Tourists who want to visit Slovenia may ask themselves about the wine culture in the country. As it is a small country of 2 million inhabitants and a young State, people usually do not expect to find here a real paradise for wine lovers.
Slovenians produce a significant quantity of award-winning wines that meet the quality of the World’s best producers, as France or Italy. They have a long tradition of wine production that permitted them to improve their goods. This history also made them become huge consumers of all kinds of wines.
Let’s find out together how Slovenia successfully became a land of wine, from doing a big jump in the past to looking forward to new opportunities.
If you’re interested in tasting Slovene wine, first you must understand how locals do it and how much they like it.
Even if Slovenians are most known for being colossal beer lovers, their wine consumption is nearly as impressive as the French one. They rank as the second biggest wine consumers in the World, even if wine represents only 47% of their alcohol consumption.
If their production impressively took the quality path, which made them gain much international credit, Slovenians still use most of it for their own consumption.
Furthermore, their wine is so good that it represents more than 80% of the wine they drink. It would probably be even far more if Slovenians were self-sustaining. Those numbers mean a lot for a country where people drink about 43 liters of wine every year.
Tourists who want to have a taste of the wine culture in Slovenia should also be aware of what kind of wines locals like. Their production can indeed seem specific, and we do not want you to be disappointed when discovering their wine lists.
First, you must know that Slovenians love white wine more than any other wine. It represents about 75% of their wine consumption, which can be surprising. Indeed, red wine seems to be the usual favorite for most countries, like France, where people consume it in two-third of the cases.
Luckily for you, you will find out that all Slovenians love drinking wine and sharing it. This way, even if you are coming to a no vineyards zone like Ljubljana, you will find opportunities to appreciate their wine culture.
We recommend you to visit one of its many wine cabinets or to attend some of the internationally renowned events like Ljubljana’s Wine Road. The most valuable attraction remains the International Fair that takes place in October, Vino Ljubljana, which is one of the oldest in Europe.
A Long History of Wine Production
An old Slovene legend gives us a lead to explain why the Slovenians are so attached to wine culture. It tells the story of a man that survived a flood by climbing up a grapevine planted on a high hill. The Slavic god Kurent spared him, conditionally upon his promise to cultivate and venerate two divine plants: the buckwheat and the grape.
This strong taste for wine echoes an ancient tradition of wine production in the country. Winemaking in Slovenia predates the Roman ones, unlike in other European countries like France or Spain.
We can find evidence of wine production extending back to the Celts and Illyrian tribes, between the 5th and 4th century BC.
The wineries started to develop under the Holy Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, wine production was first substantially controlled by the Christian Church through the monasteries system.
Some private wineries have flourished under the Habsburg dynasty, from the 14th century. However, the cooperatives progressively replaced them at the end of their rule in 1918.
Indeed, the birth of Yugoslavia implied a strict control of the wine production, since the cooperation put the focus towards bulk wine. Those choices caused a deterioration of the wine quality, which was really low at the time.
Beyond this social strategy, the Slovene viticulture also suffered from natural hazards. Starting to impact the country from 1860, an epidemic of phylloxera pervaded in Slovenia. The numerous insolvent producers had no choice but to leave their land.
Some of them emigrated to the United States, and most of the vineyards were never planted again. By the beginning of World War II, Slovenia lost 13,000 of its 51,000 acres of cultivated land.
Wine production did know a renewal during the ‘50s but at the detriment of quality. It also happened in a context of European concurrence from Greece, Serbia, or Romania, which produced even cheaper wine.
Today’s Slovenian Production
Nowadays, the country’s 28,000 wineries produce about 90 million liters of wine each year. Slovenia counts 22,300 acres of vineyards divided between three mains regions: the Littoral, the Lower Sava, and the Drava regions.
The Littoral Region is the most recognized of them all. It is known for being one of the firsts to worry about international reputation for quality. Bordering Italy and the Adriatic Sea, this region produces most of the Slovene red wine. A substantial number of its wines are renowned internationally, like the Rebula, the Teran, or the Merlot-Cabernet.
Slovene’s production is continually evolving. It does not stop from diversifying and modernizing. Usually, an observer of the Austrian tradition of single varietal, the creation of blended wines is now rising in the country.
If the primary specialty remains white wine, the Slovenians have also observed other ancient traditions. Effervescent wines are then a particularly safe bet in Slovenia: they are developing here since the 19th century.
Furthermore, you will not be disappointed if you are looking for an authentic experience. Indeed, about three-quarters of Slovene wines are guaranteed by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Twenty other percents are them protected by a Geographical Indication (PGI).
The Slovene wine production is seducing not only locals but a still increasing number of foreign countries. International wine aficionados often perceive Slovenia as a European gold nugget.
Each year, Slovenia exports about 14 million liters of wine. The importers are mainly Americans, Austrians, Croatians, and Dutch, but the growing market starts to attract new Chinese consumers.
Improvement in Quality Strategy
The demand for Slovene wine explains itself by the attention paid to raising the country’s standards. To meet the needs of the international market, Slovenia successfully got rid of its bad reputation.
The first step was the creation of the Business Association for Viticulture and Wine Production in 1967. It permitted to establish testing practices and seals of approval that ensured the quality of the best wines.
When Slovenia gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the wine industry started developing and attracting the international. The Slovene wine market joined the narrow circle of the World’s best producers, freed from the supervision of the state, and assisted by the Western Countries.
Slovene wines now have to respect an impressive amount of norms, chemical analysis, and tastings to be sold. Many vineyards adapted to the emphasis on higher quality by changing their vine training to a Guyot one.
Slovenians also adopted labels that inform you of the sweetness of the wine, which can be pretty useful. You will now be aware of what suho (dry), polsuho (medium dry), polsdalko (medium sweet), and sladko (sweet) means.
Wine experts all agree on the impressive evolution of Slovene wines. Jancis Robinson guarantees that the time when the quality of their wines was a hit or miss has come to an end.
Worldwide Award-Winning Wines
It then makes no surprise if many international contests often reward high-quality Slovene wines. This development strategy had every chance to work, associated with the natural attributes of its climates and terroirs.
Indeed, Slovenia benefits from an ideal combination of microclimates and latitudes, which offer a great diversity of grape varieties. There are not less than 52 varieties to recompense, that produce all kinds of wines.
Among all of those varieties, the most renowned are usually effervescent wines from all Slovenia. They very often seduce and surprise during international contests.
The Podravje region also offers the country a significant amount of prizes, thanks to terroirs that rank amongst the World’s best 4%. It produces excellent wines with many names that sound familiar: Riesling, Chardonnay, and other Guewurtsraminer.
The recognition of those wines also goes through the amount of money spent on it. If Slovene wines are usually rather cheap, the prices for the best cuvées are soaring since the last decade.
The example of a 500,000 euros bottle of red dessert wine is the most significant. Ornate with a 5-carat diamond, this bottle proves that Slovenian successfully took the path of high quality and refined wines.
Cheers! (na zdravije)
Now that you have learned about some aspects of the Slovene wine culture, you understand that trying its wines is an absolute must. When you come to Slovenia, don’t hesitate to enjoy the whole experience. Visit wineries, wine cabinets, fairs, and have a taste of Slovenia!
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