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Modra gears up for Vinobranie festival

A 20 minute bus ride north-east from the country's bustling capital brings thirsty travellers to the Vinobranie festival every September. The festivities celebrate the local wine harvest for the year, and allow visitors to experience first-hand the merry lifestyle of the inhabitants of Modra and Pezinok, two small towns in the foothills of the Small Carpathian mountains range known for their wine making traditions.
Featured at the festival is a unique beverage called burčiak, a seasonal grape cider which is light brown, fizzy and comes topped with a head that can at times rival a healthy beer foam. "Burčiak is the sign that Vinobranie is knocking on the door," said Dana Jánošová from the Modra community centre, which is organising the Vinobranie feast this year.


Visitors to the 1997 Vinobranie Festival in Pezinok await a sample of burčiak, the seasonal grape cider with a sweet taste and a potent punch.
photo: Courtesy Pezinok Town Hall

A 20 minute bus ride north-east from the country's bustling capital brings thirsty travellers to the Vinobranie festival every September. The festivities celebrate the local wine harvest for the year, and allow visitors to experience first-hand the merry lifestyle of the inhabitants of Modra and Pezinok, two small towns in the foothills of the Small Carpathian mountains range known for their wine making traditions.

Featured at the festival is a unique beverage called burčiak, a seasonal grape cider which is light brown, fizzy and comes topped with a head that can at times rival a healthy beer foam. "Burčiak is the sign that Vinobranie is knocking on the door," said Dana Jánošová from the Modra community centre, which is organising the Vinobranie feast this year.

Burčiak's juicy, sweet taste masks its deceiving alcoholic punch, one which locals say claims victims every year. "After a glass you become happy and make a lot of friends," said Pavel Soldán, a 34-year old wine maker from Modra. "After you've had a half-litre you no longer care where you'll end up taking a nap."

That there is something 'winy' going on soon becomes apparent to visitors even weeks before the party officially begins. The two host towns are surrounded by vineyards, and several houses advertise home made wine for sampling and sale. In the streets of Grinava, a village outside Pezinok, locals set up tables in front of their homes by late August offering plastic bottles filled with a litre of burčiak for about 50 Slovak crowns ($1.06) each.

The origins of Vinobranie go back to 1944, when the first wine tasting was organised in Modra. The autumn festival celebrates the harvest's end and the beginning of the wine making season. Since 1958, Modra and Pezinok have taken turns organising the event with this year's Vinobranie being staged in Modra September 22-24.

Organisers said that although it was difficult to conduct a head-count, they expect large crowds. "It's hard to say how many people visit Vinobranie annually," Jánošová said. "But buses full of people bring visitors and the town is full of people scattered around. There isn't an admission fee, so we can't really give an exact number."

Soldán said that with the guests came a party atmosphere special to the late summer in the wine region. "The town becomes more lively than during the rest of the year," he said. "Beyond the abundance of burčiak and wine, there's traditional roasted goose and lokše [a buttered flat cake made from potato dough] sold at booths around the town centre."

For locals like Soldán, Vinobranie not only marks the beginning of the wine making season, but also offers a chance to make some extra money by selling his products at the festival. Soldán said that this year's harvest was not the greatest, but quickly added that the poor crop would not dampen the festival's mood or create a wine shortage.

"God decides how many grapes we harvest each year, and man decides how much wine there will be for the year to come," Soldán said. From his two hectares of land he is able to harvest grapes for about 5,000 litres of wine per year. For him, like for most Modrans, wine making is a family tradition passed down from his father.

"For me the Vinobranie festival still means work, because if I want to make some money I have to sell my burčiak and wine there," he said. But while it may be work, it is still fun - he said that his favourite part was the opening ceremony during which the Pezinok and Modra mayors dress in traditional gowns and exchange the official Vinobranie decree signifying which town the party is being held in that year.

"Traditional ceremonies, like the opening 'first gulp' where the mayors officially announce the festival's start, are very popular," added Jánošová. Also contributing to the entertaining atmosphere are live music performances by various local country bands. This year, famous Slovak jazzman Peter Lipa is scheduled to perform on Saturday night, September 23, on Modra's Ľudov't Štúr square, followed by fireworks.

Getting there from Bratislava: By bus, there are frequent lines, many of which run from the old station on Bajkalská ulica. By car, follow route 502 north through the Bratislava suburb of Rača and simply folow the signs to Modra.

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