Wine Tasting around Maribor, Slovenia
This summer I spent two months in Slovenia’s second city, Maribor. I can’t explain what drew me there – call it a strange quirk of fate – but I do know why I’ll be returning. As a lover of fines wines and picturesque countryside, Maribor stole my heart.
Local Wine in Maribor
Maribor is the capital of the Štajerska region and the second largest city in Slovenia, after the capital Ljubljana, but it’s a pleasantly small and somewhat intimate place. Sitting on the banks of the River Drava, it’s flanked by the mighty mountain, Pohorje, on one side, while gentle rolling hills lined with vineyards surround the other.
Maribor is the capital of the Štajerska region
Because of the climate, noble aromatic white wines predominate in this region, along with some sparkling wines, made the same way as Champagne. Rizlings (Rieslings) are most popular here, notably Laški Rizling, although wine connoisseurs rave about Maribor’s Renski Rizlings.
Other notable wines grown in this region are Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zeleni Silvanec, Traminec, Rumeni Muškat, and Sivi Pinot.
Stara Trta: The Old Vine House
Perhaps Maribor’s biggest claim to fame is Stara Trta, the world’s oldest grapevine (as verified by the Guinness Book of Records in 2004). Located on the banks of the Drava in Maribor’s medieval core, the old vine grows on the façade of a 16th century house, appearing on paintings dating back to 1657 and 1681. Although nobody knows the exact age of the vine, it’s acknowledged to be at least 400 years old.
The Oldest Vine on the World - Stara Trta Maribor
Despite suffering several fires throughout its history and being bombed during the Second World War, the vine has shown its resilience and continued to grow. In 2007, the building was renovated, and today houses a small museum dedicated to the vine, plus it offers wine tastings showcasing the excellent wines produced in the Štajerska region.
Stara Trta from Maribor – The Old Vine still produces fat bunches of red Žametovka (or Modra Kavčina) grapes (most vines start slowing down at 40 years old!), and the grape harvest in October is one of Maribor’s largest parties. While the wine is said to no longer be drinkable, the bottles are of great symbolic value with only c. 100 produced each year, and they’ve been presented to popes, presidents and emperors.
Local Winemakers in Maribor
The Vinag Wine Cellar in the centre of Maribor is Europe’s largest city-based wine cellar, and it contains 5.5 million litres of wine in over 2.5 kilometres of tunnels under the city. But this story is about Maribor’s local independent wine growers. The Find Eat Local introduced me to three of the best: Joannes Protner, Vinogradi Horvat, and Chateau Ramšak.
Wine House Joannes Protner
Located northeast of Maribor in the region of Malečnik, Joannes Protner has 12 hectares of vineyards spread over the Šempeter hills near Maribor.
The majority of the vineyard is dedicated to their famous Renski Rizling, but they produce a full range of white wines from light, fresh Pinot Blanc and Šipon – Furmint from the vineyard’s newest vines, to full-bodied Chardonnay and aromatic, sweet Rumeni Muškat. They also produce a single red, a delicious Pinot Noir, as well as a sparkling wine. I had the privilege to try Joannes’ wines twice on this trip. The first was part of a wine tasting event on the River Drava courtesy of vinoo.co and Find Eat Local.
The wine tasting took place on a traditional raft that once transported timber from Pohorje along the Drava, but had been transformed into a tasting venue for the night. Here we sipped wines from three Slovenian winemakers, although Joannes was the only one from the Maribor region, as we slowly drifted down the river, eventually coming to a (rather blurry) stop in front of the Old Vine House.
The second was as part of a wine tour to local vineyards and winery. I was especially grateful for the wine tasting at the vineyard, which took place after a long day of harvesting for the guys at Joannes. Here we sipped Rumeni Muškat as the sun slipped from view over the hills, tasted the award-winning Renski Rizling again, and finished off with their Pinot Noir as day finally turned to night. The winery offers a fantastic backdrop to tastings and can accommodate up to 60 people, while they also offer accommodation to those without a designated driver!
Vineyards & Winery Horvat
Situated three kilometres from the centre of Maribor, Vinogradi Horvat is a family-run vineyard beneath the Piramida hills. While the family tradition of winemaking runs for many generations, they’ve occupied their current ten-hectare vineyard since 1960. Today it’s run by Sabina Horvat, chief winemaker, and her husband, Damijan. Together they produce Chardonnay, Renski Rizling, Sauvignon, Traminec, Rumeni Muškat, and Pinot Gris.
We were treated to a vertical tasting of their finest wines in the cellar – Damijan apologised for this as tastings usually take place in the function room, which was occupied for our visit, but I loved the atmosphere in this room (almost as much as I loved the delicious meat and lard nibbles and cheese with chunks of walnuts that they served with the wine!).
Winery Horvat finest wines
As we worked our way through Horvat’s finest wines, Damijan chatted about the history of the vineyard showing us the special large family key with the family’s initials woven into the pattern, and talked us through the tastes of the different wines with the help of a large, colourful tasting wheel. He was extremely knowledgeable, and the family passion for producing fine wines was notable. This was a wonderful experience.
Winery Chateau Ramšak
Close to Vinogradi Horvat, Chateau Ramšak is the newest vineyard in this story, although its family history dates back much further. The grandfather began their wine story, planting vines in his spare time around his main job as the local GP, before the land was taken from the family during the Yugoslavia years. Eventually the land was returned to the family, and new vines were planted in 1998. Today the vineyard produces a range of white wines, including Zeleni Silvanec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Laški Rizling, and it’s open to the public for tastings and events.
The grand chateau has a nod to Maribor wine traditions with a cutting from Stara Trta growing at the entrance, and inside I was surprised and pleased to find our tasting was to take place beneath Europe’s largest wine press, an impressive wooden structure that dominates the room.
The grand chateau has a nod to Maribor
Accompanied by a platter of fruit and nuts, bread and grapes, we worked our way through a sample of Chateau Ramšak’s finest wines. Perhaps the best part of this tasting was the opportunity to sample three different Chardonnays, the most recent dating from 2015, along with the Decanter award-winning Chardonnay from 2013, and a special bottle from the cellar, a 2003 Chardonnay that was awarded the silver medal in Chardonnay du Monde’s 2005 awards.
Glamping at Chateau Ramšak
A new addition to Chateau Ramšak is their luxury glamping resort, opened in 2016. A labour of love for local businessman Andrej, Chateau Ramšak Glamping has a number of individual glamping tents and a luxury treehouse commanding an impressive view over the glamping site and the surrounding hills.
The glamping tents are fully secure and private, each with their own private Jacuzzi – there was even one attached to the treehouse with a stunning view over the neighbouring vineyard. Inside each tent is a canopied double bed – in the 4-person tent there is a second double bed above – plus a small bathroom with locally produced toiletries, a flatscreen TV, wardrobes, and a small kitchen area with the all-important kettle (says the Brit!). All the tents are temperature controlled, with both heating and air-conditioning.
If you’re looking for a luxury stay, steeped in nature and fuelled by wine, than Chateau Ramšak Glamping in Maribor should be high on your list of special places to visit.
Piramida (Pyramid Hill)
Finally, no wine trip to Maribor is complete without a visit to Piramida. A low hill adjacent to Maribor’s city park, Mestni Park, Piramida is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike. In the 12th century, there was a small castle on top of the hill, which was dismantled in 1790 and a stone pyramid built from the building rubble, after which the hill is named. The pyramid is no longer there, although you can see some remains from the original castle, but a small chapel occupies this spot commanding a magnificent view over Maribor, Pohorje, and the surrounding wine-growing hills.
Piramida has its own wine story too. The sides of this 386-metre hill are planted with vines, and Piramida wine is made as a joint venture between the local winemakers we visited on our trip – we tasted their delicious Renski Rizling.
Today, just behind the chapel, Andrej has set up a small bar complete with chill-out area, and here you can sit and watch the sun set over Maribor while sampling a selection of local Maribor wines, including those from Joannes Protner, Vinogradi Horvat and Chateau Ramšak. It’s the perfect place to round off your wine adventures in Maribor.
Thanks to Joannes Protner, Vinogradi Horvat, Chateau Ramšak and Piramida for their hospitality and fine wines.
Author: Joanne Amos | Freelance writer and proofreader at The Wandering Wordsmith and a travel blogger at The Road to Wanderland.