Wine Tour in Czech Republic

Valtice, Czech Republic

Wine writers are the happiest group of tourists in South Moravia. Tasting, sniffing, pondering and making notes is one of the “good-mood” professions. We set the tone for our good mood by sampling from a vast selection of Czech Republic wines on the wine menu at the new Andaz Prague Hotel in the Century-Old Sugar Palace.

Liquid Treasures of Valtice

Beyond the majestic castles, cathedrals and the culture of Prague, lies oases of Central European charm. Standing at the gates of the Valtice Castle, a UNESCO Heritage site, about to enter this massive baroque Chateau, I have butterflies. I am walking right into a living history book. The Chateau, the former residence of the Liechtenstein Family, was built in stages by 13 Princes of the realm, and by the 18th century, the residence with its collection of furnishings and extravagant inventory competed with the Imperial Court in Vienna.

Valtice Wine Cellar
Valtice Wine Cellar

What is of interest to me and my colleagues, besides the historic portraits and the elegant antique interior designs, lies in the carefully curated liquid treasures in the cellars below the Chateau: the wine. The cellar is cool, and larger than I expected, and has been carved out of rock centuries ago. It holds a permanent tasting exhibition of the best Moravian and Bohemian wines. A collection is selected annually in the Wine Salon-National Wine Competition of the Czech Republic, the highest and the most all-encompassing national wine competition.

Wines registered in the salon must be made exclusively from local grapes and must pass the system of nomination exhibitions. One hundred wines are given the rights for their bottles to be signed with the Gold Medal of the Wine Salon of the Czech Republic every year. The wines are then presented to the public in Valtice. Guided by a Sommelier, I taste samples of as many wines as I can hold, and still retain my equilibrium well enough to read the fascinating stories about each wine and its producer. After several hours, emerging from the cellars and strolling in the fresh breeze through the manicured gardens, I feel that I’ve had a time-travel experience—one that I may never have again.

Palava Panorama

Sonberk is a modern winery nestled within 40 hectares of vineyard dating back to the 13th century. Through the unique pairing of soil and sun the vineyard gives origin to healthy grapes – for a unique, unforgettable wine. The winery was designed by Josef Pleskot in a modern style combining wood, glass and concrete with the most beautiful view of Pálava Hills, a UNESCO protected heritage site. Pálava Hills is also one of the world’s most important prehistoric localities from the time of the mammoth hunters, and a place where the world-famous statuette of the Venus of Dolní Věstonice was found.

Plže: A Hobbit Village?

Have I stumbled into a quaint Hobbit Village? Will the Seven Dwarfs emerge from one of these cottages built into the hillside whistling and singing “Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s off to work we go?” In the 1700s, these structures were built into the earth as cool places to store wine, and on the hill side we see ventilation chimneys sticking out of the ground almost like tree-stumps. A larger-than-life ancient wood sculpture of Saint Urbain, the Patron Saint of wine, had been carved at the time from a single tree trunk. The patina of age glows from Saint Urbain as he stands guard, protecting the soul of the wine. Searching for adventure and wine, I knock on a massive green door and am welcomed by the winemaker, who readily offers a tasting. He chooses a bottle from the shelves that line the cottage, and with a wine barrel as a table, he gives a generous pour into an oversized Bohemian glass goblet and tells me about his vineyard high up on the mountain. Na zdravi! I am delighted to purchase a Pinot Blanc, and three weeks later, at a small dinner at my home, I pour the wine and share the story. Is this not one of the joys of travel?

Moravia, Vrbice

Respect for nature and careful care of their vineyards are part of the philosophy of Reisten Winery, which is located in the heart of the Pálava region. The history of viticulture here dates back to the 3rd Century AD. It is a casual stroll through the vineyards, enjoying the surrounding nature, calmness, history and…bottle of wine, of course.

Gurdau Winery: The Roots of the Vine

There is a unique micro-climate in the Zdanice Hills, and in the foothills lies the small wine-growing village of Kurdějov. The Gurdau Winery, established in 2012 was not, however, the first winery to exist in this ancient valley. A found-document from the 13th Century states that the land with the vineyard had been sold to a Monastery. The village and the vineyards were destroyed many times during wars in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries, until German and Austrian settlers came to Kurdějov, and, lo and behold, brought Riesling clones from Germany, as well as an improved wine making process.

Moravia wine
Gurdau Winery

The golden era, history shows, was in the 18th Century, when the winery had 400 hectares. Alas, all destroyed by the ravages of WWI and WWII. Still, in 2010, the micro-climate beckoned a savvy entrepreneur who began to revive the wine-making tradition. In the valley there is a constant funnel like wind, and it cools down the vines. Little rain, hot and dry in summer, and the focus is on the plants, to get the roots down as deep as possible. Today, those roots grow 20 to 25 meters down. Not until 2016 did they produce the first batch of wine, and from there the production grew to 35,000. This evening, the family-owned business will celebrate the fruits of their sustainable practices and meticulous techniques and, I’m told, with justifiable pride, “We’re going to be opening Bordeaux wines from the vintage 2003.”

Mikulov: Spiritual Centre

The Dietrichstein Family lived in their Baroque chateau in Mikulov from 1575 to the Second World War when the retreating German Army burned it to the ground. It was rebuilt, and today, it is the home of The Regional Museum of Mikulov, in which there is a fascinating, extensive permanent wine exhibit of Wine Across the Centuries and a Gallery. The Dietrichstein Tomb is in the square. It is a complex of Jewish monuments with an accessible synagogue. For centuries, Mikulov was the spiritual, cultural and political centre of Moravian Jews, and in 1851 also the seat of the Moravian Rabbis.  In 1805, Napoleon selected this Chateau for his peace negotiations after the Battle of Austerlitz. In 1937, King Edward of Britain came to visit and had meetings with the Nazis. It was the fashion of the time, to like the Nazis. But I digress. In Moravia, the fascinating histories and stories of the vineyards enhance the present-day modern wine production.

Mikulov Castle Panorama
Mikulov Castle Panorama

There are at least thirty vineyards around this town of 7,000 people. Riesling, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner and many of our most appreciated varieties grow in the Mikulovská Wine sub-region, on and around the Pálava limestone cliff.

The summer chateau built by the Maximillian Dietrichstein family is now owned by a family of winemakers from Opava, in Silesia. Vino Cibulka is an organic winery. It was a complete ruin, they tell me—literally hollow on the inside, and filled with rubble up to the ceiling. After 8 ½ years of effort and hard work, it has been transformed into a large airy wood-frame home that stands on a high, brick/stone foundation. Large windows overlook the vineyard and the land on all sides. We take a walk through the tunnels in the cellars which are 100 years older than the Chateau, and go to the woods near the border of Austria—like a Czech Underground Railway. I am very uncomfortable and do not feel that these tunnels are stable. Particularly when we arrive at a spot where the tunnel is caved-in and filled with rocks and rubble. When the Russian Army attacked south Moravia, they egregiously altered the course of the wine industry in this part of the world. People escaped through these tunnels, hid in the woods at night and crossed the border to Austria. Once discovered, the enemy collapsed the tunnels and lay in wait to ambush.

See Also
Sakura Awards

Mikulov Castle
Mikulov Castle

Organic to the Bone

Vino Cibulka ensures there is nothing in the wine that does not belong there. The production has been totally organic since the beginning. Herbs grow in their two vineyards, bees and butterflies fly around and the meadow is abloom with flowers. The Chardonnay and the Champagne produced are crisp and refreshing, and reflect the terroir around us.

From the Jan Stávek Winery in Němčičky, we have panoramic views of what is referred to as the Moravian Tuscany area. A walk in the vineyards is pure pleasure, and at the end, tasting the wine caps off a perfect afternoon.

Sedlec Cathedral
Sedlec Cathedral, Raquel Moss, unsplash

Between Mikulov and Valtice, on the bank of the large Nesyt pond is the Sedlecka Vina Company, a winery that owes its unique quality of wine to limestone bedrock, the mirror effect of the pond, and the shelter of the surrounding hills. Quite different from the flat vineyards we are accustomed to seeing in Ontario.

We take the time on this lovely spring day, to visit the Wine Cellars Kutná Hora and the Sedlec Cathedral and Ossuary. It appears that this was an old Medieval Gothic Church, but it is so much more. Known as “the bone church,” there, in the centre, is one of the most fascinating artistic works I have ever seen: an enormous chandelier made up of at least one of every bone in the human body!

The oldest evidence of large-scale production of wine from grapes in Europe was found in Greece around 4000 BC. Wars erupted, the earth buckled under fire and flood. Populations scattered. The upheavals on the Continent took precious roots and seeds far afield. And so it was that grapevines found a perfect home along the Pálava limestone cliff in the Mikulovská wine sub-region, around the intoxicating charm of the historic towns of South Moravia. For many centuries, viticulture flourished in Pálava and the surrounding hills, valleys and streams. Wineries thrived and perished on this land, but the grape vines have memories, and the tradition of wine making is flourishing once again.

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