Duncan MacLaren of Hot Rum Cow magazine explores Slovenia’s ‘wine roads’ in search of the world’s oldest grapevine
Cradled between the familiar wine-producing countries of Italy, Austria and Hungary is a less well-known centre of quality wine production – Slovenia. A name with love at its heart, Slovenia’s well-known proverb insists that ‘loves comes through the stomach’. And nowhere is that proverb truer than when it comes to drinking wine. One in every hundred square metres of Slovenian soil is planted with vines.
Vines were brought to the region thousands of years ago by the Illirians and Celts; and ever since, the Slovenians have known how to gladden their hearts. And not with any old stuff, for wine production in Slovenia is a proud, serious business.
Slovenian ‘wine roads’
Slovenia has three wine-growing regions (Primorska, Posavje, and Podravje), which are further divided into a total of 14 districts. Each of these offers at least one established ‘wine road’, not unlike Scotland’s whisky trails. These give you the opportunity to get to know the idiosyncracies of a particular vintner, and to learn the unique aspects of each region. Some regions use indigenous varieties of grape, and the wines produced are certified to guarantee this local provenance. All wines are graded for quality before being made available for sale.
Along the roads are cellars and shops where you can stop, taste and buy Slovenia’s quality-tested (predikat) wines. In the evenings you can relax in one of the many farms along the route that cater for wine tourists. In all, there are nearly a hundred wine roads to choose from. Administrators of the wine roads arrange events throughout the year, one of the most popular being the martinovanje (the Feast of St Martin), which celebrates the must turning into wine.
Maribor, in north east of Slovenia, is the starting point for one such wine road. This little-known city is in fact the second largest city in Slovenia (after Ljubljana) and this year has the honour of being the EU’s joint European Capital of Culture. It boasts the oldest grapevine in the world, which has been yielding clusters of juicy grapes now for more than 400 summers. The Old Vine is still going strong, producing each year between 35kg and 55kg of grapes. These are made into wine and then bottled in over a hundred 25cl prestigious gift-bottles.
If this represents the minimalist end of Maribor’s wine production, at the centre of the city lies one of the biggest classical wine cellars in Middle Europe. The Vinag wine cellar matures quality wines in still, dark tunnels, which stretch to almost two kilometres, and cover a floor area of 20,000 square metres. Five and a half million litres of wine are stored here. Love indeed.
Hot Rum Cow is a new magazine for people curious about great booze: www.hotrumcow.co.uk