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ONE VILLAGE, ONE WEEKEND, 174 WINES

Celebrating the harvest in Slovak wine country

Stretching from Bratislava's Vinohrady district to Smolenice, 50 km away, the slender belt of vineyards lacing the eastern slopes of the Lesser Carpathians constitutes Slovakia's premier wine-producing region. Halfway along the "wine trail" - the main road which skirts along the foot of the hills - lies Modra, the "Pearl of the Carpathians" and the center of Slovak viticulture. The vines were brought here in Roman times, and their produce has long been exported. In 982 King Svätopluk, ruler of the Greater Moravian empire, sent a cask of Carpathian wine to the Czech prince Booivoj, whose chroniclers wrote that it was "a gift unheard of and unseen in this land; when the princess, prince and their guests sampled it, they all marvelled at its taste."


Modra's main square will host Vinobranie folk festivities
Courtesy Milan Oravec

Stretching from Bratislava's Vinohrady district to Smolenice, 50 km away, the slender belt of vineyards lacing the eastern slopes of the Lesser Carpathians constitutes Slovakia's premier wine-producing region. Halfway along the "wine trail" - the main road which skirts along the foot of the hills - lies Modra, the "Pearl of the Carpathians" and the center of Slovak viticulture.

The vines were brought here in Roman times, and their produce has long been exported. In 982 King Svätopluk, ruler of the Greater Moravian empire, sent a cask of Carpathian wine to the Czech prince Booivoj, whose chroniclers wrote that it was "a gift unheard of and unseen in this land; when the princess, prince and their guests sampled it, they all marvelled at its taste."

The ancient tipple has been the main reason for Modra's existence for centuries; the first known town seal incorporates a vine, and after an expansion in wine production in the 16th and 17th centuries, a college of fruit and vine was founded in the late 19th century to train vine-growers, dressers and pressers in the art of good wine-making.

Hailing the harvest

Over the weekend of September 20-22, the college will host the gustation which forms the central event of the Vinobranie (the vintage or "vine-taking"), the annual festival held to celebrate the new grape harvest. Wines from Slovakia, Austria and Moravia are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals by an international wine-tasting jury, and a handy catalog saves the visitor the onerous task of sampling all 174 varieties to find the pick of the bunch.

Most of the expected 5,000 merrymakers at the Vinobranie, however, will shun the college's smart interior in favor of the makeshift stands outside, which purvey the vine's younger, brasher and less-refined offspring - burčiak. This newly-pressed wine is left to ferment for only a few days before being brought to the Vinobranie in all kinds of receptacles by the locals.

"Burčiak is sweet on the tongue and slips down the throat very easily," notes Milan Oravec, editor of Modra's local monthly gazette. Newcomers be warned, however: "I've seen people unable to walk after a few drinks of the stuff," Oravec continues. "You're sitting and drinking, and then suddenly you can't stand up."

Bacchus on parade

Though this alcoholic fruit juice has mass appeal, connoisseurs probably will prefer the cultural program of folk bands and rock concerts that has been lined up for the weekend. "The real wine-tasters won't touch burčiak," says Oravec. "To them it still has too many impurities."

To make sure the revelry doesn't get out of hand, and to show how the wine should really be enjoyed, the god Bacchus himself will be leading the parade through the town which is another highlight of the festival.

The Vinobranie tradition was born in the early days of the communist era, when agricultural land was being appropriated and new co-operatives were being set up. The town council organized a competition in 1952 which drew almost 500 vintages from the eastern bloc's wine-producing areas. That event attracted 20,000 visitors, and the fixture has continued ever since, with the venue now alternating each year between Modra and its larger neighbor, Pezinok.

Year-round destination

Even outside the grape-picking season, and despite its physical drabness, Modra merits a half-day trip from Bratislava; it is the home of Slovakia's majolica ceramic tradition, the final resting place of national hero Ľudovít Štúr, and an ideal starting point for forays into the Carpathian forest, for nature-lovers and those needing peace and quiet to doze off the effects of the burčiak bacchanalia.


Sights & Sounds Travel Tips

MODRA

Turistická informačná kancelária- Štúrova 84, Modra, tel: 070492/4295.

Lodging

Chata Haffner- Modra-Piesok, tel: 070492/836. 250 per person.
Hotel Modra- Štúrova 111, tel:070492/2266. Slovaks 170 Sk, foreigners 290 Sk.
Zochova chata- Modra-Piesok, tel:070492/831, /833. 350 Sk per person.

DINING

Bacardi- Sokolská 8, tel: 070492/2616.
Hotel Breza- Modra- Piesok, tel: 070492/839. Mon - Sun 10:00 - 22:00.
Hotel Modra- Štúrova 111, tel: 070492/839. Mon - Sat 7:00 - 22:00, Sun 9:00 - 22:00.
Koruna- Dukelská 6.
U Jarky- Štúrova 6, tel: 070492/2007.

IMPORTANT PLACES

Museum of Ľudovít Štúr- Štúrova ul., tel: 070492/2765. Tue - Fri 8:00 - 18:00, Sat 10:00 - 15:00, Sun call in advance.
Slovenská Ľudová Majolika- Dolná 138, tel:070492/2940, /2286. Mon - Fri 8:00 - 15:00. Slovaks 10 Sk, foreigners 25 Sk. Tours of the ceramics factory.


PEZINOK

Mestské informačné centrum- Štefánikova 5, tel: 0704/412-379

Lodging

Hotel Jeleň- Holubyho 25, tel:0704/412-361. Slovaks 240 Sk, foreigners 300 Sk. Triple: Slovaks 360 Sk, foreigners 600 Sk. Shower, WC down the hall.
Penzión u Leva- Holubyho 63, tel: 0704/411-134. Apartment: Slovaks 600 Sk, foreigners 1,200 Sk.

DINING

Café restaurant Korzo- Štefánikova 10, tel:0704/411-104. Mon - Sat 8:00 - 23:00, Sun 11:00 - 23:00.
Malokarpatská koliba - Vajanského 38.
Slimáčka- Holubyho 12, tel:0704/412-452. Mon - Thu, Sat 11:30 - 0:30, Sun 11:30 - 23:30.
Zámocká vináreň- Mladoboleslavská ul., tel:0704/412-359. Mon - Thu 11:00 - 23:00, Fri - Sat 11:00 - 2:00, Sun 11:00 - 23:00.

IMPORTANT PLACES

Museum of the Lesser Carpathians- Štefánikova 4, tel:0704/2057, 412057, Tue - Fri 9:00 - 12:00, 13:00 - 16:00
Painter Ján Kupecký's house- Kupeckého ul. Kupecký (1667 - 1740) was born here.

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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