Six Months of Discovery
It has been exactly six months since we landed in Brno. As I write this post, I am headed back home on the train after spending the day at WinePrague, an International Wine Expo at PVA Expo Center. I got to spend the last week indulging in delicious wine with my dearest friend, Jennifer King, traveling to both Budapest and Prague. Unfortunately, she left early in the morning while I went on to the WinePrague Expo.
The show was fantastic! I was able to get my questions answered directly from the Moravian winemakers and sommeliers. They seemed pleased to see a foreigner so curious and enthusiastic about their wines. After all, this region and these wines were practically unknown to me back in the United States, and I still have so much to learn. Unfortunately, their wines are rarely imported into the US market, due to the lack of quantity available for export.
Moravian wines have surprised me by their elegance, affordability and quality, and I feel honored to get the opportunity to promote them in a public forum. The winemakers here focus on producing terroir specific varietals, emphasizing the grape’s natural aromatics and climatic characteristics. Additionally, the wines can often be purchased at lower prices than that of their European counterparts, providing an advantage to the everyday Brno wine consumer.
But to get to know the wine, you need to meet the maker. Wines have personalities reflective of both their region and their producer. A few weeks ago, I contacted two different wineries to see if I could make a brief visit to their production facilities. Not only did I receive a reply, but I received open invitations to come and taste their wines and barrel samples. If that isn’t Moravian hospitality, I don’t know what is.
A brief history
Before jumping into the winery visits, I do feel that a little history is needed to set the stage. The commercial wine market in Moravia has existed only since the mid 1990’s. Although grapes have been grown and wine has been produced here for centuries, Soviet Communist control did not permit private commercialization of Czech wine. This led to many state-run wineries producing average quality wine, without the nuances and elegance found today. Older vines had sometimes been ripped up and former winemakers forfeited their land, an unfortunate circumstance to those winemakers who had once poured their energy and money into developing quality wine.
Yet after the fall of communism in 1989, vineyards were repatriated to their former owners, and winemakers began the painstaking process of replanting vines, rediscovering the nuances of the microclimate. Today, some sons and daughters of these former Moravian winemakers have banded together, creating a kind of wine consortium, with the primary goal of advancing the reputation of fine Moravian wine in the global market. Wine labels are becoming modernized and the wines are now being exported to countries like Finland, Poland, China and the US.
In between 2004 and 2009, small groups of wine makers in Znojmo, Modré Hory and Mikulov created a Czech VOC, Vína originální certifikace. The VOC sets respective appellation standards similar to what is known as the AOC or DOCG in western Europe. These partner wineries are now sparing no expense when it comes to developing their brands, building high tech production facilities, using French oak barriques and reducing their yields to control the quality and typicity of their grapes.
That being said, the wineries in Moravia are relatively new, as compared to other countries in Europe or the United States. Whereas some vines in Australia or Spain date back 100 years, vines in Moravia are often just 10 or 15 years old. Winemakers with sometimes just a few years under their belt, are discovering new best practices, advanced maturation, battonage, lees aging, bottling technologies and e-commerce websites that were once unimaginable under a Communist regime. Additionally, the wine culture in the cities is changing, with the consumers seeking higher quality, terroir specific wine.
A few months ago, my husband and I attended a tasting of Vinařství Václav at Víno-Klub Brno. I was then introduced to one of the leading wine experts of the region, Petr Očenášek, who sells wine on behalf of Václav. Ever since our first encounter, he has been eager to answer all of my questions and has been quite generous in inviting me to various wine tastings.
I had the great pleasure of recently visiting Vinařství Václav, a winery located in Hustopeče, a small village in the wine region Velké Pavlovice. These winemakers are embracing modernity, forging the way towards a more evolved style of winemaking.
Václav’s wines certainly took me by surprise, as the flavors and aromas were pronounced and elegant. Their winery has only been around for a few years, but there was a balance and maturity in their wines that made it seem like they had been in the business for decades. In fact, their 2017 Rulandské Šedé Terroir has recently taken a silver medal at the Prague Wine Trophy International Competition.
Originally founded in 2010 by Tomáš Teplý and Olda Vachala, Vinařství Václav had a vision to produce world class wines. Olda, who hails from a long line family of winemakers, joined with Tomáš, a specialist in construction and logistics. Together, they set their sights on developing a wine brand that combines a fresh, contemporary outlook with Moravian tradition.
They focused firstly on vineyard management, ensuring that each grape vine is planted in the most appropriate plot. By maintaining small yields, they are guaranteed only the healthiest fruit and use traditional hand harvesting and organic practices in their vineyards. In addition, they built a top notch, gravity-fed production facility, with state of the art equipment and an elegant, inviting interior, complete with tasteful guest room accommodations.
Named after St. Wencelas, the patron saint of both the village of Hustopeče and of the winemakers in Moravia, Vinařství Václav is located about 30 minutes from Brno. The winery and tasting rooms are located on a quiet street in the village, next to the village’s original fortified wall. The exterior of the winery reflects a thoughtful elegance juxtaposed with a typical Moravian village.
Václav’s vines were planted in and around the village of Kurdějov, on sloped hillsides with southern exposure. Rýzlink Rýnsky, Palava, Sauvignon Blanc, Rulandské Bile, Rulandské Šede, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rulandské Modré all find their home nestled in this small Moravian village. The weather is optimal for these particular grapes, as the southern aspect, breezy winds and warmer temperatures aid in a slow, controlled ripening period.
Additionally, a vital member of their winemaking team is Mike Mazey, my Australian wine contact here in Brno. He and Petr have known each other for years, and have been working together in the wine world for over a decade. For the past few years, Mike has been engaged as a consultant and assistant with their winemaking, giving an added touch of finesse to these wines. His expertise has been an incredible advantage for Václav, as the wines are gaining traction in both sales and reputation.
Since my mother was visiting from the US during the time of my winery visit, I asked her to accompany me. After all, she never had an opportunity to taste barrel samples and have a guided vineyard tour.
Petr had kindly suggested to pick us up in Brno as the buses and trains (although readily available) can take quite a bit longer. He drove us first to the vineyards, where he walked us through the rows of vines, describing both the challenges and successes they have had thus far in their growing season. I brought my camera with us and documented our visit, capturing the early flowering of Riesling and Pálava.
In Václav’s vineyards, Pálava is planted on the lower part of the hillside, while Riesling is grown on the upper slopes. This is done intentionally, as Riesling is a fickle grape and is quite susceptible to frost and mold. It thrives in an area with more sun exposure, where the wind acts as a natural repellent for soggy, wet conditions. As mentioned in my previous post, Pálava is a crossing that can withstand colder and wetter climatic conditions, hence its planting on the lower slopes of the hillsides. It buds late and can ripen beautifully, lending itself often to dessert wines. The southern facing aspect offers a huge advantage for both Pálava and Riesling, as it guarantees a slower ripening and controlled development of sugar in the grapes.
Upon returning to the winery, we were invited for a sneak peek of the 2018 vintage. We tasted sample after sample, straight from the tanks, while Petr explained the fermentation, maturation and qualities of each wine. I was most impressed with their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, for its complex texture and bouquet of citrus and black currant fruit.
Overall, the wines were perfectly balanced, with an aromatic, complex bouquet and weighty texture. Typically, barrel samples can taste disjointed or unbalanced, as a few months in the bottle are somewhat vital to the wines final cohesion and finesse. Yet these samples tasted like they came straight from the bottle, as the acids and sugar levels seemed to be quite in line. I was thankful to have tasted these fantastic wines, and grateful for the guided tour and thorough explanations of each sample.
I am pleased to showcase two of their wines in my upcoming class and am excited to have the expat community discover Vinařství Václav.
Víno J. Stávek
The second stop that week on my whirlwind wine tour was J. Stávek’s winery in Němčičky, a small village in Velké Pavlovice. Welcomed by both the assistant winemaker, Petr Hloušek and founder, Jan Stávek, I was star struck. Since arriving in Brno, I have followed J. Stávek’s winery on social media, and was amazed by the intricacies of their wines. Jan is highly regarded in the Czech Republic for his knowledge, expertise and participation in dozens of competitions, festivals and wine expositions. His winery won best small winery award in 2015. He also gives back to the Moravian community, donating his extra time and energy to promote both his wine and Moravian wine throughout Europe. He manages to have both a hugely popular winery and a family with small children, certainly making both appear effortless. I was humbled to meet him, as for me, he is a pioneer in the popularity of Moravian wine.
Jan Stávek’s winery was originally founded by his great-grandfather in the late 19th century. For years, his family produced wines for their village, using traditional techniques and machines still found at the winery today.
Currently, Stávek’s winery is a part of the VOC Modré Hory (meaning Blue Mountain). As mentioned earlier, the VOC is an association producing certified wines made with regionally specific grapes.
Jan believes in both harnessing tradition and implementing modern technology to develop clean, aromatic and complex wines. I find his wines suitable for both the everyday consumer and advanced sommelier, with nuances and complexities balanced with freshness and liveliness. He is also a specialist of fortified wines, something totally unique to the region, using Cabernet Moravia, Saint Laurent, Muscat and Alibernet as his base grapes. They are nutty, unctuous wines that maintain a vibrant acidity, despite their sweeter style and higher alcohol.
His assistant winemaker, Petr, kindly led me through the tasting of their 2018 barrel samples. He was eager to share the successes of their challenging vintages and their rising popularity both in the Czech Republic and abroad. Their barrel samples defied my initial expectations, because much like Václav, the wines showed maturity and complexity despite their youthfulness. My standout wine of the tasting was their Trkmanska Rose, a delicate rose made from Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) grapes. The rosé had subtle notes of fresh strawberry and raspberry, but maintained a salinity with its mineral rich backbone and vibrant bouquet. I was grateful to meet both Petr and Jan and am eager to see how the public reacts to their incredible wines at my next wine class.
In the past six months, I have found that the Moravian wine market is truly evolving. It has withstood years of turmoil, war, communist regimes and economic distress. The vineyards have survived phylloxera and other climatic impacts. Scientists are developing clones and grapes that thrive in the region and are resistant to pests, fungi, molds and mildews. The winemakers here strive to maintain tradition yet also embrace modernity, a welcoming prospect in such a fast paced world. Despite their lack of presence in the global wine market, they are certainly not getting lost in the mix. Their wines are winning global awards and recognition. The winemakers are proud of their wines and are demanding that the world stops and takes notice.
Believe me, I have taken notice, and I intend to share their wines with everyone I encounter. The Moravian winemakers are open and friendly with me, reassuring me that my curiosity and questions are welcomed and valued. I appreciate their honesty, support and time, and fully intend to promote their wines during my time here in Brno. These are civil wines, meant to be shared and appreciated among friends.