It is impossible to evoke on paper the emotional turmoil—and subsequent relief and ecstasy—that the family behind Slovakia’s Slobodné Winery have felt over the past 100 years. The story of the country, in Miso Kuropka’s words (one quarter of the Slobodné quartet), “is complicated and tragic.” What happened to their family is a microcosm of what happened to so many people in the country; their land was forcibly taken from them in 1948 at the start of the Communist era; under the guise of nationalisation.
It wasn’t until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that the family even began to consider that they might be able to regain their ancestral property. Thanks to a box of old papers stashed away in the basement of an apartment building in Prague, they were able to embark upon the long and challenging administration process to reclaim their land. But for the sake of reclaiming what rightfully belongs to your family, no task is too demanding.
People: Agnes Lovecka and her partner, Andrea Lovecka, and Katarina Kuropkova, and Katarina’s husband, Miso Kuropka
Place: Zemianske Sady, near Hlohovec in Slovakia
Varieties: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Devín, Blaufränkisch, Pinot Noir and Alibernet
Hectares: 17 planted to vines, 500-hectare farm in total
Did You Know? The grape variety, Devín, was born & bred in Slovakia. It is a cross between Gewürztraminer and Roter Veltliner. Miso says,
“It’s a good story. There was a project that began in the 50s; a research group led by a lady named Ms. Pospíšilová, who is in her 90s now. They were trying to create varieties that would combine the good properties of international varieties while adapting to local conditions. Devín was one of the first group of ten that were recognised; created in 56, and registered in 96.”
He explains that it combines the aromatic side of Gewürztraminer with the acidity of Roter Veltliner:
“Gewürztraminer is one of the oldest noble white wine varieties. It’s like the grandmother. But when it’s ripe, it lacks acidity, so there’s often a problem here: you can end up with strong, powerful high-alcohol wine without acidity. Devín is much fresher, and has these musky aromas. Gewürztraminer is very spicy, but not so musky; it has pepper or rose petal scents, but the musk flavours are what you find in Devín.”
They decided to convert the vineyards to organics in 2016. Before then, they had worked according to ‘integrated production;’ somewhere between conventional and organic; a little like the French ‘lutte raisonnée’ approach. Then, they decided to farm biodynamically, also. Miso says,
“For me, the biodynamic approach is one step further than organic. Organics and biodynamics are connected, but different. Yes, it’s become trendy, and yes, it’s regarded as very holistic; special; deep-rooted. But, some people think it’s just this ‘voodoo,’ and that it’s esoteric, which it’s not. We always want to improve the quality of the land. Working organically is much better than conventionally, but in a sense, organic farming is just an alternative to conventional. The logic and the approach to farming is the same; instead of spraying harmful substances you spray something else—which is not as harmful—but it’s still industrially produced. In this context, what biodynamics brings is a return to principles; to roots. Yes, there is this very deep, philosophical, ethical and mystical background, but at its core, it’s just pure practice. I think that’s why it’s important.”
As there wasn’t a biodynamic organisation in Slovakia at the time, Slobodné joined Demeter, an Austrian biodynamic organisation.
“At that time, nobody in Slovakia was interested. But since, we’ve established Demeter Czech & Slovakia—together with colleagues from the Czech Republic—one year ago. The Austrians have been very helpful. Generally speaking, I consider the whole biodynamic and natural wine movement to be this net of people with the same ideas and values. The wines are very different. I think the term ‘natural’ is more cultural; how people distribute wine and pay respect to food chains and distribution chains. For me, it makes perfect sense.”
It’s much more than simply a certification; it’s changed Miso’s outlook on life. He dwells,