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Czech Republic: New Land of Great Wines

Jakub Smrčka of Vinařství THAYA Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The Czech Republic has seen its share of historic events over the last century. Whether it was the Velvet Revolution in 1989 or the Czechoslovakia Declaration of Independence four years later, these events set the stage for the country’s creative emancipation in a number of areas. This desire to break new ground has been reflected in the world of wine. Over the past three decades, this country has gradually become a major player in this field. 

Articles originally published in Gentologie Magazine Issue 12. Subscribe now to get our next magazine

An invitation to discover the world of wine in the Czech Republic

Vineyards as far as the eye can see!Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Vineyards as far as the eye can see!
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Upon invitation from the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Ottawa, I was lucky enough to visit the country’s various wine regions during the Spring of 2023. It was a wonderful journey that I’d like to share with you. Over the course of a week, I visited more than thirty vineyards of all kinds, ranging from the rustic to the modern, and met grape enthusiasts at every stop.

Day 1: Visit to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, and meet the team

View-of-Prague-from-the Charles-Bridge-Tower---48-hours-in-Prague

View of Prague from the Charles Bridge Tower
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

On the first day, we met our hosts, Mr. Jan Kubacka, Head of the Economic and Trade Section at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Ottawa, Ms. Dagmar Fialova, Marketing Director of the National Wine Center, and Ms. Jana Humpolíková, Key Account Manager for Cultural Tourism at Czech Tourism. We began with an overview of the country and its distinctive characteristics when it comes to vineyards. For reference, this country of 78,871 km2 (Canada has a density of 9,984,670 km2) features more than 800 vineyards, and these are developing at lightning speed. After this captivating presentation, we took a city tour of Prague and enjoyed a delicious gourmet meal at the Mlýnec restaurant (which we recommend in this article). The St. Wenceslas vineyard is located in the capital’s city centre. What an incredible evening we had with the whole team, and what a wonderful start to our trip. 

Day 2: Central Bohemia and South Moravia

Jakub P. Honců winemaker at Vinné Sklepy Kutná HoraPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Jakub P. Honců winemaker at Vinné Sklepy Kutná Hora
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

On this day, we began our tour of the Czech Republic’s numerous vineyards, despite the rather questionable weather conditions. The first stop, however, immediately put a smile back on our faces. At Vinné Sklepy Kutná Hora in Central Bohemia, we try to replicate Burgundy with incredible wines such as Rieslings, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noirs. As fate would have it, the winemaker, Mr. Jakub P. Honců, spoke excellent French. He practised his art in Burgundy with the great Quebec winemaker Pascal Marchand, but wanted to return to his native land and bring Czech wine to a whole new level. Furthermore, our host Lukáš Rudolfský gave us an unforgettable moment when he sat down behind the piano to perform “Let It Be” by The Beatles. Off to a flying start! 

The LAHOFER vineyards in Czech RepublicPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The LAHOFER vineyards
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

After a sumptuous lunch at Na Pašince, we continued on to South Moravia, about 2.5 hours’ drive from our first stop. Blessed with a brilliantly shining sun, we were given a magnificent welcome at Lahofer, a modern, grandiose vineyard. On the menu, an all-white tasting: sparklings, Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs, Grüner Sylvaner, Gewürztraminers and more. A wonderful combination!

From left to right: Mr Jan Grolich, Member of the Regional Assembly of the South Moravian Region, Mrs. Dagmar Fialova, Marketing Director of the National Wine Center, Mr. Jaroslav Chaloupecký Marketing at LAHOFER and Mr. Jan Kubacka, Head of the Economic and Trade Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Ottawa.Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

From left to right: Mr Jan Grolich, Member of the Regional Assembly of the South Moravian Region, Mrs. Dagmar Fialova, Marketing Director of the National Wine Center, Mr. Jaroslav Chaloupecký Marketing at LAHOFER and Mr. Jan Kubacka, Head of the Economic and Trade Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Ottawa.
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

We finally headed towards the last destination of the day, THAYA (article cover), and spent the night there too. We were greeted by young winemaker Jakub Smrčka and taken out onto the magnificent terrace to enjoy an incredible Blanc de Blancs 2020 sparkling wine against a stunning backdrop of the sunset over the vines. Both here and at Lahofer, no expense has been spared. The facilities are modern, and the vineyard team makes no secret of its ambitions to compete with the world’s great champagnes. During the tour, we were lucky enough to be able to sample products straight from the vats. We enjoyed it and were blown away by the quality of the wines presented. Then we sat down to dinner and a tasting of various products from the vineyard. We’ve gone from white — Sauvignon, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner — to rosé — Pinot Noir — to red — Saint-Laurent, Zweigelt and Frankovka (the Czech name for blaufränkisch) — and it goes without saying that these products are exceptional both in terms of the label design and the product in the bottle.

Day 3 : Znojmo and Mikulov

Vinařství Špalek in Czech RepublicPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Vinařství Špalek
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

We continued our trip with a stop at Špalek in Znojmo, a 12-hectare organic vineyard. It has been a magnificent tasting experience in an extraordinary setting among the vats. 

Marek Špalek of Vinařství ŠpalekPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Marek Špalek of Vinařství Špalek
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Martin Vajčner of Vinařství Martin Vajčner in Czech RepublicPhoto : Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Martin Vajčner of Vinařství Martin Vajčner
Photo : Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Afterwards, we were welcomed to a “wine salon” organized at Enotéka where we were introduced to various producers. It was a good opportunity to have a hearty chat with Martin Vajcner, whose products are marketed in Quebec. The weather forced us to relocate quickly and we found ourselves in Mikrosvin’s cellar to taste their products as well as those of Zámecké vinařství Bzenec. It was here that I discovered Welschriesling, also known as Italian Riesling, which is in no way related to German or Alsatian Riesling. This grape variety, which ripens late to produce very acidic, slightly aromatic wines, is a wonderful discovery!    

Over dinner at KOREK, the wines from Vinařství Baláž lived up to my expectations. Straight, delicious and the guarantors of a philosophy that embraces the community behind it. As for the label design, it is, once again, truly exceptional.

Day 4 : Valtice, Kurdějov and Hustopeče 

The Pinot & Chardonnay Sparkling from Vinařství ObeliskPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The Pinot & Chardonnay Sparkling from Vinařství Obelisk
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

It’s been quite a busy day! We started at Obelisk early in the morning, where the team offered us sparklings in a minimalist, welcoming setting. The facilities are impressive and modern, and the wine quality is equally outstanding. Oenologist Filip Lutzký welcomed us and introduced us to two wines. Apart from sparklings and a pinot blanc, I also discovered Pálava.

The exterior at Vinařství ObeliskPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The exterior at Vinařství Obelisk
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The renowned Pálava from the Czech RepublicPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The renowned Pálava from the Czech Republic
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

This grape variety, The Pálava, proved to be the highlight of the trip! For the record, Pálava is a white wine grape variety developed in Moravia in 1953 by Josef Veverka. Created from a genetic cross between the Gewurztraminer and Müller-Thurgau grapes, it is typically rich, aromatic, subtly sweet and golden yellow in colour.

We then headed for Syfany, whose products can also be found here in Canada (distributed in Québec by Le vin dans les voiles). The vineyard is an organic estate with an adjacent farm. A family estate with sustainability values that are rarely seen in the wine world. Discover their products in many Quebec restaurants such as restaurant H3.  

A Riesling from Gurdau in Czech RepublicPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

A Riesling from Gurdau
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Continuing our journey, we headed for Gurdau. This vineyard impresses with its futuristic construction and design, in harmony with nature. Just like the warm welcome we received, the wines from Gurdau are on another level. What’s more, the estate’s sommelier, Mr. Marián Nĕmec, has worked with the great sommelier Pier-Alexis Soulières in a London restaurant. This connection between Canada and even Quebec is a wonderful stroke of luck, and I’m delighted to see that Quebec expertise is constantly being passed on internationally.

The wine cellars at GurdauNormand Boulanger | Gentologie

The wine cellars at Gurdau
Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The exterior at FABIGPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The exterior at FABIG
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

To round off the day, we headed for FABIG. How surprising! The setting here is a modern, minimalist industrial environment. The team is very small and dedicated, and winemaker Roman Fabig’s obsession is Sauvignon, but only the very best Sauvignons. A splendid rosé based on André grapes and cabernet is also produced.

Day 5: Last day to visit the vineyards of the Czech Republic – Velké Pavlovice, Popice, Němčičky and return to Valtice.

Vinařství Lacina apricot wine from Czech RepublicPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Vinařství Lacina apricot wine
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The last day and by no means the least! It all began at Lacina, a vineyard nestled in what looks like an old church. Their specialty is apricot wine. Simply delightful. No wonder it sells out so quickly. 

Mrs. Dominika HolešínskáSales  & Marketing Director at Vinařství Sonberk Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Mrs. Dominika Holešínská
Sales  & Marketing Director at Vinařství Sonberk
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

We then made our way to Sonberk. Our host, Mrs. Fialova, used to work in this vineyard. Just like the big players, the team’s philosophy is to revolutionize the world of Czech wine. It should be understood that the vineyards were overexploited by former governments who were more interested in quantity than quality in terms of wine. Some grape varieties are being phased out to make way for varieties adapted to the climate and the aspirations of the vineyards. The focus here is on white wines such as Riesling, Merlot and Pálava. Although it was foggy during our visit, the view of the surrounding landscape was magnificent. 

The landscape seen from the tasting room at Vinařství Sonberk in Czech RepublicPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The landscape seen from the tasting room at Vinařství Sonberk
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Jan Stávek from J. StávekPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Jan Stávek from J. Stávek
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The Sexta Rosé Sparkling from J. Stávek in Czech RepublicPhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The Sexta Rosé Sparkling from J. Stávek
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

Our final stop was quite startling. If you’re a natural wine enthusiast, you’ll love J. Stávek. We were treated to incredible rosé sparklings from a mix of Frankovka and Saint-Laurent grape varieties. The bottle? It was sabered by Ms. Fialova with a shovel. Magnificent moment! To complement all this, the team didn’t hesitate to offer us an all-round delectable lunch. We then visited the Wine Salon of the National Wine Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting wine and viticulture in the Czech Republic, inside the spectacular Valtice castle. We were able to taste some of the 100 finalist wines in the national competition. To round things off, we enjoyed a delicious dinner with the winemakers and staff of the National Wine Center, in the enchanting setting of the Hotel Anton Florian. 

The Czech Republic's National Wine Centre is at Valtice CastlePhoto: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

The Czech Republic’s National Wine Centre is at Valtice Castle
Photo: Normand Boulanger | Gentologie

In conclusion, I experienced moments that words cannot fully capture. The food, the wines and the people, among many other things, made for some incredible and meaningful moments.

The participants in the Canadian delegation at Vinné Sklepy Kutná Hora in Czech RepublicPhoto: Jan Kubacka

The participants in the Canadian delegation at Vinné Sklepy Kutná Hora
Photo: Jan Kubacka

The participants in this trip, with whom I shared wonderful moments: Alana Steele, Lesley Quinn, Brad Royale, Jayde Tetreau, Jennifer Havers, Maude Renaud-Brisson, Nicole Raufeisen and Brenda Steinsky.

Thanks to Mr. Jan Kubacka, Head of the Economic and Trade Section at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Ottawa, Ms. Dagmar Fialova, Marketing Director of the National Wine Center, and Ms. Jana Humpolíková, Key Account Manager for Cultural Tourism at Czech Tourism, for this fantastic trip.

To learn more : vinarskecentrum.cz | visitczechia.com | mzv.cz/ottawa/

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