I’ve just returned from a trip to Moravia in the south of the Czech Republic. The main reason for going was an invitation to Autentikfest 2022, the wine festival for the Czech natural wine movement, but whilst there I also managed to visit four producers, and then to take up an invitation to dinner (and wine, of course) at Gut Oggau, a couple of hour’s drive away in Burgenland.
This gives me a lot to write about over the coming weeks (including several “recent wines” articles and a book review), all at a time when we are about to move ten hours up the road. So, I’ll be playing catchup whilst acclimatising to my new surroundings, and making the most of the end of summer from a house within a two-minute walk from the ocean.
I shall write separately about visits to taste with Petr Koráb, Krásná Horá, Jaroslav Osička and Richard Stávek as I find time (and, of course, Gut Oggau). Here I plan to write a brief intro now I’ve finally been to the region, and tell you a little about Autentikfest. We were there at the invitation of UK specialist importer Basket Press Wines. Petr Koráb kindly provided our accommodation in a Penzion he owns. I should also mention that two of the winemakers we visited provided meals, but all flights, car hire etc were paid for by myself.
We were pretty tired on arrival in the village of Boleradice last Thursday evening, about two hours north of Vienna, a relaxed drive through a pastoral idyll of rolling hills and vineyards, and very little traffic, a world away from what we had left behind that morning. London Gatwick was seething with people and a plane delayed by nearly two hours made us very thirsty by the time of our arrival. No sooner had we thrown our luggage into our room than we were off walking to Petr’s cellars, about ten minutes up the hill. We entered a small glade of trees, surrounded on one side by an arc of cellar entrances, like small chalets concealing cavernous depths. A beautiful table was set for our dinner. It was going to be the best night of the summer, but that story is to come.
Saturday was festival day, and we arrived at lunch time after a morning producer visit. Autentikfest usually takes place in Boleradice, but this year it changed venues and moved to the equally attractive wine village of Mutěnice. This is a village absolutely full of small wine cellars, but in a totally different style to those of Boleradice.
We tasted from several winemakers, the best of which was Vykoukal (we’d done Koráb the night before), a producer imported by Basket Press Wines, whose bottles I’ve written about on a number of occasions. Styled as “Vin d’Austerlitz”, the 1.5 ha they farm are part of the famous battlefield of the Napoleonic Wars, where 100,000 soldiers were killed (for what?).
What I want to do here, though, is to highlight two producers who are neither from Moravia, nor make wine, but were at the festival. Utopia Cider and Euforia, makers of Birch Sap, are based in the North of Czechia. Ivo and Eva have created a wonderful home in the 14th Century fort called Sudkuf Zul, in the Josafat Valley. They make minimum intervention ciders…spontaneous fermentation, no enzymes, fermented dry (except for one), aged in barrel for twelve months and then further in bottle before release. These drinks have the vibe of a natural wine petnat more than the kind of cider we have traditionally drunk in the UK.
The orchards see no sprays and there are trees as old as 80 still bearing enough fruit. They buy in apples from local farms, and have planted their own orchards, with many English cider varieties. The farm is mixed and they aim for as great a degree of self-sufficiency as they can.
Utopia makes a range of white and red drinks (including an apple/grape co-ferment where the apples ferment on grape skins from Moravian producer Dlúhé Grefty’s “Rufus”). The pinnacle of their range is the amazing ice cider called “Patience”. Ania, if you are reading this, they have used your quote from your Silo days: “total brainfuck”. But it really is.
This cider is free of any added sulphites, unlike most ice ciders, and this ramps-up the purity factor massively. It sees 18 months on lees in neutral used oak casks (225 litres). It takes five kilos of late ripening apples, a small Czech variety which grows wild and is too small for anyone to bother with these days, to make 75cl of the cider. It isn’t cheap but for those of us less wealthy, they do bottle it in halves as well. It’s sweet, but the acidity matches it, like you would get with a fine German Auslese. Intense is the only word for it, but maybe magical too.
They also make another amazing product, called drinking vinegar. Again, this is a sulphur-free natural product made by the very slow “Orléans” fermentation method, in vinegar casks, taking 17-18 months rather than the mere days it takes to produce a commercial vinegar.
After the apple fermentation is complete the vinegar is macerated with blackcurrant (the full-monty of fruit, leaves and wood) and then, in this particular batch, elderflower. This creates unbelievable levels of complexity in both aroma and flavour. It has a number of uses for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. If you drink apple cider vinegar in a tumbler of water first thing in the morning (as some people do), this would be a perfect artisan substitute. Other flavours are available, as the photo below shows.
I do hope these might appear in the UK at some point, especially as I was on this trip with three buyers from the Ottolenghi chain – we all agreed they’d be perfect for the Ottolenghi delis. I do like artisan ciders, and regularly buy fine grape ciders from “Vins et Vinaigres” in Arbois. I have now found my favourite vinegar. If only I was brave enough to book cabin baggage at the moment!
Euforia makes something very different. Jan Klimeš harvests birch sap from the forests of the Bohemian Highlands, quite close to Utopia Cider, and they are all good friends. This purportedly health-giving drink is made from the sap, fermented with other fruits etc. I say “fermented”, as this is what I was told, but it is some kind of malolactic and the fermentation produces no alcohol, so these drinks are alcohol free.
At the Basket Press Wines portfolio tasting (see my article of 17 March this year) I tasted three versions, macerated with Blackcurrant, Blackthorn and Earl Grey Tea. The blackcurrant was my favourite. At Autentikfest I tasted several more and loved the sloe, rose hip and orange. The pine version (replete with a large twig in the bottle as they all contain solids from that which they were macerated with) divided opinion. Luca from Sardinia (and Nopi Restaurant) and Michal from Poland (and Ottolenghi Spitalfields) both loved it, but I found it quite intense. I obviously prefer the subtler flavours. That said, these are really unique drinks. They have a touch of Kombucha about them and they feel invigorating, despite being gentle on the palate (and stomach).
Both producers will feature once more next time I buy from Basket Press. They are both really nice young guys making something special.
The festival was great fun and the village was unique, to me at least. I was originally supposed to go to Moravia in 2020 but Covid screwed up my plans. I was so happy to finally get there, and I can guarantee I shall be trying to get back.
In following articles I’ll move on to the frankly exciting natural wines of the region, authentic, artisan, wines made by wonderful characters, a couple of whom would be seen very much in the Overnoy/Ganevat, or maybe Puffeney mould, were they not from a tiny country whose wines are only just now breaking through to an increasing profile and, I predict, great things on the UK market. There’s that initial sign that any truly innovative wine list probably has at least one Czech wine. One or two cutting edge restaurants have a few.
To finish, some pics of the wine cellar entrances to caves built down into the hillside, and some views from the top of the hill.