Wine and Communism Don't Mix
The Times tells the story of how Czech wine deteriorated under Communist rule—and how it bounced back.
The Moravia wine region of the Czech Republic has a rich history going back centuries, but the era of Communist rule following World War II all but drained the Czechs of their passion for the craft. Now, winemakers in the region are working to rebuild the area's terroir, and the country's enthusiasm for vino with it.
The small border town of Valtice—which was once occupied by the Iron Curtain—now draws hoards of tourists and wine lovers to its hilly vineyards to get a taste of the region's offerings. Though Valtice's reputation for fine wine dates stretches back to the 19th century, when the House of Liechtenstein, who were notorious wine lovers, created a network of cellars below the city, the town's production was all but halted at the conclusion of the second World War.
According to The New York Times, following the war Communist rule required all vineyards to be given over to the state. Because the Communists emphasized quantity and speed, rather than quality, they eliminated more flavorful and complex grapes in favor of ones that would ripen faster. "Communists, both consciously and unconsciously, were not big wine fans," winemaker Petr Ocenasek told the Times. According to Ocenasek, having opposing preferences and opinions on a particular wine "was in stark contrast with their ideology appealing to uniformity."
Restaurants and bars were forced to buy the state-run wineries' products, which, predictably, weren't very good. Some winemakers, who got to keep a small amount of grapes for personal consumption, sold more refined wines on the black market, but for the most part the country only had access to the Communist-produced product.
As privatization returned to the Czech economy, winemakers set about reviving what had been lost. Celebrated Australian winemaker Mike Mazey was brought in to the Czech Republic to teach the newly independent vineyards how to recapture terroir and recreate the magic of the region's wines. Mazey began giving lessons on the craft to the local winemakers of Valtice and surrounding towns. "I have seen Czech winemakers make huge steps forward," Mazey says. "They are willing to make a lot of sacrifice in quantity to obtain higher quality." A huge departure, of course, from the Communist mentality.
Though the Czech Republic still has a long way to go to reclaim its former vinous glory, winemakers like Marek and David Stastny, who own Valtice's popular Chateau Valtice winery, are doing their best to create a product that would make the Liechtensteins proud. The Stastnys produced 3 million liters of wine a year, using primarily local grape varieties, and are hoping to grow the awareness of Czech wines within their own country—and around the world.