The Carpathian ‘Král’ová’
The town of Modra rests in the “King-wine Region” of Slovakia and preserves its tradition of wine and craft through the years
It’s harvest season, and if you’re looking for a change from the same old Heurigen of Vienna, you might venture out into one of the oldest and longest lasting, wine treasures of central Europe, just a short drive to the east. It’s a treasure called the Kráľová, or King-region, of Slovakia.
Set at the base of the Little Carpathian range, where the mountains kneel to allow the Alps to climb, lies a rich, growing wine-region. There, nestled in the middle of it all, about 27km northeast of Bratislava, is Modra (meaning blue), a small Slovak town of around 8,700, where many of the inhabitants’ livelihood is based around the vineyards, and handicrafts – and it has remained so since the 12th century.
The year’s new grapes arrived in Modra this weekend – in the form of each grower’s unique batch of fresh Burčiak, a sweet, young-wine beverage similar to Austria’s Sturm – drawing the entire town out into the streets to celebrate.
Coined the Vinobranie, this traditional harvest feast and festival lasts throughout the last weekend in September and draws local artists, big-name Slovak musicians, and large crowds, particularly those interested in the region’s wines.
"It’s meant to bring the people together," Tibor Korcek and Marcus Hewardt said. "Which is always a good thing." These two long time friends and locals grow up in Modra, and together with thousands of others, gather in the streets each year to drink the sweet Burčiak, dance and sing to Schlager tunes, and mingle.
But, as it turns out, it’s not just about the final product. For the locals, the production of their crafts and their wines is a process that lasts the whole year. Even as the barrels of Burčiak roll down to the local stands on Main Street to refresh the festival go-ers, tractors and their loaded trailers amble down from the vineyards, carrying the grapes to where they’ll be barrelled.
"It’s strenuous work that continues throughout the year," explained Adam Kucera, a young vintner who studied under his father at the local vinohradnícka škola, (vintner-school), and who is now furthering his studies in chemisty at the University of Bratislava.
"The festival is to celebrate the richness of the region and the produce coming from it" Kucera said. "It’s an intense and amazing time to have a booth in the city and interact with the people from the area."
For Kucera, continuing the tradition that has existed for generations is the most natural thing in the world. The booth is a simple one, but an important way of interacting with the public that provides a foundation for the rest of the year’s business. The Burčiak they sell will be the wine of the following year, its flavor representing the quality of the future wine.
"This year’s wine production has been excellent," Kucera reported. The weather had been perfect, and because of the longer summer, there was an unusually high concentration of sugar in the grapes.
The streets of the festival are littered with stands selling Burčiak, generally about €0.20 per deciliter, representing all of the 25 varieties of grapes grown in the region. The stands also sell wine from the previous year’s grapes, which cost around €1 per deciliter, depending on the grape.
There are just as many stands selling light food – sausages or a simple sandwich called the "Gypsy," a roll served with spicy-mustard, deep-fried pork, and fresh cabbage. Others were offering crafts such as Modra’s famous ceramic pottery "Majolika," which is painted white with bold blue or yellow floral patterns, hand-embroidered textiles, or hand-woven wicker-baskets.
During the festival, and continuing through the harvest season, goose and duck are served with lokša, a local potato and flour flat-bread, along with sauerkraut, pickles and peppers, and sometimes with sweet, baked red-cabbage.
The wine festival is the pinnacle of the harvest season in Modra. That is not to say however, that this is the only time to visit the area. Throughout autumn there are wine-tastings both in the city and outside, and restaurants specialize in local delicacies. One of the better tastings, according to locals, is the vintner-school, and a great in-town Heurige-style setting called "U Richtara," which dates back to the end of the 16th century.
Kráľová is, in the end, indeed country fit for a king, and a fine introduction to a rich Slovak region, its people and tradition. The wine of Modra is well-known and treasured throughout Slovakia, and becoming so throughout Europe. A reputation well deserved, as this first visit to the wine festival made abundantly clear.
Vinohradnícka škola, Kostolná 3, Modra
Wine Sales: Mon-Fri 8:00 - 16:30
+421 33 647 27 62
U Richtára, Štúrova 95, Modra
+421 33 640 57 06
Slovenská ľudová majolika Ceramics
Dolná 138, Modra
To schedule a visit, call +421 33 647 2941
Tourist Information Modra
+421 33 6908 300