wines, which have quite a high degree of acidity, but are not very high in alcohol content. The best-known wine-producing districts are the following: Bizeljsko and the slopes of Orlica all the way to Brestanica, the Krsko-Gorjanci district with Posavje, the Smarje-Savinjsko district, the Novo mesto-Mokronog district and Bela krajina.

Gorisko, Vipavsko, Brda, the Karst and Slovene Istra are the most important wine-producing districts of the Karst-Primorsko (Slovene Littoral) region. Both white and red wines are produced, the excellent red wines being particularly famous. Who hasn't heard of Rebula, Teran, Kabernet, Refosk and Merlot? These areas get a lot of sunshine, so the wines are relatively strong in alcohol content.

The Podravsko Wine-producing Region is the largest wine-producing region in Slovenia. The main types of wine produced are similar to those which are known in the other wineproducing regions of Central Europe, from France to Hungary. The most popular wine produced is Laski Riesling (approx. 25 %). The conditions for growing grapes for this kind of wine are excellent in this area, and top-quality wines are produced. In second place is Sauvignon, which covers up to twenty percent of all vineyards. "Sipon" is also produced in this picturesque area, whose slopes and hilltops are graced by little white churches and wine-cottages ("zidanice"). White burgundy wines of excellent quality are produced in the Maribor district, and particularly in the Ljutomer-Ormoz district (Svetinje). These wines are followed by Rhenish Riesling and Traminec. The best kinds of Traminec, of top-quality, are produced in the Radgona-Kapela district, at Haloze and Svecina. The best Yellow Muscat wine of the Podravsko region comes from the slopes of Kozjak, whereas some of high-quality comes from Haloze.

Other kinds of wine which are produced in the Podravsko region are as follows: Rulandec, Zeleni Silvanec, Radgonska ranina, Portugalka, Blue Burgundy and Blue Frankinja. There are not many red wines grown there, as this region is best-known for its famous, top-quality white vines, which are grown with love and pride.

The Posavsko wine-producing region lies in the south-eastem part of Slovenia. Good-quality white and red wines are produced in this area, particularly light wines. Connoisseurs particularly praise the Red Bizeljsko wine. Similar white and red wines are produced in the Smarje district. The hillslopes are very suitable for the growing of the tollowing types of grapes: Virgtajn, Sladka gora, Vinski vrh, Tinsko, Buce.

And now we have reached the Dolenjsko wine-producing districts. Dolenjsko is the cradle of Slovene literature, that romantic, dream-like countryside, which is full of hills which are covered with woods. The sunny hill-slopes at the edge of the woods are ideal for the growing of grapevines. The most famous wine of these areas is "Cvicek", which is produced mainly from the "Zametna crnina", "Rdeca kralievina" and "Modra Frankinja" kinds of wine. The best areas for growing grapes for "Cvicek" are on the slopes above the River Krka, i. e. Gadova pec, Bocje, Trska gora nad Krskim, Velika tm and Drenovec. The following areas are known in the central part of Dolenjsko: Trska gora nad Novim mestom, Knezija, Malkovec and Gradisce. "Cvicek" is brought to maturity in the cellars of the former Cistercian monastery at Kostanjevica and Krsko, whose barrels have a total capacity of 40,000 hectolitres of wine.

On the south side of the Gorjanci mountains, in Bela krajina, the following types of grapes are grown on the sunny slopes: "Zametovka", "Modra frankinja" and "Sentlovrenka". The wine produced from these grapes is used, together with some "Portugalka", to produce the famous "Metliska Crnina" wine.

These areas are not rich ones, but the countryside is very beautiful. The vineyards are split up into small fields, which are mostly cultivated in the old way. The grapes are mainly processed in the attractive old cottages ("zidanice"), which are spread about the vineyards. Here Nature is unspoilt, and all kinds of wild animals graze at the edge of the vineyards. This area also contains a number of famous health-spas with mineral water, such as Cateske and Dolenjske toplice, Rogaska slatina and Dobrno.

The Primorsko wine-producing region is situated in the southwesterly part of Slovenia, which partly borders on Italy, and partly, in the Koper area, on the Adriatic. There are approximately 9000 hectares of vineyards in this region, wilich represents approximately one quarter of all Slovene vineyards. However, in this region onehalf of Slovenia's total produce of wine is made. Farthest to the south, along the Adriatic coast and on the Karst, grapes for red wine are grown. In the Vipava valley and in the Goriska brda, however, white wines predominate. The most famous wines coming from this area are Refosk and Teran, about which the Roman writer Pliny wrote. Not to be considered any less in worth are the following wmies: of the red wines, Kabernet, Barbera, and Merlot, and of the white wines, Rebula, Malvazija, Tokaj and Vipavec.

The trademarks and classification of Slovene wines

Those countries which value their wines have made sure that the latter are clearly distinguishable and that the geographical origin of individual wines is carefully protected.

Thus in Slovenia, in 1968, a set of rules was adopted, which had and still has great importance for both the producers and consumers of wine. It was then that it was decided by the "Styria" Business Association of Celje that a special trade-mark be used for marking Slovene wines. This set of rules was agreed upon by the Executive Committee for vineyards and viniculture of the previously mentioned business association. All those concerned in the production of wine have to abide by it.

Within a fairly short period this trade-mark acquired great importance on the market. People got used to it and trusted bottles marked with it. Trade-marks for individual Slovene wines are issued by the Styria Business Association. The latter's criteria are very strict, and only as many labels are issued as there are bottles of an individual type of wine (this is determined by special boards of commissioners). The fines for contravening the rules are heavy.

The trade-mark consists of a disc four centimetres in diameter, on which appears the figure of the God of the Vine, Bacchus. He is dressed in fur. In his left hand be holds a "thyrsos", around which a Vine is entwined, and in his right hand he holds a chalice, full of wine. At his feet, a panther lies. Along the top border of the disc are written the words "Zascitna znamka slovenskih vin", and, along the bottom, the smaller inscription "Marque deposee". The label also has its own number.

The "STYRIA" Business Association wishes to increase the quality of good, natural, Slovene wine, which is produced from grapes grown under the Slovene sky and on the Slovene earth, for the satisfaction of its friends and lovers of pure Slovene wine. The ever-increasing number of consumers of wine with an official trade-mark proves that this method of control and production is a good one, and that the future is a promising one. Already today the wine-produces of Slovenia united with in the "STYRIA" Business Association, export wine to many countries of Europe and also overseas. They also respond immediately to every new invitation and order.