The Bela krajina Wine Region is considered a true Slovenian wine oasis, caught between the Gorjanci Hills, the Kočevski rog Plateau and the Kolpa River. It is precisely this place, its slope and its limestone soil, the protection from the cold northern winds on the one and the openness towards the south on the other side that provide great conditions for the growing of grapevine. In Bela krajina, all varieties feel well. We have exceptionally good conditions for growing Blue Frankish, Yellow Muscat, Portuguese Red and Portuguese Blue. In comparison to other lands, the latter has been best preserved right here. “It is a wonderful wine everyone loves,” tell the elder of Slovenian oenology, Dr Julij Nemanič, who is an outright encyclopedia of knowledge about wine production, wine varieties and culinary masterpieces best suited for the selected wine. Out of all wines, the locals are most proud of “Metliška črnina”, as told by a devout Bela krajina native: “For us, she is the queen. Metliška črnina was appreciated before anyone even knew our region and wines. It is truly the only wine in Slovenia that is dark.
DRAŠIČI VILLAGE VINEYARD COTTAGE
A unique feature in Slovenia, perhaps even in the world is the Drašiči Village Vineyard Cottage, a wine bank that has been connecting the villagers since the 17th century: When people ran out of wine, they went out there to borrow it. For each litre borrowed, a litre and a half had to be returned. The 50% interest rate was a lucrative business that served to finance various undertakings. Even today, the funerals of villagers are covered by this fund.”
The members of the village vineyard cottage are the wine-growers from Drašiči and the surroundings. The village vineyard cottage resides in the lower premises of the former school. For several years now, guests can visit the only existing wine bank – rental of common neighbourhood wine in Bela krajina and also try or buy the wine. It is located in the middle of the village opposite the Church of St Peter from 1773. The neighbourhood lies on the lowest point of the upper part of Drašiči, which is now named Gorenci, and has a character of a roadside village. In the autumn, on the first Saturday after St Martin’s Day, the Drašiči locals organise a traditional hike along the paths of the village vineyard cottage. Along the 11.5km long path, the hikers will stop at many points, where they will be tasting noble wine as well as traditional homemade delicacies prepared by the locals. The path is winding among the autumn coloured vineyards and hills from vineyard cottage to vineyard cottage.
Visiting the Village Vineyard Cottage includes the presentation of the history and the operation of the Village Vineyard Cottage, the unique wine bank entered in the register of live cultural heritage in Slovenia.
THE FATHER OF SLOVENIAN ICE WINE
The Bela krajina native, born under the vine in the Bela krajina wine capital of Drašiči, is known as the father of ice wine. “In order to achieve the title of ice wine, the grapes must stay on the vine until the passage of three consecutive nights with temperatures under seven degrees Celsius. I remember everyone pressuring us, asking “Why don’t you harvest your grapes during that time?” Yet the patient wait was well worth it. They harvested the grapes for Christmas, and the knowledge he obtained by studying abroad, helped him to turn his grapes into wine: It was the first ice wine in Yugoslavia. We were so happy, it was a major success.”
More than ten bigger winegrowers can be found on the wine map of Bela krajina, along with some 400 smaller ones, with dr. Nemanič among them. He still is still happy to grow grapevines: “Where else than in wine-growing can you do something different every year? Waiting for a new wine harvest is what stirs up the imagination of all wine friends.” And no doubt the gastronomic pleasure offered by Bela krajina. “There is no wine in the world which would be suited for all dishes, but you can find one for every dish.” And in wine-growing regions, such as Bela krajina, combining food and wine that go well together is very important. The “Metliška črnina” wine goes best with lamb, the Belokranjec wine goes best with “pogača” and the Portuguese is perfect with baked chestnuts.
“The conditions for growing wine in Bela krajina truly allow for excellent quality, but the approach to the work must be correct,” concludes dr. Julij Nemanič: “I hope that the younger generations will acknowledge the opportunities that are obviously present here. We have to realise that in order to keep Bela krajina’s reputation, our vineyards have to be in a great condition, and our wines always superb.”