Moravia 2022 – Krásna Horá Winery

Krásna Horá means beautiful hill, or mountain, in Czech, and the winery which sits at the bottom of it in the village of Nový Poddvorov, and is named after it, nestles among extremely attractive, gently rolling, Moravian hills. However, in this rural idyll the winery stands apart as a flash of modernity. It was by far the most modern of the “artisan” wineries we saw in Moravia, and its architectural design was a big step up, gravitational flows and modern equipment etc, from those of the larger producers we passed. Very attractive tasting room too, very light and overlooking the vine rows trailing up the slope outside.

The design element is taken through to the labels as well. Petr Koráb does wild labels for his petnats but keeps broadly traditional for his still wines. There are wines here with what you might call a more traditional label, but the majority of the range has a theme running through the labels. I think there has been a degree of influence from that star of modern Czech wine, Milan Nestarec, in this department. They are certainly friends and he was mentioned several times.

Our morning tasting was conducted by Ondrej Dubas, who is the English-speaking face of the winery, which is family owned. The head of the family and current owner is Marek Vybiral, who is Ondrej’s uncle. Ondrej’s grandfather planted their first vines in the early 1960s, under the communist regime, although vines had been planted here long before by Cistercian monks in the 12th or 13th century. Over sixty years this vineyard developed into an important eight-hectare biodynamic producer of low intervention wines (with another vineyard purchased recently substantially adding to this, and local organic fruit bought in too) with an international outlook and a total focus on quality at a fair price.

Ondrej

Soils vary up the main hill (and they farm vineyards elsewhere in the region too), but there is generally a 50-60 cm layer of topsoil on a mix of clay, limestone and sand. Orientation is southwest. The top of the gentle hill is crowned by a beautiful old oak forest, which protects the vines and creates a warm microclimate, which we certainly enjoyed on our visit. It is certainly warm enough to ripen apricots, and certain other plants which could not be grown openly in the UK even if the climate were warm enough (not, I should stress, on Krásna Horá land, and equally, not illegal I’m told in the Czech Republic). That said, this part of Czechia is situated on the 49th Parallel, generally felt to be around the limit where grapes will ripen in Central Europe, so this is still cool climate viticulture. The key to wine quality here is the difference between daytime and night time temperatures, the drop at night helping to retain acids and aromatics.

No synthetic products are used on the vines or in the winery, and just a small addition of sulphur is used, if needed, before bottling. The winery does buy oak, mostly new, from François Frères in Burgundy, and since 2010 has amassed eighty-nine barrels. Organic certification in 2009 was followed by a shift to biodynamics in 2014, the certification for that being ongoing. Yields are restricted to a maximum of 1.3kg/vine, often lower, which translates to a purity and fruit etc intensity, even at the lower end of the range.

Another key to the freshness of Moravian wine is the cellars. The architect-designed but simple winery at Krásna Horá is built over cellars dug into the earth. They may not be as old as some we saw, interestingly dug in 1942 during the war, but they are as cool, no, cold, as any we entered.

We tasted eleven wines before a simple lunch, thoughtfully made fully vegan for one of our party, topping off our visit with a walk among the vines and around the local area, among smallholdings with animals, fruit and nut trees, large pumpkins and other scattered crops.

Anna 2021 – Anna is a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc, easy, fresh and fruity. A few of these wines are named after family members and their faces adorn the labels. Anna is a daughter, and Miya (next) is the daughter of Ondrej’s cousin.

Miya 2021 – This was the first time I’d tasted Miya and I was not alone in being immediately taken with it. It’s 100% Zweigelt. It has that beautiful profile of raspberry fruit, not totally dissimilar to Petr Koráb’s “Rasberries on Ice” that I had enjoyed so much the previous evening. Total freshness. The fruit is direct-pressed whole bunches which only see tank, no oak. Ondrej was astonished, and mildly amused, that this wine was awarded 93 points in a Decanter Tasting. “It’s a basic wine” he said. But basic can be brilliant. It’s something I’ve learnt quite often tasting artisan Czech wines.

Sekt, Blanc de Noir 2020 – This wine was originally made from Zweigelt, but swapping to Pinot Noir was a good move. It’s another star of the range here. It only sees fifteen months on lees, though zero dosage gives fresh acids. It has an elegance and even a tiny bit of autolytic character. The intention here is to make something very different from Champagne, but aiming for both quality and a regional identity, which it achieves.

Herr Gewurztraminer 2021 – I don’t buy a lot of Gewurztraminer, but I have bought this one. The reason being that I find the grape’s propensity towards both high alcohol/ripeness and residual sugar less to my taste, unless the wine is very well made. This sees 100% skin contact for two-to-three weeks, and only two months in tank. It’s a light, fresh, and importantly dry, summer wine.

La Blanca 2021 – This was created as a bar and restaurant cuvée and it is their most exported wine. It fulfils that role nicely, both on price and flavour. It’s fresh, smooth, easy going but certainly not dull. The blend is flexible, mostly Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Neuburger and Pinot Blanc. In 2021 they made around 12,000 bottles of it. 30% of the blend sees some skin contact, 30% some oak and 30% is in tank, all adding to interest. It has a dry, lychee-stone texture, some aromatics, and neutral but sappy fruit.

Riesling 2021 – Riesling is certainly grown in Moravia, but it doesn’t really get pushed as it does over the border in Austria. Grown close to the Slovakian border, three clones are put together in the blend to add complexity and interest, and even a touch of seriousness. The yields for this vintage were tiny because 80% of the fruit was lost to a tornado! The result is definitely intense and concentrated. In fact, it’s a rather special wine.

Sauvignon Blanc 2021 – I’ve mentioned Sauvignon Blanc in a few blends, but this single varietal wine gives me the chance to talk about this grape in Moravia. I’m sure plenty of readers will know how good SB can be from the Austrian region of Steiermark (Styria). There’s a little in Burgenland, but not much, and then it pops up again here. It’s rather good. In Czechia we have something close to the Austrian style, certainly a long way from both New Zealand and Loire iterations of Sauvignon Blanc. Something not only unique, but a style I find can be massively attractive in the right hands.

Four different clones are used. Around 40% of the blend is fermented on skins, part in oak and part in tank. The key is a stone-mineral core and texture, making for a wine situated lower on the stave than Sancerre, and more serious opera than the operetta of cheaper NZSB (note that I am aware NZ does make some astonishingly good SB, just that few get the chance to try them). This, like the best Styrians, has soul and a hint at a serious side. But it isn’t long-aged, being bottled in April of the year following harvest. Ondrej said that for some reason the odd vintages always turn out best with this wine.

Chardonnay 2020 – Limpid green-gold in colour, this barrel selection wine comes from the best fifteen-to-twenty casks containing the best Chardonnay grapes. It sees a year in French oak, some of those François Frères barrels I mentioned earlier, but it is a cuvée they only release in the best vintages. There are some notes of exotic fruits and a good degree of richness, yet it retains its acids, certainly at the moment, and shows a good mineral core. I guess on export markets one might ask whether we need any more Chardonnay in this style, but it is undeniably excellent, ageworthy, and well-priced compared to its peers.

Ruby 2021 – This is mostly made from Zweigelt grown in the village, but with some additions of Dornfelder, Pinot Noir and a few other odds and ends. They come from a 7-hectare plot they bought in order to meet demand for what Ondrej called a “pasta and pizza wine”. Twenty-year-old vines are destemmed then whole berries are fermented on their skins for three weeks. They are then spiced-up by a few months in oak before bottling. There’s delicious and simple cherry fruit, some acidity (just right), and freshness to the fore. It’s the kind of wine you wish you could find in a chain restaurant, but almost always have to make do with a glass of something more pedestrian when you’d much prefer a bottle of this to glug.

Pinot Noir 2021 – There is no doubt that wherever you can grow Pinot Noir successfully, people will try to make wine from it. Moravia is certainly able to grow the variety, and does, but we shouldn’t expect Grand Cru Burgundy from these slopes. We need to judge it as wine, on its own merits, not as a reflection of something else. It’s what I always say when tasting the German Pinots off slate (Ahr), or volcanic soils (parts of Baden) and so on.

This 2021 was a barrel sample due to be bottled around now as I type. A mix of four different Burgundian clones for complexity, they all have tiny berries which are destemmed and fermented (each clone separately) on skins. Blending takes place in July, so a little before we visited. The wine had seen no added sulphur, although a small dose might be added at bottling. Right now, it majors on intense cherry fruit, accentuated no end when swirled in a large glass.

Pinot Noir 2020 – This is a barrel selection, like the Chardonnay. Bottled this January, at 12.5% abv, it comprises just four barrels and two out of the four clones we saw in the 2021 sample above. It already has plenty of obvious depth, although it’s a wine one might counsel keeping for 5-7 years. Quite impressive.

This was an excellent tasting, naturally assisted by sitting comfortably at a large table in a light tasting room, tasting from fine glasses made exclusively for Krásna Horá, not that I would remotely suggest tasting in the cellar or around a tiny kitchen table (the tastings to come) are any less enjoyable. The range is forward-looking. If the labels for the serious end of the range are a little dull compared to the easy-drinkers, I can see why such differentiation is desired. There’s still a certain brutal modernism to the labels for those bottles.

If I say that this is a good-value range, that should not be taken as faint praise. I can see why these wines would be popular with customers at restaurants like Ottolenghi’s, because they offer a clear point of difference to more mundane fare, very good wines that taste a little bit different. Exciting even. They are a great entry point to Czech wine too. The more serious selections are also seriously good.

Krásna Horá Winery is imported into the UK by Basket Press Wines, although they will not have all of the wines tasted, and be aware that those wines popular in the restaurant market may sell through quite swiftly.

View from the tasting room
View up to the tasting room and winery from the vines
Ripening fruit of a hot summer

On the way to our next appointment at Jaroslav Osicka we stopped at this small chapel to admire the uninterrupted views of the Moravian hills.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
This entry was posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings, Wine Tourism, Wine Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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