The Savor of the Sun: A Wine Tasting in Moravia
By Agata Chabierska
There is a small, quiet town of merely four thousand inhabitants, located picturesquely atop green, vine-covered hills — a place where grape fields have dominated people’s livelihood for several centuries and where winemaking secrets are passed from father to son with sacred attention.
How far is it from Bordeaux? Far enough to make this wine heaven refreshingly distinguished from the snobbish world of chateaux, sommeliers and grand crus.
Velké Bílovice, the wine capital of the Moravia region and one of the warmest places in the Czech Republic, every spring invites oenophiles from all over Europe to explore its fruity treasures during an event called “ze sklepa do sklepa” – from cellar to cellar.
What on Earth do Czech people have to do with wines? Well, as a native of Poland I am always offered vodka during different get-togethers; after moving to Pilsner country I am constantly accused of falling for beer…
And, as most stereotypes fail, I have a strong distaste for both and was incredibly happy to find out that Moravia is in fact all about cherishing long traditions of winemaking passion.
Truly, unlike typical wine destinations that have their own shelves in every supermarket, here it is more passion than a business that drives whole generations to hard work.
This passion was more than evident when I stepped down into the dark chilly cellar of one of the numerous local family producers of noble whites and original reds.
Father and son, shoulder to shoulder, were standing behind a long table ranged with sleek bottles proudly exhibiting their source of origin – oblast Morava, obec Velké Bílovice.
As people were coming in and out, with tasting glasses hung on their necks, they would greet everyone with sincere cordiality, ask about taste preferences, and generously pour exquisite liquids of precious jewel colors.
Moravian “Napa Valley”
I learned that good black Slavic soil and a friendly sunny climate can deliver grapes that will withstand any competition from their aristocratic European cousins.
As a matter of fact, many of the varieties here, named locally as Rulandské bílé, Tramín ?Ervený or Rulandske modré, are what we know in the big world as pinot blanc, gewürztraminer or pinot noir and they keep up with high standards, adding some local spice to globally known taste.
Absolute white winners, as this is the majority in Moravia, are grand Veltlínské zelené, Ryzlink vlašský, Muller-Thurgau and Sauvignon; however, you also won’t be disappointed by amazing reds: Modrý Portugal, Frankovka, Zweigeltrebe.
And if this still doesn’t stir up your taste buds, there are vina slamove and ledove, made respectively out of grapes dried on hay or picked when already frozen, of higher sweetness and deep luxurious long tongue.
At the Roots of Grape Bushes
Digging even deeper into basics, wine tradition in Moravia goes as far back as to Roman times – the third century AD!
In transient, rather continental climate with vegetation cycles shorter than in the west of Europe and high summer temperatures, cultivation of late-ripening varieties yields wines of very high quality. In fact, 80% of vineyards in Moravia are reported to have very good or excellent growing conditions.
The most characteristic features of these indigenous wines are unique spiciness, fresh acidity, and fruity character. Naturally, with new technologies some of those jewels changed, gaining greater suppleness.
Back on the Drinking Path
After the first three cellars, trying four to five wines in each, I was already levitating a bit, so my companion and I decided to agree on some long-term strategy.
Long-term means eight hours (11:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m.) officially foreseen by organizers to fully explore the richness of the area and the cordiality of the hosts.
In reality, we have spotted individuals with well-recognizable yellow sacks for glasses, maps in their hands and lusty thirst in eyes, knocking on wine heavens doors at 10:40 a.m. And I have to confess that we left our last feasting place, with a full rattling box, close to 8:00 p.m.
How one can endure such a trial? Well, basically you have to convince yourself that it is a once-a-year occasion, make cruel choices on what not to taste and eat a lot.
That last is much facilitated by the hosts who offer some heavy snacks like fatty sausage, bread with lard, pickled cucumbers, hard cheese and pork rinds. Surprisingly, they work better than Camembert or French baguette…
Fortunately, you have to walk a lot and even though sometimes the distance from one wide-open welcoming door to another is scarily short, there are also longer paths which lead you through vineyards, still bare and dry in April, but with promising wooden stalks climbing towards the sun.
Those sandy or cobbled roads named directly as Traminova or Rulandova are rowed with tiny simple cellars painted in Monet’s pastels or just left with bare brick.
Some of them are shabby and probably forgotten, and some look more like meticulously cared for fairy-tale houses. By the midday, almost every stone, fence or bench is occupied by blushed, cheerful drinkers who stop to chat, consult the map or listen to an enthusiastic young orchestra playing vivid melodies that would encourage most outnumbered army leftovers to stand up and fight. And so it does.
Wine for People
The faces of people passing by prove that such an adventure, in this amazing, God-graced place, is what humanity is all after – happiness of sampling Earth’s fruits in their purest, most noble version, close to nature and without too much hassle about savoir-vivre or going bankrupt.
The entrance fee, as well as most of the wines offered here, are affordable to normal people, and by normal I mean those with children that need to go on holidays, cars that break down frequently and much too high mortgages.
In fact, there are whole families: hearty seniors, couples with children, students, moms with prams well loaded with bottles, definitely not of milk. I hear them speaking Czech, Slovakian, Polish, German, English and… yes, even French.
Apart from such massive alcoholism-promoting events, most of the cellars in Velké Bílovice and nearby towns cordially welcome visitors eager to dip their noses in noble wine glasses on any given day.
In many places, you can count on a full meal. Some even offer accommodation. The astounding beauty of the surroundings and completely unspoiled nature make bike traveling an idea worth considering.
European and regional funds have contributed to the creation of well-marked and thoughtfully designed cycling routes. A majority of the best vineyards in the area are covered.
After all, with such temptations around, it is always safer to opt for two wheels and refreshing air than a four-wheeled motorized vehicle.
We made the trip on a low budget, so night accommodation was as simple as sleeping bags on a meadow between vineyards. Romantic, star-lit, but a bit frosty in the early morning.
As we were leaving the crime scene at 5:00 a.m. Sunday, groups of most persevering followers of Bacchus were still strolling around the streets, not too much in a straight line though.
By the sunset, Velké Bílovice would again turn into a peaceful hard-working town preparing slowly for summer that, if God and weather help, will bring in lots of new tremendous wines for the next April tasting.
After all, the question from the event leaflets – “How much savor can sun have?” shouldn’t stay unanswered.
Useful Moravia Links:
WineofCzechRepublic.cz – A general English website on anything you would like to know about Czech wines, including regional varieties, degustation trails, yearly events and lots of geo-historical data.
Vinarskecentrum.cz – An English website of The Wine Salon of the Czech Republic promoting Moravian wines and featuring most important events and information about wine-tasting
VelkeBilovice.cz – A Czech website about the town of Velke Bilovice, its wine producers and actions calendar
Osi?ka spol, Podivinska 521, Velke Bilovice, tel. + 420 775 346 113
Pavla Zemánková, Zahradní 1223, Velke Bilovice, tel. + 420 777 626 772
Pension houses and hotels:
U Hrozna, Nám?stí, Velke Bilovice, tel. + 420 775 346 280
Penzion Osi?ka, L??ky 1017, Velke Bilovice, tel. + 420 777 346 115
U Habána, ?ejkovská 1274, Velke Bilovice, tel. + 420 519 346 212
Penzion Mlýn, Podivínská, Velke Bilovice, tel. + 420 519 346 436
Penzion „U školy” – Pálkovi, (with restaurant) Záhumní 1279, Velké Bílovice, Tel. + 420 605 832 025, e-mail
Hotel ZFP Akademie, Zahradní 1295, tel. + 420 519 364 111,, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Restaurant U hroznu nám – Osvoboditel? 382, Velké Bílovice, tel. + 420 519 346 280
Penzion Mlýn – restaurant, Podivínská 655, Velké Bílovice, tel. +420 515 531 837
Winery u Osicku, Morávky 1408, Velké Bílovice, tel. + 420 608 770 712, e-mail
Places to visit nearby:
• Lednicko – Valtický areal – an area of 200 hectares (500 acres) known for beautiful chateaux and parks, Listed since 1996 as a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site
• Valtice – A historical town with one of the most impressive Baroque residences of Central Europe and the National Wine Centre and Wine Saloon of the Czech Republic, which gathers one hundred of the best wines from the whole country.
• Mikulov – A small 17th-century town with the palace of the Dietrichstein family and the Piarist College, and the beginning point of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Natural born writer and addicted traveler Agata Chabierska works as a freelancer for different organizations and portals. She lives in the Czech Republic with her boyfriend, Jakub Pavlinec, a photographer and best travel companion.