The place – or rather places – where it all begins. For me, the vineyards always come first. Even here on this website.
I'm lucky enough to have been born into a winemaking family in a winemaking village. To a dad with long-time experience from working in a German vine nursery. This “German period” served as an incredible source of know-how, vines and sometimes even second-hand equipment once we started to put together our own family vineyards - both restituted and newly bought plots where I worked my ass off since I was a kid.
All our vineyards are herbicide / pesticide / industrial fertiliser / systemic treatment free. Of course. When speaking about my wine, I usually use the word normal instead of the earlier authentic, natural, artisanal, low-intervention terms. I simply grow vines in the normal way, with no other labels needed. And I see the same thing happening with the winemakers who inspire me. The name on the bottle - a name that you know is trustworthy - is IMO the most important seal of approval. Way more reliable than all the tags and hashtags.
We do use some biodynamic practices, but tbh I don't like how it's become a bit of a marketing gimmick. When working this way in the vineyards, you usually don't have much time left to talk about it. We only use things that we understand, things I consider important, and things that react to what's happening in the vineyard at the given moment. “See what you’re looking at,” as chef Dan Barber writes in his book The Third Plate.
So this is it, my land of freedom. Playgrounds. Stories. Sometimes tabula rasa, sometimes historically conditioned and laid out. I won't tell you about the spacing, plantation density and other technicalities. What matters is my relationship with these places and what makes them produce wines that exceed the… well, normal.
AND IT LOOKS LIKE THIS
Úlehle (Nová Hora)
This soft slope is arguably the best Gruner Veltliner vineyard in the whole Bílovice area. Its profile is so unique that I dare say I'd recognise the wine born here from any other. A true terroir, innit. We bought a tiny 0.4ha plot in 2020, to my great joy, because being able to finally work with this unique "material" is a dream come true. A) for its pure loess soil, B) for because I just love its history.
It was planted in the mid-1970s by the local cooperative; as you might (not) know, private businesses weren't allowed here during the communist era. It was a time when many things in agriculture were done really badly, but some actually better than today. Nová Hora, luckily, falls into the latter category as the plants were sourced by professor Kraus, the nestor of Moravian viticulture.
He arranged a barter directly with Lenz Moser, an iconic Austrian viticulturist of that time. The deal was that Lenz exchanges their top-notch Wachau GruVe vines for - wait for it - concrete vineyard posts. Which were made by the Bílovice concrete factory, at the very place where we now make our wines. (And events in the eponymous Betonárka Bílovice.) Don't you just love it when things go full circle?
The tree in the middle is an old walnut, Juglans regia. It used to be a frequent sight in our vineyards, a bit less now. Planting more of these is one of my future missions since these magnificent trees are a welcome companion for everybody: the grandmas need something to make cakes with, the grandpas distill it into spirits, and everybody is happy to receive a bit of shade while working there.
But back to the vines: their significant age brings both great potential and a great amount of work. Despite the good care the vineyard got in its beginnings, an important part of the vines is now unfortunately gone, so there's a long massale way ahead of us. It's not the easy or cheap way but surely the best for the character of this place, and I will do all I can to preserve it. We've already selected the best vines whose cuttings will populate the vineyard in the future. I respect the Veltliner from here so much that there's no temptation to mix it with something else, even for my field-blend loving mind. Just you wait for this pure GruVe goodness...
AKA Zadní Hora. Velké Bílovice, my home turf. Our very first vineyard, which the state returned to us during the property restitutions after the Velvet Revolution. A land that was in my family for ages, before the Bolsheviks stole it from us in 1948. It was planted in 1988 – making it the same age as I am! It used to be a Blaufrankisch plot, but the winter of '87 was so harsh that it all froze. The cooperative then re-planted it with Pinot Gris, and added Gruner Veltliner, and even some table and blue grapes. Anything that was available, really… thanks to this shortage, we now have Podfuck today! 0.5 hectares of pure loess, so close to my heart.
The official name of this one is Vinohrádky, but it's behind the property of someone named Sorota. No more than 0.4 hectares belonging to my aunt & uncle, where we planted Pinot Gris and a bit of Pinot Blanc back in 2004. The clayiest clay of all clays. My grandpa recalls how no tractor driver would want to work on this spot, since ploughing it was always a dangerous pain in the ass - when raining, the mud wraps around the wheels like play-doh; when dry, the cracks in the ground can get so big you can fall in and break an ankle. Also, birds can ravage half of the yield here every year. But once you get to drink the wine made from whatever is left, you understand it's worth the hardships: be it direct press or macerated, there's always a particular character shining through. Every. Single. Year. Sounds like the terroir that so many people talk about...
Loess and chernozem site in Žižkov where we gradually managed to collect a couple of tiny plots. It started with mere seven rows (~0.5 ha) just under the Slovenské vineyard. Old vines that we, unfortunately, weren't able to save as the previous owners and socialist agriculture had given them quite a rough time. Our hearts sinking, we uprooted the plants, let the soil relax for a bit, and then planted again in 2015. Back then, I loved full-on macerated whites, and our skin-contact Gewurztraminer was receiving kudos wherever it went. Let's take that one step further, I thought, and make something similar from a local grape. This is how Pálava, a Moravian-born cross of Gewurztraminer and Muller Thurgau, ended up here. Today I feel it wasn't a bad choice, only my taste has shifted a bit, so instead of making a heady, skinsy monster, I work with the vineyard towards a more elegant, distinguished style, taking more after Muller than Traminer, if you look at the family picture.
The two other plots were originally just a lease: a 0.3 ha plot of Sauvignon and Riesling planted in the 1980s, and 0.2 ha of more than 45-years-old Pinot Blanc. After some years of respectfully working on them, we recently managed to buy both. I'm super happy with that, as the soil isn't something that people here let go of lightly; on the contrary, "you don't sell your land" is the gospel here. Wise vines, diligent work, great energy for our star called GinTonic.
The name comes from our slang - this plot has so many indulgent deer living around it that the former owner Mr. Krejčí had to fence it in (= oplotit in Czech) completely if he wanted to have any grapes at all. He was quite an interesting guy and a local personality, a perfectionist workaholic whose accomplishments levelled his passion, until his untimely death. In the spring of 2019, we got the opportunity to take over his vineyards and winery and I hope we can do so with similar dedication and success, although our winemaking vision is quite different. Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris. A rather flat 3-hectare vineyard planted in 2003 with then-popular French and Austrian clones. Close to a forest, with almost no wind, and a very different microclimate than our other vineyards; I'm really looking forward to seeing what our eastern-most plot brings us.
Yep, this is a sandy vineyard. The Saharas. A small, one-of-a-kind spot in Moravský Žižkov – a well-drained sandy vineyard in the middle of otherwise heavy soils. We're lucky enough to manage 6 out of the total 20 hectares of these gentle slopes. A hundred meters from a cemetery – what a terroir!
We haven't planted this one – we bought it as a grown-up vineyard in 2003. And it's fun. The first part is a mixture of Muscat and Muller Thurgau – we downplay the obnoxious muscatey aroma and get awesome wines, like Danger 380V. The second plot is, believe it or not, planted with Cabernet Franc. Not a frequent sight in Moravia, but boy do I love it - it allowed me to make Forks & Knives Rosé, my very first still pink. Then we have a bit of Pálava (MTxTR cross), an older vineyard showing perfect shape and spiciness. The fourth plot is ruled by Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder, which we turn into energetic, lively carbonic reds like Barvířka. When you accept that Pinot Noir is not the only red grape worth your winemaking time and money, life becomes easier. Mine did.
Another vineyard I was always hoping to work on one day - although this Bílovice spot is not even one hectare. We call it - again, sorry for the lack of imagination - by its previous owner, but the locals call it ŠMATLÁKY, which roughly translates to “trudging grounds”, because the soil here was so heavy that, in rainy weather, people’s shoes would get covered with so much mud that they couldn't walk properly. Sorry, local folk tales. Whatever the name, it's a wonderful soil for Sauvignon, which we use for GinTonic. There’s also a bit of our beloved Blaufrankisch. It was quite the feeding frenzy when Mr Otáhal announced he was selling this vineyard, but luckily it's us who got the last laugh.
Another vineyard named after its original owner. It was planted in 2004, like many other vineyards around - back then, our country was about to enter the EU, which meant a moratorium on new vineyards. So people went into a frenzy just before that, trying to plant just about anything anywhere, with sometimes questionable results. But that's not the case here - this one hectare of Chardonnay and Blaufrankisch regularly makes it to the (non-existent) list of top things I have in the cellar. Should you ever find yourself there with me, bug me until I make you taste that JUNG barrel. Yes, it really is that good. Especially the BF: year after year, it's clean and ready before the others, while also being the most complex and calm wine there. There are wines that you have to babysit a bit, worried about their fate, but not Jung, never.
A recently purchased 0.5-hectare vineyard with clay soil. Its original owner (named Homola) planted it in 1995 with Pinot Noir from a local selection massale, i.e. no imported monoculture. Accident or stroke of genius? We'll never know. What we knew when buying it was that his vineyard management was freaking bad, so only about half of the vines were left; the guy who owned it afterwards replanted it, but probably didn't have a good source of Pinot Noir, so he used Pinot Blanc instead. (It's the same family after all, right? LOL.) They used to pick these two separately - a thing we're obviously not doing. Our wine has been harvested and fermented together for two years and it's awesome - so awesome we're greedily keeping it for ourselves for the time being.
OK, we're really not original with names at all (good thing I make it up to me with the names of the wines). This plot is once again named after its former owner. Mr Gardáš is an incredibly affable older guy with a lot of dedication. He also probably has some psychic skills: he kept a small piece of unplanted land next to his vineyard, because “ya know, when the crisis comes, I'll still have this, plant some potatoes and feed my family while y'all are fucked”, he told me in 2015. Nevertheless, he agreed to sell it to us after a while, so we could plant this minuscule slab of 0.25 hectares looking out on the Pálava hills with its eponymous vines. I like this varietal for its local pedigree; I like it less for its often too aromatic style, but that's now how we do it, so I'm foreseeing a bright future here. (Hope I'm no less of a fortune-teller than Mr Gardáš here).
Our youngest child. Planted in spring 2019, right next to our company (= “firma” in Czech; there goes our slang again.) Back then, we bought this precinct in the industrial part of Bílovice and were able to move all our activity to one spot from the previous eight different ones. You can't imagine the relief. Next to all these buildings with a sometimes funny history lay 4 hectares that we - based on our long-term know-how - planted with Neuburg, Gruner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Blaufrankisch and Pinot Noir.
My tongue-in-cheek name for it is Chateau Nestarec. You'll understand the joke as soon as you get here – it ain't no fancy castle worth millions of euros with some manicured vines around. This is dirty, industrial punk – an unassuming place we feel good living and working in. It’s also the very first vineyard that I show any visitors because that's where the current history of our family winemaking is being written. Loam, clay, my wife's bees and the oh-so-romantic sunset by the electric box that gave the name to our sparkling Danger 380V.
Mind over matter aka a symbol of my faith in the future. I've been dreaming about this vineyard for ages, walking around, looking at the abandoned peach orchard. Four hectares and 30 owners, a grower's nightmare (and a lawyer’s wet dream, haha). But this piece of land with its typically well-drained Bílovice loess and ideal mid-slope location is so unique that we took a loan and went for it.
It was the start of a 3-year-long buying marathon that I actually remote-controlled for a big part of it, since at the very same time I was browsing the NYC wine bars and showing my first no-SO2 wines there (thinking of that time still makes me quite nervous, even in retrospect). But it finally came to a happy ending and we could start planting our very special selection - a super diversified mix of old Moravian vines nursed in Germany. It was a painstakingly long and expensive process, but I believe that investing in the future always pays off. Actually, I'm seeing the results already - the young Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon and Pinot Blanc that we grow here produce excellent wines like I am not a big wine, GinTonic or Forks & Knives white. Stoked to see how this evolves in 10, 20, 30 years. (One of the advantages of being a young winemaker: you'll probably see the fruit of your labour yourself, not only hoping your kids will.)
Etymological by-line: the official name of this plot is Obory, but I also like its historical name Achtele, referring to the eponymous old units of surface area. And just like the locals, we call it Babušák, named after an old woman killed by lightning here while working in the vineyard, poor thing. We're still standing, trying to outbalance the macabre score by the fact that I and Mirka got married here and she keeps her beehives at this very plot.
During days of good visibility, you can see all the way to the Slovak mountain range called the Little Carpathians, hence the name. Moravský Žižkov. Our first bigger vineyard, and the true start of our winemaking odyssey. Around 2000, it used to be divided among many people owning 0.2 – 0.3 hectares each on average – hell of a situation when you want to get a bigger surface. But my parents somehow succeeded in harnessing almost 5 hectares together. I was a kid then - 11, maybe 12 - and just as any boy at this age, I wanted (needed!!) a computer. But too bad for me, all the money we had went into buying this land. Yes, I couldn't be more grateful for this today.
The soil is a mix of mainly clay and chernozem with a bit of loess, planted with our own home-grown rootstock (of Neuburger, Pinot Noir, Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt, Riesling, Dornfelder). We used second-hand trellises from Germany back then, because we didn't have the means to buy new ones. The same went for the labour - we couldn't afford to pay any extra workers, so my family and I used to do literally everything here ourselves. So you can imagine how strong our bond to this piece of land is.
As an extra flashback to my younger years, this vineyard features an old shabby tobacco stand where us swagger teenage country boys used to buy smokes. Nowadays it serves as a bad weather shelter for our workers, but the sun-faded Orbit gum stickers and its '90s teen spirit will linger there forever.