Slovenian Wine - the Balkan Burgundy

Updated: Jan 20

Throughout its' history, Slovenia had all the ups and downs a winemaking country can possibly have. One thing is clear - today this tiny but proud country has all the ambitions to become the Burgundy of the Balkans with its' focus on small family run wineries that make wine based on local grapes.

Slovenian biodynamic winery Guerila Wines and their vineyards in the Vipava Valley
Guerila vineyards in the Vipava Valley

Winemaking in Slovenia

From already 500 BC the Celtic and Illyrian tribes were making wine in Slovenia. That's long before the Romans introduced wine to countries like France, Germany and Spain.

In the Middle Ages the winemaking was controlled by the Christian church, later on by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, the advent of communism after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of Yugoslavia in 1920 led to rapid disassociation with winemaking traditions. Local grape varieties were practically prohibited as they weren't in demand for export sales, winemakers who refused to replant their vineyards with international grapes and kept the local ones were receiving fines. All wineries and vineyards became state owned in cooperatives. The focus shifted from quality to quantity thus the country became a bulk wine producer in no time.

Slovenia wine map and wine regions
Slovenia's Wine Map

Slovenia was the first former Yugoslavian country to gain independence and to rebuild its' winemaking traditions and industry. Just like Burgundy of the East, the 16 000 hectares of Slovenian wine land is spread among 29 000 producers. A country of small, family run estates with passion for their native grape varieties. The country is divided on three wine regions - Primorska, Posavska, Podravska - all of which have their subregions.

The Wines of Vipava Valley

The Vipava Valley is a lush green expanse that accompanies the Vipava River on its' way to the Adriatic Sea. It is the second biggest wine district in Slovenia and the biggest in the Primorska region.

Guerila wines biodynamic wines from Slovenia from the Vipava Valley
the Vipava Valley in November, photo by Blaz Rosa

The special weather conditions of the Vipava are caused by the clash of two climates - the Mediterranean and Continental. This results in strong winds and heavy rainfall. This wind's name is Burja, and it can be devastating as it reaches over 120km/h.

The soil here consists of sand, sandstone, marl, clay, and limestone in layers.

Winemaking is part of the region's history and younger generations bring in modern technology to complement the traditional winemaking techniques of their ancestors. Natural farming is a staple of the region, and many of its' progressive winemakers craft wines from organically grown grapes based on biodynamic principles.

The Vipava Valley is most famous for its white varietals and the quality white blend called Vipavec. Ribolla Giala, Malvasia Istrska and the indigenous to the region Pinela, Zelen, Klarnica, Pergolin, Pikolit, Poljšakica and Vitovska Grganja all feel at home in the Vipava.

Guerila Wines

Founded by Zmagoslav Petrič in 2005 as a biodynamic wine-growing farm in the village of Planina near Ajdovščina in the Vipava valley. Based on his own research, he selected the best spots and planted vineyards using mainly local varieties.

Zmagoslav Petrič was born in a family of farmers, his childhood was spent on a small farm, in the vineyard and the cellar. The year he was born, his father, Joseph, received an award for his Pinella wine. Perhaps, a sign of fate for his son?

All the vineyards are terraced and the single Guyot cultivation method is used in all of them. They all lie on slopes of the Vipava hills with good exposure to wind, high diurnal range and optimal exposure to sun. Harvest and vineyard works are manual. Fermentation is exclusively spontaneous, as is biological de-acidification. Bottling without filtration. All tasks in the cellar and vineyard are performed in accordance with the biodynamic calendar. The biodynamic preparations are used to introduce and spread microflora, boost immunity, revitalize the soil and increase biodiversity.

At Guerila they believe that wines are born in the vineyard and merely mature to perfection in the cellar. This means that the grapes when they arrive to the vat room must be perfectly healthy and ripe. The fermentation and malolactic conversion is spontaneous, the wine is not filtered and only a small amount of sulphur is added at bottling. Letting the wine do all these on its' own is the strictest quality control humans can't invent.

All Guerila wines are organic and biodynamic (Demeter) certified.

Malvazija Istrska

Istrian Malvasia is the first white variety of Slovenian Istria and an old variety from the Vipava Valley. It is distinguished by moderate acidity, full body, and quite an aromatic bouquet which is reminiscent of dry apricots and sage. It produces various styles of wines – fresh dry, aged in wood, orange, and sweet. The vine was introduced to the area in the 14th century by Venetian merchants who brought the cuttings rom Greece.

Malvazija Istrska got the name after peninsula of Istria, shared between Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. In Croatia it's name is Istarska, in Italy - Istriana.

Guerila Malvazija Tasting Notes and Profile

Producer: Guerila Wines

Vintage: 2019

Location: Primorska, Vipavska dolina

Grape variety: Malvazija Istrska

Light-bodied, dry wine

Alcohol content: 13,5 % abv

Serving temperature: 6-11 ˚C

Free SO2: 13mg/l

Total SO2: 56mg/l

The Malvasia grapes were hand-harvested, crushed, and macerated on skins for a short time. After which only the juice was fermented with the natural yeasts present on the skin.⁠ The malolactic fermentation is also done spontaneously, which means, no enzymes were added to rush the wine and speed up the process. MLF (or malo) helps to round the acidity of the wine.⁠

The wine was also aged on lees in tanks for 6 months. Lees are the sediment formed from "dead" yeast (the yeast dies during the fermentation, that's how fermentation is naturally stoped).⁠ This wine is unfiltered and only minimal sulfur is added while bottling.⁠

Guerila's Malvazija is very aromatic and easily recognizable at the first sniff. Aromas of acacia, peach, ripe lemon, mandarin, dried herbs and a hint of flint. It has a refined and distinct mineral taste. Bone dry, with high acidity, just as I like.

34 views0 comments