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TRADITIONAL VINOBRANIE FESTIVAL CELEBRATES THE SWEAT BEHIND GOOD WINE, AND THE DRUNKS THAT FOLLOW IT

Winebibbers return to Burčiakovo

SLOVAKIA'S DARK, damp and cool cellars swallow winemakers every fall for several weeks as soon as the harvest is in. Bracketed by wooden barrels, the vintners move from one cask to another in time with a centuries-old wine production rhythm.
While most produce wine largely for themselves and their relatives, many turn their labour of love into a business, sharing the results of their year-long efforts with wine enthusiasts at the annual Vinobranie (vine harvest) festivals held in almost all of the 15 wine regions across the country.
One such festival will take place this weekend in the western Slovak town of Modra. The meeting celebrates the first produce of the wine crop, known as burčiak - an immature, sweet, light-brown wine with a potent impact. Burčiak is the most popular fare at Vinobranie events as it is available only during the fall, before fermentation turns the drink into wine proper.


BEWARE, burčiak packs a wallop.
photo: Milan Oravec

SLOVAKIA'S DARK, damp and cool cellars swallow winemakers every fall for several weeks as soon as the harvest is in. Bracketed by wooden barrels, the vintners move from one cask to another in time with a centuries-old wine production rhythm.

While most produce wine largely for themselves and their relatives, many turn their labour of love into a business, sharing the results of their year-long efforts with wine enthusiasts at the annual Vinobranie (vine harvest) festivals held in almost all of the 15 wine regions across the country.

One such festival will take place this weekend in the western Slovak town of Modra. The meeting celebrates the first produce of the wine crop, known as burčiak - an immature, sweet, light-brown wine with a potent impact. Burčiak is the most popular fare at Vinobranie events as it is available only during the fall, before fermentation turns the drink into wine proper.

Modra this year is so enthusiastic about its burčiak yield that about 300 litres will actually be pumped through a fountain in the town square for half an hour starting at 12:00 on Sunday. Onlookers are invited to bring glasses.

Several dozens booths scattered around the town core will also sell the still-fermenting broth in bottles, offering taster cups as well as over 200 samples of newly produced wines and local food delicacies for sale. The festival atmosphere will be enriched by live music.

"For Slovaks, this festival means a chance to get drunk and have fun," says Modra wine maker Pavel Soldán, 36. "The festival has a great spirit, and drunk people simply belong to it."


PAVEL Soldán carries on the centuries old tradition in Modra.
photo: Courtesy of MOS Pezinok

Vinobranie, for over four decades a fixture of Slovak culture, recognises the year-round labour of vintners, a cycle which begins in winter with the pruning of vines and continues through September, when the harvest is brought in. The fall's cellar-work rounds out the schedule.

"Wine is like a small child - you have to take care of it constantly from the very beginning," explains Soldán.

Modra, a small town in the foothills of the Small Carpathians mountain range, has a long tradition of winemaking. Vinobranie was first organised in 1958 on the occasion of the town's 800th anniversary. Every year since then Modra has alternated as festival host with the neighbouring town of Pezinok, except for 1968 when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia.

Vintners say the reason they remain so devoted to the trade is that they have it in their blood.

"Wine is my love," says Fedor Malík, a world-known wine teacher, taster and maker. "It's not just because of my profession as a researcher but also because of my attitude to it as a person. I was born under the Small Carpathian mountains. I don't carry wine in my wallet, but in my heart."

While Slovak wines are still relatively unknown in the global wine market, Malík says Slovakia has some high quality white wines that can compete with the best French and Italian produce.

"I've met several foreign wine experts who praised our wines, especially the white varieties, and now I'm beginning to hear that they have also acquired a taste for Slovak red," he says.

Soldán, who inherited his wine genes from his father, agrees, adding that many foreign customers frequent his cellar, which he runs year-round.

While the job of promoting Slovak wine is also a year-round business, the domestic popularity of Slovak vineyards reaches a peak during Vinobranie. A village near the town of Pezinok, a few kilometres from Modra, has been even dubbed Burčiakovo (burčiak town), as almost every house there has sold burčiak in the fall for decades.

While Vinobranie is over quickly, Slovak winemakers stress that their product is available non-stop.

"The wine year never stops," says Soldán.

Where: Modra (25 kilometres north of Bratislava)
When: The September 27-29 weekend (from 16:30 Sep 27, 9:00 Sep 28 and 29 until late evening)
How much: free
How to get there: By car from Bratislava - take highway #502 north through the Rača suburb and follow the signs to Modra; by bus and train - check www.vlak-bus.cz.
For more information and an event programme call the Modra municipal office (Mestský úrad) at 033/6472-212 or visit www.modra.sk

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