This post does not have pictures of people and wines. Instead I will have to rely on words. Prepare yourself for paragraphs of unrelenting, interrupted text!
On June 6 & 7, 2015, The second, annual, “Prague Drinks Wine,” event will be held at the Troja Château in – dat-da-da-daaa – Prague.
Last year’s PDW was the best public wine event I’ve ever been to. That statement includes many “Fetes des villages” in the Rhone, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Prague Drinks Wine even tops a highly memorable tasting in Montepulciano, Italy involving Vino Nobile, Brunello, and laughing modern dancers from Australia.
Why? It is the most educational wine event I’ve ever visited, well-organized but relaxed. And it had crachoirs ( wine spittoons), something often lacked by even large Czech wine festivals.
A man named Bogdan Trojak, owner of the Prague near-biodynamic wine bar Veltlin, is the figure behind the curtain. While I’ve seen the man, I’ve never taken the chance to speak with him, he slipping out of the cafe as I slip into a glass of Porta Bohemica Muller Thurgau. The bar is imaginative, calmly ambitious, and tasteful; a mural rends homage to the delicacies and histories of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Prague Drinks Wine is simply an expansion of that esthetic. Housed in high-arched, red-brick cellars of the regal Troja Zamek, the tasting brings together over 40 producers (Mostly coming from the former lands of the Hapsburg Empire) of quality red, white, orange, and rosé wines. The chambers provides adequate space and plenty of airflow for the vintners and tasters alike. Anthony Hwang, owner of the Tokaji domain, Kiralyudvar, and the French Domaine Huet remarked “This is probably the most beautiful location we have ever presented at, but…” (The rest of that quote comes later)
Besides Mr. Hwang, the producers were less well-known, and the regions they represent are mysteries to most outside of Central and Eastern Europe. Far outside the spotlight, these farmers seemed happy to meet with excited, soon-to-be fans tasting their wines for the first time, and many of the conversations regarding the vino simultaneously became very personal. I think this was why Prague Drinks Wine was massively educational: Impassioned, small producers from unknown – but often historically important – regions opened up about their lands, histories, vineyards, and even themselves.
“… The people…” finished Mr. Hwang. He did not seem impressed. The majority of the participants seemed new to the PDW’s “Wine-as-high-craft” idea that demanded a clear head and un-numbed palate. The impression was most Czechs “don’t spit.” To “Taste wine,” means “Drink wine.” So they got pretty funny and sometimes really drunk. I expect Mr. Hwang was used to the polished tedium of professionals and investors sipping concertedly and spitting carefully, effusing superlatives at his latest vintage. But if a sober newbie slurped back a generous pour of sublime Late-Harvest Tokaji named after Mr. Hwang’s wife “Ilona,” and that newbie came back drunk a few hours later and asked for some of that “Good stuff,” well, I can understand Anthony Hwang’s displeasure. (But at least, Mr. Hwang, the newbie did remember that it was your wine that distinguished itself in his tannin-denatured maw).
In the end, the relative coarseness of the tasters was a merit, not a detriment. The untrained drinkers were having a good time and behaved well, keeping the atmosphere cheery and fun. The aficionados and professionals were spitting and having an amazing time exploring all these wonderful biodynamic wines.
Oops! Shoot, I didn’t want to tell you, Prague Drinks Wine was and is a festival of biodynamic and natural wines. The makers featured at PDW are proving that biodynamic wines (and wines produced without the use of herbicides, pesticides and “corrective” chemicals in the cellar) can create more interesting wines, more fun wines, with a better effect on their vineyards’ environments than conventionally-farmed vines – and that the results don’t have to be “oxidized,” “hippie,” and “funky.” They can be clean, elegant, and polished. In any case, they are always characterful.
As a final note, if this article piqued your interest, and you are interested in drinking wine in Prague or in Central Europe, this writer here would be happy to guide you. Feel free to contact me here, or request my services at my employers, Pathways. There is a whole world of forgotten vinous treasures over here, I’ll be happy to show you.