First, an apology, both to my readers and to Richard Stávek, for taking so long to write about these wines. First, we returned from Moravia a week-and-a-half before moving house, and indeed country. Then, the same number of days into our new life we both got Covid. It has been unpleasant, and even as I type, I’m still waiting for a negative test to allow me to resume life with a clear conscience. Catching up will be further hampered by the celebration of a major milestone birthday for my father next week, but I shall do my best to complete the final article after this one from my trip to Czechia and Austria before then.
If Richard Stávek is indeed a maverick I mean that in the most positive sense. Of all the “tasting rooms” I’ve been in during the past twenty years, his reminds me most of the days I’d spend visiting older growers in places like Burgundy, or maybe Bergerac, back in the 1980s. With all expense spared, it’s a table in a corner of a chaotic kitchen which has probably not changed since the 1970s (ironic that he only began winemaking in the 1990s). However, looks are deceiving, because on that table sits the finest glasses for tasting and out comes a special edition Riedel decanter too. Everything here, both tangible and emotional, goes into the wines.
Richard is unquestionably a magician, but no flashy spell caster. His magic comes from thinking deeply about his wines, and understanding them on both a practical level and, I am sure, on a metaphysical level too. Richard is a shy man and I am sure he hates fuss, but he is an important winemaker, not only for Moravia but on a world stage which he would perhaps wish not to inhabit, despite the fact that markets even more forward-thinking than the British one (Japan, for example) are fully aware of these wines.
There are generally two kinds of tasting, neither always better than the other. The first type is where you sit down and taste a lot of wines and the second is where one is treated to far fewer wines, but the conversation may be longer and deeper. This was the latter kind of tasting. Five wines, a brandy and a speciality, but tasted over more than two hours. We learned a lot, absorbing everything Richard told us almost by osmosis. It was a totally absorbing morning.
Richard is a firm believer in using, though not exclusively, materials from the same location as the grapes, so he uses both oak and acacia from Czech forests where possible. The acacia comes from his own forest. That said, he also has some of the famous Stockinger barrels, a touch of class and often the sign of a serious winemaker in this part of the world. Oak is usually the preferred wood for the red wines, Richard finding that acacia has an affinity with the orange and rosé wines.
There are 15 hectares farmed here, around the small Moravian town of Němčičky, but a little less than a third of that is under vine. From the rest Richard farms goats to make cheese, cherries and apricots, vegetables, and makes several types of honey from his own bees (and uses his beeswax to seal the bottles). Winemaking is very much “natural”. Grapes are foot-trodden as whole bunches and fermented in wooden vats. Gravity moves everything, there is no pumping of must or juice. If sulphur is added at all, which it isn’t unless it is really necessary, then additions are minimal. Water in the house comes from its own well, fresh and pure. Such things are considered important in an holistic approach to creating wine.
I should just say that we met Richard at his rather Hobbit-hole-like cellars sunk on a hillside rammed full of similar wine cellars, cut into sandstone scattered with chunks of limestone. We then went to taste via some of his vineyards, up on a wind-swept hillside. Richard showed us the effects of hail, which had damaged one side of a row of Welschriesling, but left the other free from its effects. As we listened to the winemaker we watched a deer, unconcerned, eating the grapes up at the top of the hill. Of course, seeing the deer was an attractive occurrence for us. I think Richard was less pleased. I’m not sure whether he was joking about wishing he had his dog and gun? Perhaps his holistic approach doesn’t extend as far as that practised by Jaroslav Osička, or maybe he was joking.
Odmery 2019 – We began with a wine which is slightly unusual for Richard, in that it is a varietal wine, 100% Pinot Blanc in 2019. He tends to favour not only blends, but co-planted and co-fermented field blends. The vineyard was planted in 1973, long before Richard took it over. It has a northern exposure. The grapes saw a ten-day maceration of whole bunches with no destemming, using a basket press to gently obtain the juice. Ageing was one year in large oak and the result is a wine of only 11.7% abv, straw-coloured with a deep straw/hay bouquet, savoury. The palate is fresh and lively but has a mineral depth. The importer currently has the 2018, which I believe may contain around 15% Chardonnay and is drinking nicely.
Veselý 2018 – This is a co-planted, multi-varietal, field blend made up from Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Neuburger, Traminer, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc and Moravian Muskat. Veselý is the name of the vineyard hill, coming from the Middle Ages. It’s quite dark in colour but what strikes home are the amazing aromatics, too complex to describe really, like a moving picture of floral and savoury aromas. The wine is listed at NOMA, perhaps ‘nuff said. It’s a remarkable wine which exudes subtlety. It’s very beautiful, yes, I think that’s actually the best adjective to employ.
PNC 2020 – PNC stands for “Pinot Noir Clairet”. In fact, this wonderful wine is almost bronze in colour, maceration taking place for one night. When the wine was transferred from the basket press to acacia barrel Richard said that the juice was pretty much white. The colour transformation took place in the wood as it aged. The colour is subtle, and the wine takes its cue from this, showing subtlety of both scent and flavour through cherry and red fruits with a floral edge. A kind of haunting scent which is not uncommon with lighter renditions of Pinot.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 – I suppose in a world full of expensive and seriously oaked Cabernet, it would be quite easy for the world to pass this by. It shouldn’t. I think the mistake we make is to associate grape varieties with a restricted palate of flavours and places. As Cabernet Sauvignon spread from Bordeaux, it then became associated with the New Word as well, Napa, Australia and so on. Of course, it has been grown here for a long time and has developed its own local clones. This wine certainly amplifies many of the characteristics we associate with the variety, especially on the (concentrated) fruit side. Yet it still seems to retain a local identity, unencumbered by chemical inputs. Definitely impressive and soulful.
Veselý 2018 – This is the red version of the Veselý tasted above. It comes from the same site but is a field blend of Blaufränkisch, St-Laurent, Blauer Portugieser, Cabernet Moravia and a little André, the latter being a really interesting variety actually developed in Moravia in the 1960s, a crossing of Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent. Cabernet Moravia is another Czech cross, using Zweigelt and Cabernet Franc, developed in the 1970s. The regime is two week’s maceration of whole bunches and a year ageing in large oak. These are blends of considerable interest, the whole being more complex (though subtle) than the individual parts. The concentrated fruit acids are literally lipsmacking, in a good way. Sappy, fresh, delicious.
Brandy – Richard has made his own brandy, and we got to try a blend from 1998/99. Around 60-70% of the grapes distilled were Grüner Veltliner, the rest made up of a myriad of different varieties. I am not sure how much this would retail for, but I can say that it is one of the most astonishing brandies I’ve ever tasted. So complex, and nicely balanced at 48% abv. Richard wanted to create a special label. Many of his other wines used very old typography for their labels, but he wanted more. He found a calligrapher who agreed to create the labels all by hand. She did a wonderful job, but did say had she known how much work it would be she’d not have taken on the task.
The next job was to find a way to attach the labels, made from hand made paper, to the bottles. Normal glue would not have worked with paper this absorbent. Richard contacted an archivist in Brno who rocked up one Sunday to brew up a batch of glue, which they then used to affix the labels. This is a nice place to almost end our time with Richard, because it fully illustrates his no compromise approach in the search for perfection. And I can say quite honestly that in this brandy he has achieved that. In his wines, he comes as close as it’s possible to get.
We were not quite done here because we also got to try some Mosto Coto, must cooked in a copper kettle non-stop for three days. Concentrated grape juice which tastes like caramelised plum jam. It reminded me of a super-upmarket version of the “vin cuit” (in that case made from pears) I miss so much from trips to Switzerland. We tasted the mosto alongside some amazing 20-y-o balsamic vinegar which a visitor brought from Moderna. Another sign of Richard Stávek’s appreciation of the finest culinary items.
Before we finally leave Richard, in fact for Autentikfest (the article which began our journey in Moravia), there is a little story which I think reveals the magic of the place and the man. The kitten in the photo was orphaned shortly after birth. Richard’s dog is a beautiful Shiba Inu called Amaya (which means night rain in Japanese, reflecting the weather the night she arrived). Almost incredibly, Amaya started to lactate and fed the kitten, and continued to do so. I certainly find that magical, but once you experience the ambience of the Stávek abode it doesn’t seem remotely strange. The wines are just a reflection of all this magic.
Basket Press Wines is the UK importer for Richard Stávek, although they may not always stock all of the wines tasted here. They do not currently import the brandy.