Slovenia lies on the southern slopes of the Alps and touches the Mediterranean. Although it may enjoy the benefits of “the best of both worlds,” Slovene viticulture is also at the mercy of unpredictable climate from both the north and the south. Consequently, the total annual output of Slovene vineyards may vary as much as 50%. There are extraordinary vintages and absolute failures, with a spectrum of “in-betweens.” There have been seven extraordinary vintages in this century: 1917, 1942, 1947, 1952, 1958, 1971, and 1983. The 1993 vintage is considered excellent in all areas, but the 1994 was only excellent in Primorje. In general the 1995 vintage was generally poor to average.

Slovenia has always been the crossroads between north and south, east and west. Many travelers brought wine making knowledge from all the prominent viticultural nations of Europe. Accordingly, French, Italian, and German influences are evident both in the growing and production of wines as well as in the terminology. Varietal wines are predominantly named after the grape, while blended wines frequently carry the name of the producing region. The terminology for high-quality wines in Slovenia is similar to that found in Germany.

In years of average yield, Slovenia produces between 800,000 and 900,000 hectoliters (21.1 to 23.8 million gallons) of wine annually from some 21,600 hectares (53,373 acres) of vineyard in three winegrowing regions: Podravje, Posavje, and Primorje. These regions are further subdivided in accordance with specifics of microclimatic conditions, soils, etc. For comparison, the total area of Slovene vineyards is approximately the same as that of the Bordeaux region and produces about half the quantity of wine. Quality and high-quality wines dominate and only about 30% of the wine produced in Slovenia is of the table wine category. The quality of Slovene wines is ensured by the large number of small producers. The most outstanding quality comes in batches of 700 to 3000 bottles, lovingly prepared by vignerons with small and immaculately tended vineyards. The Slovene Wine Growers and Producers Association imposes and enforces strict rules governing everything from the types of grapes that may be grown in specific regions to the methods of wine production and labeling.

In terms of the global history of winegrowing, the art began early in Slovenia, some 2400 years ago. Archeological finds indicate that wine was known to the Celtic and Illyrian tribes of northeastern Slovenia before the Romans arrived in the present winegrowing regions. Winegrowing truly blossomed with the Romans and numerous archeological finds give hints of a flourishing production and trade. However, with the decline of the Roman Empire, its viticultural methods and traditions were lost.

The craft of winegrowing returned with the Christianization of the Slavs. Records referring to vineyards and wine production can be found in the 9th century annals of the Principality of Prince Kocelj (the area around Lake Balaton in present day Hungary). Still, production remained limited until the 12th century when the Hungarian tribes withdrew eastward and the climatically ideal areas of Stajerska and Prekmurje became available for cultivation. The art of winegrowing was reintroduced by monks. From the 12th century onward, the history of Slovene viticulture is one of continuous development. Much of the forests were cleared to obtain land for new vineyards. The vineyards were mostly owned by the Catholic Church, the landed aristocracy, and from 15th century onward by the emerging bourgeoisie. The “Vineyard Law” which regulated relations between the owners and those who tended the vineyards began emerging in the 13th century and the written codes dating from 1543 have been preserved.

The taste and bouquet of Slovene wines range from heavy Bordeaux-style blended red wines to the aromatic white wines of the Mosel and Rhine valleys. You can also find the dry wines of Italy, sweet varieties offered by Hungary, the heavy port and sherry of Spain and Portugal, and the light and subtle wines of Champagne and Alsace-Lorraine. A number of local varieties grown nowhere else have also been developed during Slovenia’s long viticultural history.

Slovenia lies in an ideal climate zone, with the Adriatic Sea as a part of its western border. The Alps form Slovenia’s northern border shield the land from the harshest of northern weather and also moderate the intense continental summer heat. The southern slopes of the Alps and their rolling foothills offer a large number of good viticultural sites that are grouped into three viticultural regions differing in microclimate, soil composition and viticultural tradition: Podravje, Posavje, and Primorje. With such a wide variety of ampelographic conditions, Slovene viticulturists have been able apply and customize vines, winegrowing, and methods of making wine from all parts of Europe.

Podravje Region: Podravje is the largest of Slovenia’s winegrowing regions, is divided into six winegrowing areas: Maribor, Radgona-Kapela, Srednje Slovenske Gorice, Haloze, Ljutomer-Ormoz, and Prekmurske Gorice. The wines of the Podravje region are among the most prestigious in Slovenia; the region is particularly famous for its late harvest and other wines of special quality. Its moderate climate and specific soils are ideal for the production of rich, aromatic white wines. The German influence is the most evident in the region’s choice of grapes to cultivate – the best white wines of the region are similar to those grown in the Rhine and Mosel valleys but are generally more aromatic, sweeter, and stronger, thanks to the warmer climate.

Posavje Region: Posavje is the region where the French influence affected the local viticulture more than in any other Slovene winegrowing region; consequently, Posavje is primarily known for its blended wines. Local growers were always individualists, stubbornly growing and tending their wines in small private cellars or zidanice – the first cooperative winery of the region was established in Metlika in 1929 only after years of heated debate. Although blended wines are the staple of this region’s viticulture, climatic conditions allow the production of other excellent wines.

Primorje Region: As a general rule, the wines of Primorje tend to be dry and rich in minerals, with moderate acids and a subtler bouquet. Both red and white wines tend to contain more pigment than those of other regions. Primorje is the only Slovene winegrowing region where red wines comprise 50% of the produce; in all other regions, white wines dominate. Early springs and hot summer weather make the grapes ripen quickly. The must tends to be rich in sugars, and the skins and pulp accumulate more pigment than grapes grown in cooler regions. On the other hand, aromatic oils and acids tend to be moderate to low.

Written on May 21st, 2010 , Travel, Wines

A Virtual Tour of Grapes, Wines, Wineries