Saturday morning and dew still beads on the November grass. Petr Očenašek and I stand outside a façade of rectangular white stones, waiting briefly until Miroslav Volařik appears, opens the sliding glass doors and we ascend to the main office.
His eponymous winery, Volařik, has garnered many awards and the facility is cluttered with success; trophies, documents, bottles, plus equipment that has just finished processing a very healthy 2015 harvest – they all crowd our path and personal space. A good problem to have, so Volařik is building a larger winery.
He, Očenašek, and I stand for the interview, circled around a bar table crowded with bottles. His movements and demeanor are natural, easy; as he begins to speak of wine he takes a step back, his hands remain in front of his torso but glide to the left and right to punctuate a sentence; he steps forward again. His voice is easy and pleasant, and for my sake he switches to admirable English. Volařik made his money in printing, but I don’t think he speaks with the same pleasure about toner.
“It is the dream of each village boy from here [Mikulov] to make wine; but then it depends on the conditions, it depends on your power, if you are lucky, if you have money…” So Volařik started his current winery in 2007. The accolades came swiftly, and with them a growing reflection on the winery’s product.
In some cases, this has led to Volařik breaking with standard Czech practices. Case in point, the owner has many ideas of what should be grown on the Pálava Hills.
“Of course it’s [about] quality. The style in Moravia is to have 20-25 varieties. In the future we have to be focused on 4-5 varieties and maybe some smaller amount of others. In the future we want to have only Welschriesling, [Rhine] Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Pálava, and then some others.”
Volařik started with a similar model of at least 20 varieties, making over 40 types of wine. However, such a philosophy makes caring for the vines, fruit, and wines more complicated and laborious. By reducing the number of varieties, Volařik can concentrate on the quality of each grape’s unique aspects.
The winery doesn’t make red wines anymore, another break with standing philosophy; most makers tend to dabble in one of the regional specialties like Frankovka (Blaufrankish) or an international variety like Pinot Noir. In a telling statement: “We produced red wine in 2008 2009, but decided we wanted only high-quality wine.” At the Volařik winery, that means white. (At other wineries that doesn’t have to be the case) People advised him not to give up on red wines; they told him that he would never survive. Two Czech Winemaker of the Year Awards later (2011, 2014), his decision seems justified, even if success has brought its own problems.
Good problems: “After 2 or 3 months we are out of one wine.” To the casual wine-drinker, 7000 bottles of one wine might sound like a lot, but they very quickly disappear. Even with a production between 220,000 to 250,000 bottles, one of the largest quality wine productions in the country, the company has trouble keeping up with demand.
In the difficult 2014 vintage, the winery used 100 hectares to get 220,000 bottles; this year they used 82 hectares, which should have a higher production. Ideally, at optimal production, in 40 years Volařik aims for 300,000 bottles all from his own 70hectares.
Our conversation proceeds leisurely. Statistics and numbers might be boring, dribbling from some speakers’ mouths, but Miroslav Volařik handles them clearly; logistics become entertaining. He clearly interests himself in all aspects of the winery – he can elucidate on oak barrels’ benefits to Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, and detriments to Welschriesling and Riesling – but those logistics keep creeping back into his speech. A discussion on the top terroirs of Pálava Hills isn’t poetry but a summary of attributes that quickly turns into the details of protecting against grape theft and metamorphoses into a discussion of illegal wine entering from Hungary and Romania.
In the end though, his ability to handle logistics and build a proper team is his contribution to the winery (along with his money): “It was important to find good people. My education is not in this field [winemaking]; my education was in water technology. But the [employees] already have experience in that field. If you are the position to have so many hectares, you have to create a team. The goal, of how to do it [to make good wine] I have to give it to these people; but they are producing this good quality of wine, not me; they are responsible for this production. I have only name, that’s all.”
Those bottles with his name on it, the ones he and his employees have made so successful, how do they taste?
Volařik wines are always correct, without errors or awkward flaws, reflecting the characteristics of the grape variety as well as the region or vineyard. They are exemplary representatives of the Pálava Hills. If I had to critique the wines, I could say that they lack “mystery;” that is, they lack a romance and profundity that more renowned regions’ wines seem to have. But that is hardly valid; like criticizing a well-made, hand-designed, hand-crafted, well-furnished house because it is not hobbit-home or a crystal palace. As Volařik winery gains more experience, as their vines’ roots wend down farther through the soil, one might begin to speak of the mystery of their Pálava vineyards.
[If interested, please click on the links in the tasting notes to hear what the wines, “sound like.”]
2014 Ryzlink Vlašský (Welschriesling) from the village Klentnice: A good effort and wine from a very difficult year, this flows gently through the mouth. A kind wine, it tickles my cheeks with the acidity, but does leave a little bitterness in the back of the throat, a sure sign of the unripe character of the vintage. It tastes like this.
2014 Železná vineyard – Ryzlink Vlašský (Welschriesling): Železná is considered by many to be the top vineyard of the region, benefiting from a blend of loess, clay, and sandy soils over the white Pálava limestone. This wine has hazelnut on the nose, a little toast or yeasty note. In the mouth it’s both floral and mineral. A bit bitter – that’s the vintage – but also a bit hard. That’s Železná . (The wine tastes like the introduction to this song) Volařik tells me 2 or 3 years will soften it up. I expected that this wine saw some time in oak – it didn’t! – but it did see 6 months of resting on the lees (the dead yeast) that continues to add body, and probably those toasty/yeasty notes to the wine.
2014 Kotelná vineyard – Ryzlink Vlašský (Welschriesling): Another top vineyard near the Železná vineyard, with a similar soil but less prone to water deficits, Kotelná provides a different expression of Welschriesling. In the glass, the wine is more gold than its counterpart. Aromas passing from white chocolate to stone, in the mouth it feels richer. Isn’t this the better wine, then? It’s certainly more accessible and charming now, and a better “restaurant wine,” as Volařik explains, one that provides a good level of elegance and flavors for diners without needing to age and take up precious storage space in a restaurant. A pleasure, but without the intensity of the previous wine.
2014 Ryzlink Rynzký (Rhine Riesling) from Klentnice: I don’t have many notes on this one, just, “Needs 1-2 years.” No commentary on my audio recording either; we had started talking politics. So it tastes like.
Disclousure: Miroslav Volařik gave me two bottles of wine as a gift following the interview.