Exploring The World Of Czech Wine

  • By Emily Campeau
  • 22 Dec 2020
  • 7 MIN
  • Level 101
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Small traditional cellars in Moravia - Credit : Emily Campeau

Many wine lovers will be genuinely surprised when discovering a Czech wine for the first time; a great majority of them may not be aware that there is wine made in this country at all. The national production is largely consumed locally and the Czech Republic’s image has traditionally been associated with beer. However, the country has been playing in both camps for centuries, to its own advantage and for our great pleasure. Let’s take a deeper look at some important features of its wine production. 

A Czech History Lesson

The first documentation of grape growing in present-day Czech Republic dates all the way back to the Great Moravian Empire, which collapsed in the early 10th century. The following centuries saw a succession of golden and dark ages for viticulture as the country went through both political and religious conflicts.

Nothing was more devastating than the 20th century, when Communism put a serious halt to quality wine production. When all privately owned land had to be handed to the state, you prayed you knew someone who could help you quench your thirst (a small volume of personal production was allowed) because state wine was poorly made and was mostly exported to Russia anyway. Vineyards were planted with an emphasis on quantity and mechanization: wide rows made for big tractors, and high yields made for big money. Precious artisanal knowledge was almost lost altogether, and a mediocre uniformity reigned supreme.

When the regime ended, the wine industry began its recovery and needed to adapt quickly. The campaign for reinstating the land to private ownership was helpful. The winegrowers’ vision turned towards modernity (perhaps too much): new plantings with a better understanding of terroir, experimentation with new varieties, and the first wine law written in 1995. Opening the country to wines from all over the world, coupled with domestic demand for wine that finally tasted good, put pressure on the Czech producers to get up to speed quality-wise.

It is important to note here the massive impact that the Czech producers working with a low intervention/natural approach have had on attracting well-deserved recognition to the country. No matter where one stands on the topic, it is virtually impossible not to have come across the name of Milan Nestarec over the past five years. There are many others too, including Richard Stávek, Dlúhé Grefty, Ota Ševčík, Jaroslav Osička, Porta Bohemica, and Dobrá Vinice. They broke out in international wine markets like the Beatles broke out in America in 1964 and have now found customers all over the world. The country has one of the highest proportions of organically farmed agricultural land in Europe (12.82% in 2018), and that, of course, includes vineyards. 

The Lay Of The Land

The Czech Republic sits on the 49th parallel and is therefore deemed cool climate, and  continental because of its landlocked position. Of its 18,000 ha of vines, 96% are located in the south, in Moravia, with the rest scattered around Bohemia. The most-planted red and white grapes are Blaufränkisch and Grüner Veltliner, respectively, with St. Laurent and Müller-Thurgau close seconds. The large majority of the hectarage is white, with Riesling and Welschriesling also being favourites. A panoply of funky crossings has emerged over the years, establishing small pockets of plantings here and there: Pálava (Müller-Thurgau x Gewürztraminer), Moravian (Muscat and Cabernet Sauvignon), Aurelius (Neuburger x Riesling), and many others. 

Exploring Moravia

Moravia is further divided into four subregions:

Znojmo: The westernmost part of the Moravian appellation sits in the rain shadow of the Czech Highlands. A handful of traditional wine towns are found on the border with Austria. The soils here are mostly gravelly with some loess and clay. 

Mikulov: Niched by the limestone-rich Pálava Hills, vines here are planted on the gentle slopes. The Pálava variety was crossed at the Vine Research and Breeding Centre at Perná and is at home here in Mikulov.

Velké Pavlovice: This subregion goes from Brno to Břeclav. One will find lots of varied soils with loam, marl, sandstone, and limestone. Thi is a prime location for red varieties. 

Slovácko:  On the border with Slovakia, with vineyards planted around the Morava River, this subregion is bordered to the east by the Carpathian mountains. Some areas are heavier in clay, others in stony soils. 

Exploring Bohemia

Bohemia is subdivided into two main regions:

Litoměřice: This used to be the second largest wine city after Prague back in the Middle Ages. From the Vina z Moravy website we can read “In 1251 in nearby Žernoseky the Cistercians dug out massive wine cellars and planted vineyards along the romantic part of the valley where the Elbe enters the Czech central mountain range through the gorges known as Porta Bohemica”. One will find lots of basalt and some limestone soils here. 

Mělník: This subregion covers the area around the town of the same name, as well as Prague and its surroundings, and Čáslav. One will find lots of limestone, sandstone, and gravel soils here. 

Small traditional cellars in Moravia - Credit : Emily Campeau