Last Saturday was St. Martin’s Day. I like to say he’s the only saint that matters. Here in Slovenia, he’s a saint that apparently matters a lot.
As Catholic patrons go, St. Martin of Tours does look after a motley, gracious and endearing crew: the world’s winemakers and its poor, soldiers and beggars, tailors and conscientious objectors. November 11, his feast day, is always a big event here in Slovenia, and among Slovenians living abroad. My hunch is that it’s primarily because of the wine connection.
Slovenia produces about 90 million liters of wine annually, and Slovenians drink most of it. Annual per capita consumption is around 43 liters, third in the European Union, trailing just Luxembourg (50l) and Portugal (48l). The EU average? Just under 24 liters. So, yes, Martin stature is prominent here.
Thousands took over city squares in all corners of the country to celebrate on Saturday, the day that Martin turns grape must into wine. The largest gathering took place in Slovenia’s second city (and home to the oldest continually-producing grape vine in the world), Maribor, where an open-air festival was celebrated for the 34th time. Koper, Slovenia’s largest coastal city, also hosted a massive event, held partly in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of Vinakoper, one of the country’s largest wineries. In the western Kras, or Karst district, more than 100 winemakers, a record, took part in events throughout the area. Below, the scene on Leon Štukelj square in Maribor.
The gathering in Ljubljana has become so popular that it was stretched over two consecutive Saturdays this year, with more than 70 wineries manning stands spread over more than five blocks in the capital’s old town center. The lead photo faces north towards the central Prešeren Square.
2017 harvest report
But the news isn’t all rosy – quantity-wise anyway.
This year’s harvest yielded about 91,000 tons of grapes, a drop of 4.5% from last year and 15% below the annual average reported over the past decade.
Erratic –in some cases extreme– weather events were the culprit, with most of Slovenia’s nine districts experiencing frost or drought or both. The Stajerska district, Slovenia’s largest, lost about 10% of its crop. In the western Goriska Brda district, red grapes were hit especially hard, with a drop of 20% from the ten-year average reported.
The dip in production comes at a crucial period as exports continue to climb. For those hardest hit, a decrease in supply doesn’t only mean an off year. It could mean losing that shelf space or spot on a wine list that they’ve worked hard to secure.
Slovenian Festival of Wines
Here in Ljubljana the celebrations continue this weekend with the 20th Festival of Slovenian Wines which takes place at the Grand Hotel Union on Friday (17) and Saturday (18). More than 500 wines will be on offer, primarily from Slovenia but also Croatia, Macedonia, Italy, Spain and Australia. Wines will also be presented in various salons, organized by district and/or varietal. Tickets €30 per day, €50 two days.
The festival will witness the debut of Echo Red and Echo White, cuvees that will literally represent, for the first time, Slovenia in one bottle. Well, in this case, two. Winemaker Uroš Bolčina, who made waves last year when he decided to enter Slovenia’s not-so-highly-regarded Cviček cuvee in Decanter’s annual world wine awards –and actually received a commendation, a first for the wine– came up with the idea to meld grapes produced in each of Slovenia’s three regions into one wine. And, true to that idea, he used mostly local varieties in the blends: Pinela, Zeleni Silvanec (Sylvaner) and Laški Rizling (Riesling) in the white, and Merlot, Barbera, Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch) and Žametna črnina in the red.
National regulations prohibit wines produced in different regions from receiving a ‘quality’ (kakovostno) or ‘top quality’ (vrhunsko) designation, so Echo will be labeled as a standard ‘table wine’, but that doesn’t bother Bolčina.
Those designations played a big role at one time, Bolčina told RTV Slovenia, “But they’re not a real indication of the quality of what’s in a bottle”.
Bolčina, originally from Vipava in the western Primorska region, is currently the chief winemaker at the Frelih Winery in the Dolenjska district in the country’s southeast. He also mixed a sparkling wine which will be released next year.
New Regional Wine Events Calendar
And speaking of events, I’ve recently begun compiling a calendar of wine events taking place in these parts, focusing mainly on Slovenia but also including those taking place in the immediate region. For now, I’m defining ‘immediate region’ to include northeast Italy (Friuli, Veneto and Alto Adige), Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania.
If you’re organizing or participating in an event (or know someone who is), no matter how large or small, send along the details. I’ll be glad to include it. And yes, please, spread the word.
Researchers recently announced that wine residue was found on pottery shards from two archeological sites in Georgia dating back to 6,000 BC, the earliest evidence found to date of wine made from a Eurasian grape. From the New York Times story (13 Nov):
The findings push back the previous date for the oldest evidence of winemaking by about 600 to 1,000 years, which Dr. McGovern previously identified in Iran. But it does not dethrone China as the location of the earliest known fermented beverage, which Dr. McGovern dated to 7,000 B.C. That drink, however, was most likely a cocktail consisting of rice, honey, hawthorn fruit and wild grapes, unlike this most recent finding, which was pure grape wine.
“Georgia had always suspected it had a Neolithic wine, there were several claims,” said David Lordkipanidze, the general director of the Georgian National Museum and an author on the paper. “But now there is real evidence.”