pARTISAN Cru vs. The World
Around August last year (2016!) I attended the portfolio tasting of Slovak winery Slobodné Vinárstvo Majer Zemianské Sady in Bratislava. The intellectual and hardworking farmer rebels of the Slovak wine community. The winery is unique in the context of the Slovak wine scene and as with anything unique, people in Slovakia have a very love-hate relationship with their wines. They either love them or have fiercely nothing positive to say about them, for whatever reason. But like the new age cliche goes, you know you've made it when enough people "hate" you for what you're doing.
Today, the vineyards are managed jointly by the fourth and fifth generation of the family, the tradition of winemaking and farming in the family dating back to 1929. It is from this date that the family had the 'majer' - a Slovak word for large farm estate. Unfortunately as was the case with the whole nation between then and now, land was seized by the socialist/communist regime and the tradition of winemaking forcefully broken. Thankfully, the family started to rebuild this tradition in 1997, slowly revitalizing 17 hectares of vineyards. In 2010 the first wine under the brand Slobodne Vinarstvo - which translates into Free Winery - was released onto the market, taking it by storm.
Full disclosure - I love most of their wines deeply. They take red wine production - something that isn't exactly a focus in our winemaking region - very seriously, have been doing skin contact whites since day 1, use screw caps only. They take a lot of shit for some of their decisions but aren't afraid to stand by them and defend them. Showcasing a very fun approach - their logo is a rooster dressed in a tux - they don't take themselves too seriously but love wine and winemaking fiercely. My kind of people.
I thought I was pretty familiar with their production until that portfolio tasting in August of last year. They really hit me with their best shot when winemaker Miso Kuropka poured me a glass of their pARTISAN Cru 2011 from a magnum that day. My conventional wine background is in Bordeaux and I was absolutely blown away by the similarity in the flavor and nose profiles - it was like I was swimming in a luscious left bank wine, yet had it's own unique local twang. It was an absolutely fantastic wine. I immediately knew what I wanted to do with the wine and asked Miso if I could purchase a bottle. After much deliberation and forceful persistence he agreed to sell me one and it patiently waited in my cellar till the correct moment. That correct moment presented itself over the holidays.
My original idea was to open a magnum of a left bank Bordeaux from the same vintage and have the wines tasted side by side, as a sort of comparative tasting, with people in my vicinity (hello parents) who are wine lovers but refuse to 'buy in' to the whole "natural wine shabang". I wanted them to see that at the end of the day it just comes down to quality material and great winemaking. Of course as it goes in life, it didn't really work out that way - we had guests at the table, my parents forgot that I wanted to set up this tasting and so by the time I arrived at the table there were already two bottles open - a Chateau Figeac 2001 and a Leoville Poyferre 2003. Not exactly comparable in a technical sense so it was more about getting a general feel for the wines side by side.
What was the result? Absolute confounded exhilaration. The wine was served first before the Bordeauxs and it ended up being that the entire table later requested a second glass after they'd had the Bordeaux. Everyone just simply loved it. They wanted more and wanted to know more about the wine, the winemakers. For the first time I had a really genuinely interested audience in terms of discovering this part of the wine world, our local wine and it was because the wine spoke for itself. The wine spoke and a beautiful discussion ensued, one which I am sure will result if nothing else in the fact that the guests we had and my parents will not refrain from such wines in the future and probably end up purchasing some for themselves. A beautiful moment. My idea was never to claim one wine is better than the other or that one style of wine is superior. I just wanted them to see that this 'shabang' is not a fad, that there is so much substance to it and that you can drink fantastic wines while making sustainable choices for yourself and your community at the same time. A truly happy moment.
Thank you for the opportunity Miso and the team, keep making such fantastic juice. I'll definitely keep drinking it.