My summer in Maribor turned out to be fuelled by Slovenian wine! In part one of this post, I looked at Maribor’s place in Slovenia’s wine story. In part two, I’m going to have a closer look at some of the wine producers in Štajerska, starting with Radgonske Gorice, the House of Sparkling Wine.
I started my vineyard visits at one of Slovenian wine’s most famous names. Radgonske Gorice sits on the border with Austria; the town is split in two with the river separating the two countries.
These guys were the original makers of sparkling Slovenian wine, which they’ve been producing for over 160 years using the champagne method.
They run various tours in different languages throughout the day. It’s a good idea to check what’s running in advance, but I just rocked up with a friend to see what was happening on the day – only two tours, one German, one Slovenian. Oops, as I don’t speak either language… We opted for the Slovenian tour because they had a longer tour with more tastings. I mean if you can’t understand a word, you might as well make up for it with wine, right?
Obviously much of the tour flew over my head. I wish I had understood more – I worked on a vineyard in New Zealand in 2008 and learned a lot about viticulture and winemaking. Granted I’m no expert, but I’m a nosy bugger and I love learning about this stuff. And of course sampling it at the end…
I didn’t need to understand every word to be impressed at their setup though. Their cellars are super impressive, stretching deep into ancient caves and lined with thousands of bottles of wine. One cellar contained multiple rows of a-frame ‘riddling’ racks, which store sparkling wine at an angle so the yeast sediment can be easily removed before final bottling. The next cellar seemed to extend into the hillside like a rabbit warren. Either side, dusty bottles of wine waited to be labelled and sold, some covered in thick, tangled spider’s webs. The air felt damp, and underfoot the ground was slippery with water running off the small waterfall at the end of the tunnel. Here we stopped to swirl, sniff and sip our first taster, a still wine, Radgonska Ranina.
Then we retired to a light, bright tasting room, where we moved onto the sparkling wines, a semi-dry Penina Traminec and their Radgona Gold semi-dry. Here corks were popped, glasses swirled and, apparently, bad Slovenian jokes were told, as we savoured the delicious bubbly. Then the Slovenes had to depart, leaving my friend and I alone with the rest of a bottle. Well, you can’t let good wine go to waste…
In addition to pickling my liver on the Drava with the vinooXperience cruise, Marko and Jernej from Find Eat Local arranged for some tastings with a few of Maribor’s local wine producers.
I had the good fortune to try Joannes Protner’s wines twice, once on the vinooXperience tour that I described in my last post and again at their vineyard, which stretches over nine hectares in a peaceful location on the Šempeter hills northeast of Maribor. We headed there late one afternoon, after they’d finished harvesting for the day.
The majority of grapes are for their award-winning Renski Rizling, though they also grow Zeleni Silvanec, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rumeni Muškat, Šipon–Furmint, and Pinot Blanc, plus a single red, Modri Pinot.
In recent years they’ve built a winery for tastings and meals that can accommodate up to 60 people, and they also have a tourist farm where visitors can stay to savour the peaceful location and not worry about having a designated driver after wine tasting.
We had a brief tour of the cellar, then sat outside in the cool dusk air sampling a handful of Joannes’ wines. The beautiful thing about doing wine tastings at these kind of local independent vineyards is that you’re not shown round by any old member of staff. You get to spend time with the owner. These guys put their heart and soul into their wines, and their passion and dedication makes for a fascinating experience. There were a few other people milling about when we were there, sipping wines and quietly chatting, while Boštjan was running between us ensuring that everybody was happy.
We sipped wines on the terrace looking out over rows of vines, stretching into the distance over gently undulating hills. First up was a Rumeni Muškat, then we compared two Renski Rizlings – one was last’s year’s vintage, 2015, and the other a much older bottle from 2005 that had a deeper, richer flavour. Finally we moved onto their sole red, Modri Pinot, as the sun slipped below the hills and our view mirrored the dark richness of our wine.
Vinogradi Horvat is a true family affair. While the family has a fine vintage for winemaking running back generations, this vineyard, which sits beneath the Piramida Hills just outside Maribor, was established in 1960. Today Sabina Horvat, chief winemaker, and her husband Damijan act as official hosts, running the vineyard along with Sabina’s brother Andrej. Their parents Jakob and Ida continue to take a keen interest in life at the winery, though they’re officially retired.
The official tasting room was hosting a merry Slovenian birthday party during our visit so the tasting took place in the cellar. Damijan wasn’t terribly impressed and apologised, but I loved being in the dimly lit wine cellar, surrounded by stainless steel barrels of fermenting wine, old oak barrels, and stacks of bottles laying in brick cubby holes at the end of the room. It was atmospheric.
The tasting itself was fantastic. Damijan is an incredible host, and his passion and enthusiasm shone through. He introduced each wine, and told us about the vineyard’s role in the Slovenian wine story. We learned about the development of their vineyard and the family story and significance of the giant vineyard key that has each family member’s initials woven into its intricate pattern. He also explained the flavours in wine with the help of a wooden wine wheel.
We tasted Renski Rizling, Traminec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rumeni Muškat, and finished with a special Laški Rizling. They also served some delicious meat and lard nibbles, and cheese infused with walnuts as accompaniments. I hesitated to try the meat and lard nibbles because, well, they just didn’t sound too appetising. But once I’d started, I found I couldn’t stop. Deliciously salty and a perfect complement to the wine… as long as I didn’t think about the calories!
We must have spent two hours in Vinogradi Horvat, but time flew. The conversation flowed as easily as the wine, and I left with the warm glow that comes from meeting interesting people and the light-headedness that can only be attributed to sampling lots of delicious Slovenian wine.
Chateau Ramšak is a relatively new vineyard, although the land has been in the family for a few generations. It was the grandfather, then a local GP, who first planted grapevines on this land before the winery was taken from the family during the Yugoslav era. Sadly he never got to see the land returned to the family, but his children and grandchildren welcomed its return and set about establishing Chateau Ramšak winery.
Today their venture is hugely successful, and their wines – Zeleni Silvanec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Laški Rizling – are highly regarded.
The vineyard centres on the chateau, which doubles as a cellar and tasting room. There’s a nod to Maribor traditions with a cutting from the Old Vine growing at the entrance. Once you pass through the heavy wooden doors, there’s no mistaking that you’re in a grand chateau. The first room you pass through has an old brick ceiling that curves in a series of gentle arches, reminiscent of a recently ploughed field. Beyond that is the tasting room.
Although a large room, the tasting room is dwarfed by the presence of the largest wine press in Europe, a giant wooden structure that fits so perfectly it’s as though the room has been constructed around it. There were other nice touches, such as an old basin on the wall – the sort people install to add a touch of character to a property – and a freestanding wood burner. Adding to the aesthetics of the room was a beautifully arranged tasting platter, a mix of fruit and cheese, different breads, and grapes, which looked like a still-life painting beneath the wine press.
We gathered under the wine press to swirl our glasses and sip our way through all of Chateau Ramšak’s varieties, while munching from the surprisingly tasty still-life painting! The standouts for me were a trio of Chardonnays from 2015, 2013 and a special bottle from 2003, which was awarded a silver medal in Chardonnay du Monde’s 2005 awards.
If you love wine, nature and luxury, you’ll adore the new glamping site at Chateau Ramšak. The brainchild of local businessman, Andrej, Chateau Ramšak Glamping opened its doors in 2016.
An intimate yet luxurious site, there are only a handful of tents although plans are afoot for more in the future. But they’ve been designed with a keen attention to detail. Inside there’s a canopied double bed – in some tents it’s a double bunk – a small shower room, flatscreen TV, and tea/coffee-making facilities. Outside you can sit on your private terrace or take a soak in your own hot tub, while listening to birdsong and enjoying the peace of the countryside.
For the ultimate in luxury and a stonking view to boot, book the treehouse – it’s not cheap, but there’s an amazing view over the vineyard from the hot tub up in the treetop!
Alas, I didn’t have the fortune to stay at the glamping site, but there was another travel blogger, Dorothée from The Touristin, staying there during my visit – she’s posted her review of the vineyard and luxury glamping site here.
Finally, regardless of whether you’re visiting Maribor to indulge in her wine pleasures or you’re simply doing the tourist thing, there’s only one way to round off your day – at Piramida.
Piramida is a low hill adjoining Mestni Park, Maribor’s city park. Its name originates from a stone pyramid that used to stand here, constructed from the rubble of the 12th century castle that once topped the hillside.
I wandered to the top of Piramida several times during my two-month stay in Maribor, walking slowly up the zigzag path between rows of grapevines, next to sweaty joggers panting their way up the hill and tourists heading for the viewpoint.
Today, a small white chapel takes pride of place atop the hill, with a bell you can ring for luck. From here you can look over the city of Maribor, her old town to your right and industrial centre to your left, surrounded by vineyards. Pohorje looms beyond the city, and there’s a circle of mountains and hills providing the lungs of this green city and acting as a giant amphitheatre during thunderstorms (I experienced several during my stay, and they seemed to roll around this plain for hours at great intensity).
But the view is only part of the attraction of Piramida. Behind the chapel, Andrej – he of glamping fame – has built a wine bar with wooden crates for chairs and a relaxed, laid-back vibe. The bar serves a selection of Slovenian wines from Maribor’s independent wineries, including Piramida Renski Rizling, a wine made from the vines that grow around the hill. I spent a few happy evenings here, watching the sunset over Maribor with a glass of local white wine in my hand, toasting my good fortune at choosing this cool little city for my first visit to Slovenia.
Huge thanks to Marko and Jernej from Find Eat Local for their (slightly drunken) wine tours, and to Joannes Protner, Vinogradi Horvat, Chateau Ramšak, and Piramida for their hospitality and fine wines. Parts of my Maribor wine adventures were organised as a media trip with Find Eat Local, and parts I carried out independently. My words, thoughts and opinions, however, remain my own throughout.
Maribor is a great city to base yourself while exploring famous Slovenian wine region of Štajerska. I stayed in Airbnb accommodation throughout my stay. (If you haven’t signed up for Airbnb, use my link and receive a discount off your first stay.) Otherwise, check the latest hotel prices on Agoda or search accommodation reviews on TripAdvisor.
Have you been to Maribor on a wine-tasting adventure? Which vineyards did you visit? Do you have any recommendations for my next wine-tasting trip to Slovenia?
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