In case you were wondering, Czechia is the short name for the Czech Republic, the country that was formed in 1993 when Czechoslovakia was dissolved to form two separate states, Czechia and Slovakia. Inland and surrounded by four countries, Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia, it is not perhaps the first wine-producing country that one thinks of in central Europe, but a recent short visit during the 2020 edition of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles wine competition convinced me that its wines merit our attention, even if not many find their way over that country’s borders for the moment.
The total vineyard area within the Czech Republic amounts to 18,000 hectares, very largely concentrated in the south-east corner of the country and the region of South Moravia, which alone accounts for 96% of the country’s vineyards. The rest lie in Bohemia. Each of these broader regions are subdivided into official wine regions (respectively 4 in Moravia and 2 in Bohemia) which have PDO status under European wine legislation, with defined borders and requisite grape varieties, just like the AOP system in France. This has now been in application for the past 12 years. As South Moravia was the region that I visited, since the competition was held in its capital city, Brno, this article will be focused on these wines. The labeling and identification system not only corresponds to European legislation, but also has a clear Germanic heritage as producers can opt for the Quality Wine with Predicate approach that measures sugar in the must to determine the category. Some do so, but many make mainly dry wines and go the other way.
Climate-wise, Moravia lies on the 49th parallel, which puts it on the same latitude as Alsace or Baden for example, but with a far more continental aspect as it lies well into central and eastern Europe. This means hot summers and cold and dry winters. Average annual rainfall is around 500mm, and this falls mainly between the months of May and August, which must result in a challenge in the vineyard during flowering, and of course spring frosts and summer hailstorms are also natural hasards. The topography in South Moravia is of low, rolling hills with some vineyard sites on fairly steep slopes. Driving through the vineyards made me think of Burgundy’s Macon region, as the vineyards are interspersed with other cultures and woodland.
Given the region’s history as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the main grape varieties are shared with those of its Austrian neighbour and are dominated by white cultivars : Grûner Veltliner, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Welchriesling. So-called international varieties (in fact mostly French) such as Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are also planted. Moravia also has its specific variety called Palava, a cross between Traminer and Müller-Thurgau. In all there is quite a lot of varietal diversity as the state variety book lists 35 white grapes and 26 reds. The main red ones, whose share of plantings are on the rise, are also to be found in Austria : Blaufränkisch (aka Frankovka) and Saint-Laurent (I can hardly spell its Czech name !); but there are also the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
Finally, to conclude this general picture, wine tourism is very well developed in South Moravia with wine trails and many well-organised reception areas in the medium to larger sized wineries that cater to visitors.
Portrait of a Moravian winery : Obelisk
During my three-day stay I did not have the time or opportunity to taste very extensively the wines of South Moravia but one winery in particular caught my attention for the quality of all the wines that I tasted at their stand during one of our visits and during a dinner. There I met the winemaker of this winery, Obelisk, that was only founded in 2016. Filip Lutzky is a friendly and open-minded young man whose initial studies were in Physical Engineering and Nanotechnology before moving to Enology. He followed these studies with internships in New Zealand, Chile and France (Burgundy). He is now the salaried winemaker at Obelisk.
Obelisk was found in 2016 by František Fabičovic, who also owns a company called Alcaplast which manufactures sanitary equipment. He was engaged in wine production before founding Obelisk and started out as a forest engineer, which lead him to found, prior to the winery, the Obelisk game reserve in order to save some local wetlands and the species that inhabit these. It took them a couple of years to plan this winery which was built from sratch and completed in 2017 in time for harvest.
Filip has plenty of freedom in his work as a winemaker, as his employer is a wine-lover but not an interventionist in this field. Their vineyards today cover 44 hectares that have been gradually accumulated by purchasing plots of various ages : young, 20 year old and some 40 year old, with an emphasis on older vines which they save from being ripped out by former owners.
The range of wines is divided into 2 groups : the entry level ones are made from younger vines, fermented in stainless steel, and closed by screwcaps. Their style is essentially fruit-driven and their retail prices on the domestic market lie between 7,5 and 10 euros. By the way, the local currency is the korona which converts at the rate of 0,04 to a euros. Above these wines come a set of wines that may use either steel or wood as their fermenters and ageing containers, come from older vines, are closed with cork and retail for around 12 euros. Obelisk also has plans for an iconic wine or two which will be positioned above this. They also produce 2 sparkling wines, one of which I tasted and found excellent, parfectly balanced and crisp, and also a wine called Amber which is made in earthenware jars made with clay that was dug out during the winery’s construction. I tasted this and found it very successful. It is actually yellow in colour rather than amber and the skin maceration has been very sensitively handled since the wine has good freshness and none of the aggressive bitterness and four-square dry-boned finish that one finds on many such wines.
I must have tasted 6 of the Obelisk wines and all were good to very good. They do not yet export, but I would think that they could be of interest, and not merely for the novelty value, to importers around the world.