Slovenia is both a Central European and Balkan country. Viticulture and winemaking has existed in this region since the time of the Celts and Illyrians tribes, long before the Romans would introduce winemaking to the lands of France, Spain and Germany. Today Slovenia has more than 28,000 wineries making between 80 and 90 million litres annually from the country's 22,300 ha of vineyards. About 75% of the country's production is white wine. Almost all of the wine is consumed domestically with only 6.1 million liters a year being exported - mostly to the United States, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and lately the Czech Republic. Most of the country's wine production falls under the classification of premium (vrhunsko) wine with less than 30% classified as basic table wine (namizno vino). Slovenia has three principal wine regions: the Drava Valley, Lower Sava Valley and Slovenian Littoral.
Unlike many of the major European wine regions, Slovenia's viticultural history predates Roman influences and can be traced back to the early Celtic and Illyrian tribes who began cultivating vines for wine production sometime between the 5th and 4th centuries BC. By the Middle Ages, the Christian Church controlled most of the region's wine production through the monasteries. Under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, privately owned wineries had some presence in the region but steady declined following the empire's fall and the beginning of Yugoslavia. By the end of the Second World War, co-operatives controlled nearly all of the region's wine production and quality was very low as the emphasis was on the bulk wine production. The exception was the few small private wineries in the Drava Valley region that were able to continue operation. In 1967, the government established the PSVVS (Business Association for Viticulture and Wine Production) which established testing practices for quality assurance and issued seals of approval for wines that met the organization's standards. In 1991, Slovenia was the first Yugoslav republic to declare independence. While the wine industry, as did other sectors of the Slovenian industry, experienced some decline following the turmoil of the Yugoslav wars, the region's strong ties to the West allowed the industry to quickly rebound.
Climate and geography
Slovenia has a diverse geography which provides a wide variety of microclimates. It is bordered to the north by Austria, separated by the Alps. To the west is Italy and the Adriatic Sea, Hungary to the east and Croatia forms the southern border. The region has a continental climate with cold, dry winters and hot summer. The far western Slovenian regions of the Littoral have some Mediterranean influence. Some common viticultural hazards in the region include spring frost, drought during the growing season and summertime hail. Many of Slovenia's vineyards are located in the foothills of the Julian and Karavanke Alps and the Pannonian Plain. The Drava and Sava Rivers are major influences in the Drava Valley and Lower Sava Valley, respectively.
Slovenia has three main wine regions: the Littoral, Lower Sava Valley, and Drava Valley. The Littoral is Slovenia's most internationally known region and, though predominately a white wine producer, the region is responsible for most of Slovenia's red wine production.
The Slovenian Littoral is Slovenia's most widely known and prominent wine region. It is subdivided into four districts. The Brda district borders the Italian wine region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia with the Collio Goriziano Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC). This region was one of the first in Slovenia to make a concentrated attempt at establishing an international reputation for quality. The area is planted with international varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris (Sivi Pinot), and Pinot noir (Modri Pinot) as well as Rebula, Refosco (Refošk) and Friulano. Brda is best known for its Rebula white wine and Merlot-Cabernet blends. The Koper district on the Istrian peninsula along the Adriatic coast is the warmest wine region in Slovenia. The Refosco and Malvazija grapes are the most widely planted in Koper. The Karst plateau district, located near the Italian city of Trieste, is known for the wine style Teran which is a very dark, highly acidic red wine made from Refosco planted in the region's red iron-rich soil. The Vipava Valley district specializes in light, crisp white wines made from the local Pinela and Zelen grapes. Other grapes found throughout the Littoral region include the following varieties: Barbera, Beli Pinot (Beli Burgundec), Cabernet franc, Cipro, Glera, Klarnica, Laški Rizling, Malocrn, Rumeni Muškat, Syrah and Vitovska Grganja.
The Lower Sava Valley
The Lower Sava Valley is the only Slovenian wine region that produces more red wine than white, though not by a large margin. The area is subdivided into three districts. The Bizeljsko-Brežice district is known for its sparkling wine production and acidic white wines made from the Rumeni Plavec grape. The Lower Carniola district is known for its production of Cvicek made from a blend of white and red wine grapes, most commonly Kraljevina and Žametovka. The White Carniola district is known for its red wine made from Modra Frankinja and Rumeni Muškat. Other grapes found planted throughout the Lower Sava Valley include the following varieties: Beli Pinot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gamay, Modri Pinot, Neuburger, Ranina, Rdeca Žlahtina, Renski Rizling, Šentlovrenka, Šipon, Sivi Pinot, Traminec, and Zweigelt. Currently the Lower Sava Valley region is dominated more by bulk wine, rather than premium wine, production.
The Drava Valley
The Drava Valley is the largest wine region in Slovenia and is subdivided into 7 districts. The Radgona-Kapela district was the first Slovenia wine region to produce sparkling (penina) wine using the méthode champenoise in 1852. The Ljutomer-Ormož district includes the village of Jeruzalem which is known for white wine made from Dišeci Traminec and Ranina. Along with Radgona-Kapela and the Maribor district, Ljutomer-Ormož produces some of the best examples of Drava Valley wine. While the Haloze district is improving in quality, that district along with the Prekmurje, Srednje Slovenske Gorice, and Šmarje-Virštanj districts have small production that is consumed locally. Nearly 97% of the wine made in the Drava Valley region is white wine. Other grape varieties found in the Drava Valley include Chasselas, Gamay, Kerner, Kraljevina, Muškat Otonel, Portugalka, Ranfol, Rizvanec, Rumeni Muškat, Zeleni Silvanec, Žlahtina and Zweigelt.
Viticulture and winemaking
A sparkling wine from BrdaIn
Slovenia, many vineyards are located along slopes or hillsides in terraced rows. Historically vines were trained in a pergola style that optimizes fruit yields. However the emphasis on higher quality wine production has encouraged more vineyards to switch to a Guyot style of vine training. The steep terrain of most vineyards encourages the using of manual harvesting over mechanical.
Wines in Slovenia have traditionally follow the Austrian preference of single varietal over blended wines but the production of blended wines are on the rise. While wines were historically aged in large Slovenian or Slavonian wooden cask, the trend has been to use small and varying sizes of French and Slovenian oak barrels. In the Littoral both red and white wines often go through Malolactic fermentation with Podravje and Posavje typically using that technique only for red wine production. In the Littoral, dessert wines are made in a passito style with the Brda region specialize in wines made from Verduc and Pikolit. In the Drava Valley region, botrytized wines are produced from Laški Rizling, Renski Rizling and Šipon and classified in a system similar to the German wine classification based on sweetness-ranging from pozna trgatev (Spätlese), izbor (Auslese), jagodni izbor (Beerenauslese), ledeno vino (Eiswein) and suhi jagodni izbor (Trockenbeerenauslese). Slovenian wine laws dictate that all wines must be submitted to chemical analysis and tastings prior to being released on the market. After testing the wines are assigned a quality level according to the Zašciteno geografsko poreklo (ZGP) which is similar to the European Union’s QWPSR system-Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions. The quality ranges are as followed:
- Namizno vino - Table wine
- Deželno vino PGO - Country wine
- Kakovostno ZGP - Quality wine
- Vrhunsko vino ZGP - Premium quality wine
Slovenia wine labels include the sweetness level of the wines ranging from suho (dry), polsuho (medium-dry), polsladko (medium-sweet) and sladko (sweet). The designation Posebno tradicionalno poimenovanje (PTP) is applied to a traditional Slovenia wine from a specific region. As of 2009, the PTP wines in Slovenia are the Kras wine Teran from Primorska and from the Lower Sava Valley the Lower Carniolan wine Cvicek, White Carniolan wines Belokranjec and Metliska Crnina and both the red and the white Bizeljcan from Bizeljsko-Sremic.