Petr Očenášek sells wine. More than that, he sells Pálava Hills wine, as much the idea of it as by the bottle. Yes, he managed a shop for a while. Yes, he still maintains a stand during Mikulov’s Harvest Festival. He explains to the drunken Diabetes B candidates that he doesn’t sell that yeasty, sweet, half-fermented juice called burčák but finished, characterful wines with a sense of place made from healthy vines trained and strained to make the best possible grapes that will be obsessively observed during fermentation and their liquids careful aged in vats of oak, concrete or stainless steel according to the attributes desired by the vinifying team and then it is placed in a glass bottle with a cork, glass, plastic or screw-cap closure and that has been opened at precisely the right time before the festival so that the wine can just at this very moment express its full panapoly of aromas and –what?- fine, vole, go drink your burčak somewhere else…
Očenašek can speak at length about wine.
When he’s not speaking of it, his broad frame is often hunched over his smartphone, replying to emails concerning any of his several (hundred?) projects. Whether it be guiding Czechs to Bordeaux, enticing people to stop at the Degustarium, or drumming up sales of the book he co-authored, Wine Words: English for Wine Professionals & Wine Lovers, Očenašek is constantly hustling, in the best sense of the word.
Očenašek likes to point out that he’s from one of 7 or so families in Mikulov whose roots go back before 1945 (Families were either pushed out by the post-war Czechoslovak government or by the succeeding Communist government). By digestion and osmosis, the wine and soil of Pálava are in his blood. His earliest memory of wine is shuffling with his cousins in the vineyards as their parents worked. He was not allowed to enter the cellar as the men brought the grapes in for harvest – he would have to help prepare dinner with his aunts and mother – until his 12th year, and then, they took him inside, and one might say he never left!
…Except maybe to visit other cellars of other regions. Očenašek could have stayed within the world of the Pálava Hills, enjoying the wines as they had been made; instead, curiosity led him across Europe to explore some of Europe’s greatest wine regions. Such discoveries in Burgundy and the Mosel have given him a perspective of his birthplace’s potential. His opinions have made him international and local friends, and probably a few local “foes,” people who aren’t interested in creating quality wine.
With his roots in the region and access to international vendors and oenophiles, Očenašek has clout like few others to challenge the vintners to grow healthier grapes and make better wines. His goal? Mikulov, “can actually tell people here in the Czech [sic] what a real wine region is. [Mikulov] is a great and mainly unique terroir that can, with a relative ease, but with tons of hard work and [the] right winemakers’ attitude, put us on the world wine map (yet again).”
Continually teaching people about quality wine and destroying some of the perceptions lingering from the communist era remains one of his greatest achievements, he says, along with co-authoring Wine Words and playing interpreter for flying winemaker Mike Mazey (A “flying winemaker” is a wine consultant who helps companies around the world make wine) in 2004. Mazey decide to live in Brno, and eventually became the main author of Wine Words.
Another highlight that Očenašek states reveals something else: “ Reinstating and successfully maintaining [a particular producer’s] wine sales in a team of 3 sale people and being one of the reasons co-employees did not have to wait for their wages for 3 months, and being great friends with some of them up to now.”
He cares. Some relationships in villages are always “internecine struggles,” but in the end this international vendor cares for his region. With a “gift of gab,” in multiple languages and a great nose for wines, he could have left for more prestigious appellations long ago. Instead, he’s stayed nearby and his success is now shared with his neighbors.
One of his great long-term goals is a codex of the Pálava Hills vineyards. Starting last year in conjunction with the pension and wine-cave, Degustarium, he led a group of 8 professional tasters through 182 Pálava Hills wines, a first step in affirming and confirming which vineyards actually produce the best wine year after year. “Maybe after 10, 15 years we’ll start to have an idea.” Creating a classification of the vineyards will probably be one great achievement among many for Očenašek , and one that would keep his name in the Czech wine-world, and beyond, for a long, long time.