Czech Republic wine countryBy Lizet Wesselman - 04/11/2022 - In collaboration with the Czech tourism board
Czech Republic wine countryBy Lizet Wesselman - 04/11/2022 - In collaboration with the Czech tourism board
Wine country? Huh, wasn’t the Czech Republic the country of pilsner? The country where beer is cheaper than water? Yes, right. The Czech Republic is probably known worldwide as the beer country and this is certainly a popular drink. But that definitely doesn’t mean we should ignore the country’s wine culture! Because wine has also been brewed in the Czech Republic for centuries and you can find vineyards all over the country. Even Prague is home to several vineyards. But for the real wine culture, you’ll have to visit south Moravia. And I’m going to tell you exactly where to go.
History Czech wine
Excavations around the village of Mušov in southern Moravia (south of Brno, near the border with Austria) show that the wine culture in the Czech Republic started there around the year 200. That’s likely when the still-popular grape varieties Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling made their first appearance in the region. Two grape varieties for white wine, which to this day are still the most common wine varieties from the region.
Some 600 years later, the wine culture also began to emerge in the west of the country, with the first vineyards in the town of Mělník, just north of Prague. From then on, the red wine variety Pinot Noir was also introduced in the region, thanks to new vine stems from Germany and France, where wine knowledge was already a lot more advanced.
Thanks to political events, the wine culture in Bohemia, the western part of the country, took a big hit around 1200. But at the same time, things were actually looking bright in southern Moravia, which resulted in a more regulated wine culture. In fact, things eventually went so well that in 1763, Austrian officials started requesting restrictions were requested in order to reduce the growing competition.
Yet disaster struck here too. Around 1850, the whole of Europe was plagued by phylloxera, an aphid that caused vineyards throughout Europe to die off. The Czech Republic was not spared from this and almost all vineyards got destroyed. But fortunately, better stems were eventually planted in return which only improved the quality of the wine.
Today, you can find 20,000 ha of vineyards in the Czech Republic, 19,000 ha of which are in Moravia. Time to take a closer look at the region!
Wine regions Moravia
The wine region in southern Moravia can be divided into four sub-regions, namely Znojmo, Mikulov, Velké Pavlovice and Slovácko. As we’re used to with vineyards, each region has its own unique wines. The only wine that you’ll find all over the country is Burčák!
Burčák is a young wine which is only available at the beginning of the season, i.e. in September, maybe as late as October. It’s generally made from the grapes that aren’t considered good enough for the quality wines. These grapes are immediately bottled, without going through the whole wine making process. It’s sold in plastic bottles with a loose cap, because the fermentation process is only just beginning and this releases gas. If you close the bottle and forget it for a few hours, it is quite possible that your bottle has exploded once you remember it. This obviously also makes it quite hard to export, making it a truly unique drink found only in the Czech Republic. (Although some other versions can be found in Austria, for example).
The first bottles are almost alcohol-free and actually taste like lemonade. When the fermentation continues, more alcohol will appear in the wine. But it’s still a young wine and will remain very sweet. So be careful not to drink it like lemonade, because you will really regret it the next day. After a few weeks, the wine becomes too bitter to drink. Burčák will never become real wine but is really a unique local drink that you can buy anywhere in the country. Usually even just on the street corner at a temporary sales table.
Better wines are made from better quality grapes, with different grapes in each region. Here’s a summary:
Mikulov is the region where it all began. This is where the first vineyards were found, so to this day it’s one of the most important wine regions in the country. You’ll mainly find white wines here, mostly with a mineral-like flavour, due to the mineral-rich limestone soil. Popular wines from the region are therefore Welschriesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
Velké Pavlovice is the largest wine region, with 4741 ha of vineyards. Despite Southern Moravia mainly producing white wines, you will find many red wines in this region. For example, the Pinot Noir, Blauwer Portugieser, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. But also the white wines Pálava and Moravian Muscat (Muškát Moravský), a specific wine from Moravia, are mainly found here.
You will also find the Muškát Moravský in this region on the border with Slovakia (hence the region name). Along with the local red wine Cabernet Moravia. In this part of Moravia you’ll find a lot of water, making the soil wetter again and especially good for grapes like Silvaner, Pinots and Chardonnay.
The Znojmo region has the smallest area of vineyards, but that certainly doesn’t make it inferior to the other regions! The 3 main wines here are Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Red wines are hardly found here.
Znojmo is the region I got to discover and which made me fall in love with the Czech Republic as a country all over again.
A wine journey in the Znojmo region
After living in Prague for 2.5 years and discovering mostly the western part of the country, my trip to South Moravia gave another whole new twist to this beautiful country and gave me the feeling that I was discovering a whole new country. Who would have thought that the land of lager, had such a rich wine history?
The Znojmo region is, for many reasons, well worth a visit. The small town of the same name, Znojmo, is located right between Brno (the 2nd largest city in the Czech Republic) and Vienna, in the middle of a beautiful nature reserve. This nature reserve is already well-known and loved by cyclists and hikers, but the region as a whole doesn’t really get the attention it deserves. Time to change that!
The city of Znojmo
Let’s start with the town of Znojmo, the heart of the area. Znojmo plays an important role in history. Its location between Prague, Brno, and Vienna made it a significant trading town. Much trade between the 3 major cities, passed through Znojmo. To such an extent, that the city itself was built in a kind of triangle around the trade routes to those three big cities.
Furthermore, it is also just a very nice little town to see. With coloured houses, as we often see in Czech towns and villages. A beautiful church on a hill with, of course, a vineyard next to it. Also special about this fortified town is that it is surrounded by an old city wall, dating from the 14th century. From parts of the wall you can enjoy fantastic views over the hilly nature reserve on the other side of the river.
But the city also hides some secrets.
Znojmo underground labyrinth
Around 1226, corridors were built under houses in Znojmo. These were intended as storage places for the region’s well-known wines, but also as hiding places during enemy raids! There were even chimneys in many places so that residents could make a fire to keep warm and cook. Walking through the town, you will come across pentagonal openings in the ground, these are from the old chimneys. Znojmo residents sometimes spent weeks hiding here.
According to stories, during a raid, all the residents hid in the corridor system, leading the enemy to believe they had entered a ghost town. They entered the houses like they were up for grabs. But the residents came up one night and took the enemies down to the tunnels, where they were drowned and then brought back upstairs. The unexplained deaths of their comrades terrified the remaining occupiers, causing them to leave the city.
Every basement in the city is connected to the corridor system, and some houses even contain four more underground floors! In total, that makes for a corridor system of no less than 27 km, making it one of the largest in Europe. Yet, the corridor system was only discovered in the last century. This is because the original inhabitants had been driven out, and the new inhabitants probably didn’t know about the existence of the underground tunnel system. This means that, unfortunately, it also wasn’t used during the Second World War, simply because no one knew it existed.
Today, about 8km of the corridor system is accessible, and they’re still working on opening up more. But some parts are closed-off and some homeowners don’t allow access to the part under their houses. Want to check out the corridor system? Then book a tour through Znojemská Beseda. You can choose a classic tour, where you’ll see how the corridors were used, or an adrenaline tour where you have to find your way around in the dark.
Znojmo and wine
Once you’ve seen the town, it’s of course time for some wine tasting. For this, you don’t even have to leave the town. At the Enoteka Znojmo, you can do your own wine tasting. Here you’ll find all the wines from the Znojmo region and a lot more from the rest of the country. You buy a card with a certain credit, you decide how much. Choose the wine you want to taste and pay with your card. Put the card in the wine dispenser, press the button of your wine and quantity and taste away! You can also buy the wines here, if you’re a real fan. And you can also grab a bite to eat in the cafe. From the terrace, you have a great view of the surrounding area and I can definitely recommend enjoying the view during sunset.
Would you rather go to a real vineyard for a tasting? Of course, you can. We visited several, and they are all worth a visit!
Thaya Vinarstvi is unfortunately currently not open for individual tastings. This is because it’s a brand new vineyard and they simply don’t have the capacity for that. However, you can come here for a fantastic meal, accompanied of course by a glass of their own wine. You can also spend the night in one of the cute little hobbit houses that they rent out as hotel rooms. No need to drive after all that wine. You’ll find this vineyard on the edge of the nature reserve “Narodní park Podyjí” which is the inspiration of the vineyard. All wines are made ecologically and with respect for nature! You will therefore find a picture of an animal found in the park on all the bottle labels, and the name Thaya comes from the river Thaya that flows through the park. So if you’re looking for a sustainable winery, Thaya is definitely worth a visit!
Vinarstvi Lahofer is one of the largest vineyards in the Czech Republic, producing 800,000 bottles of wine a year! In 2020, they opened their brand-new building with a design inspired by a wine cellar, including a roof available for outdoor theatre performances. The building alone is worth a visit. But of course, you are also welcome for a tasting. You can also do a tasting at Hotel Lahofer in Znojmo itself, for example in the cellar connected to the city’s underground system.
Znojmo and nature
Besides wine, nature in Znojmo is also worth a visit. Narodní park Podyjí is a large hilly nature reserve already hugely popular with hikers and cyclists. Here, too, you can of course enjoy some vineyards, such as Šobes, one of the oldest vineyards in the country and one of the 10 best vineyards in Europe. It is said that Queen Elisabeth used to buy wine here. The wine is so popular that bottles are sold before the harvest even begins.
You can’t actually visit this vineyard, but you can admire it from a beautiful viewpoint. Walk past other vineyards to the point “Vyhlídka Devět mlýnů” (prospect of nine mills) and enjoy stunning views of hills and the Thaya River. Walk around the river and cross it at “Lipinská Lávka” to explore the rest of the area.
Znojmo and activities
Still not convinced and looking for other activities, possibly for the whole family? Then this region is right for you, too.
Vranovská Pláž is the place to be for the active traveller. It is a camping site, but you can also just go here for various water sports such as paddleboarding, canoeing, pedal boating. Or go for a climbing course in the forest or have a bubble ball “fight”. Are you really looking for adrenaline? Then you’ll definitely get excited about the Tarzan swing from the bridge. This place in a guaranteed day of fun!
Chateau Vranov nad Dyjí –there’s no shortage of castles in the Czech Republic and so there is in this region. We paid a visit to this beautiful castle. No impressive towers, but a building clearly put together by several people. And that’s no difference on the inside. With each room decorated in its own unique way. This castle has changed ownership so many times that you can see the trends of the different periods in its construction. A very impressive building and definitely worth a visit!
Terra technica museum is the perfect place if you prefer to visit museums during your trip. This is possibly my most favourite museum ever. You’ll find a full collection of jukeboxes and pinball machines, from the early 20th century to the present day. You walk through the history of these two machines and get to try a lot of them yourself! Spin your favourite records and see how good you’re still at pinball. I was really rubbish at it…. But had a great time!
Want to make a trip of it altogether? Then book an overnight stay at the jukebox hotel across the street. Here you can revisit the retro influences and play another record in the typical American diner-style dining area.
Why I recommend Znojmo
In short, there is plenty to do and see in the Znojmo region. I myself was really surprised by the variety of possibilities in this region, and there really is something for everyone. I really enjoyed the activities and felt like a kid again, but also enjoyed a lot of wine like a proper adult. For me, it’s a perfect balance between active and relaxed, and I can recommend it to everyone!
Disclaimer: this trip was in collaboration with the Visit Czech Republic tourism board. The blog, however, is completely mine, without any directions from the board. It’s my personal opinion and I do not get paid to write anything or if you’d happen to book through the mentioned links. Those really are there to help you 🙂