Bottled Alive 2017
A couple weeks ago I was talking to a wino friend who was telling me about his upcoming wine trips to France in January, semi-complaining about how there are "just too many natural wine fairs to go to these days". Well, there could be worse things in the world to have too many of. Like STDs! Or oppressive presidents of important world nations! You know, fill in the blanks.
Either way. I heard about the artisanal wine festival Bottled Alive in autumn of last year. My dear soulmate Zuzka immediately convinced me that we should go so I (wisely) booked accommodation that day and then kind of forgot about it. In January, Zu asks me what our time plan will be that weekend and I was like, shit! Tabor! I love it when you suddenly remember you have something to look forward to.
It was only then that I looked at the line up of the winemakers and I was honestly blown away. To put things into perspective - Tabor is not a town where you would picture these winemakers gathering in one place, whether from a purchasing power perspective or just pure physical logistics. However, the presence of Thir, natural wine bar, bistro & bb and this festival are all physical manifestations of one thing - the force of nature, energy and conviction of founder Honza Čulík and his team. I don't really know Honza's story in full detail - I hope to one day hear it - but his love for these wines is more than evident and the fact that such a community exists in Tabor is thanks to him. It is proof that it only takes one person with a huge infectious passion to "suddenly" create demand for something that many people would have deemed impossible. It reminds me of the article winemaker and punk rocker Ondra Kopicka wrote about the wine pop up Druzstvo, something Honza is also a part of. He posed a very good question - where did all these people go before something like this was available to them? Well, we'll probably never know but I'm grateful that those of us that are interested in this beautiful world and those who don't even know it exists yet have more and more opportunities to explore it thanks to people like Honza.
So what was the day itself like? Well it was spectaaacular! People from all around the world - literally - gathered, we drank, we laughed and at points even mildly argued. But all is fair in love and war :-) These are my highlights, in no particular order.
- The venue, historical building Strelnice is absolutely beautiful and a perfect location for such an intimate gathering. The main hall is beautifully kept and that chandelier! Damn. Great venue choice.
- Pontus came! I spoke about Pontus and the wonderful work he is doing importing wines from Eastern Europe to Sweden in my post about Karakterre. We got to talk a bit more than last time and it was so great to see him. Love you man.
- Peter and Daniela from London based Newcomer Wines also came - they recently opened a bar in London too. Definitely go check it out when you're there, they have a killer portfolio of mostly Austrian based winemakers and are arduously spreading the naturale gospel in that part of the world. Keep on rocking.
There were around 20 winemakers present and not all of them were from the Czech Republic and Slovakia - to the delight of everyone I think, wineries 2NaturKinder, Christoph Hoch and natural wine world superstars GutOggau were present too. Just to have these wineries at the first installment of the festival is a sign that you should put this event on your future radar. What was really great as well was the size of the venue - it was spacious but not too big and you really had time to talk to the winemakers properly, to get to know them and their wines better. For me this was probably the best thing about the day - it was really a more intimate gathering and that's despite the fact that there was a very decent turnout - around 200-300 people I think.
What was another total highlight for me was the presence of Antonin from Champagnier. I mean.. Having the opportunity to taste Fleury, Pierre Gerbais AND Charles Dufour? I almost died of excited squealing. The Dufour almost made me want to cry - such explosive bubbles, in the best possible way. His portfolio is fantastic and it was the perfect start to the festival. Long live bubbles.
Another highlight was tasting Milan Nestarec's and Jaroslav Osička's wines after some time. They're both mini legends in their own way and all the wines were as good as I remembered them, especially Milan's Sauvignon and Mr. Osicka's Chardonnay 2013 - what a fantastic wine. I was telling Milan a story about how a friend from Copenhagen sent me a picture of his Sauvignon that they blind tasted there and everyone loved it. I'm not surprised.
As always, wines from Dobra Vinice, Slobodne Vinarstvo, Strekov 1075, Richard Stavek and Petr Korab were on my mark. I'm a little mad at myself for not having gone out of my comfort zone and tasted more of things that I don't usually taste - Dluhe Grefty, Tomas Cacik, Kutna Hora for example - but I'm sure there will be more opportunitities in the future. For a really concise wine report as always, definitely check out Jan Cerovsky's article on his blog Jizni Svah. I always get "stuck" with a couple of wines that I totally fall in love with and then the rest turns out to be history. One of those wines was unsurprisingly... sparkling. AND OH MY GOD WHAT A WINE IT WAS. I loved Petr Korab's Orange Future Sekt from the first moment I tasted it - wild, funky bubbles with personality. This time however, he brought a more serious "alternative" - Pinot Blanc/Chardonnay Future Sekt 2015. Holy mother of wine gods. Less wild than it's orange sister, this wine still has so much personality and distinctness to it, I would probably have guessed it's Peter's immediately. Very good flow of bubbles with a lot of juicy fruit on the nose but still bone dry and refreshing. What my sparkling wine dreams are made of, I want to buy ALL of his stock now.
Another really cool experience was the tasting of Projekt Kombucha. If you haven't heard, Kombucha is a type of fermented, slightly effervescent tea that usually has a very small percentage of alcohol in it. These guys have a couple of products in their range, adding absolutely no chemicals and just experimenting with the base tea, length of fermentation, storage temperature etc. The guys were incredibly entertaining (and probably a little high from all that Kombucha) and soon, a huge crowd amassed at their table. After a long day of tasting wine, it was a very welcome refreshment, I can easily imagine carrying around a bottle in my purse and taking a swig when I need a palate cleanser and an added pep in my step. A really cool project worth watching, I hope they get picked up by restaurants and bars around the country.
After the festival was over, you had the opportunity to attend a dinner under the hand of chef Tomas Reisinger. These winemakers dinners are a really great format and this was was incredibly reasonably priced. Food was good, leftover bottles were slayed and conversation flowed as freely as love and wine. If you ever attend any kind of wine festival I highly recommend buying the extra dinner because that's where you really get to chat with the winemakers and everyone around.
At one point I overheard my beloved Mišo Kuropka from Slobodné Vinárstvo telling Honza Čulík that he is the "Marko Kovac of Tábor". Although I'm not one for comparisons, I know what he meant. Pencil this event into your calendars ladies and gentlemen for I have a feeling this will be a yearly highlight to look forward to. A tradition was born that day.
Thanks to Honza Culik and Pontus for letting me use photos. Cheerio.