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Wine and Vineyards in Poland

Posted: Tuesday, 17 March 2015 11:37

Wine and Vineyards in Poland

March 17: Despite the scarcity of vineyards, the Renaissance of viticulture, grape varieties, rules and regulations and the vineyards themselves and the resultant wines, makes it a fascinating country in the Post communist control period, writes the Bordeaux-based English writer John Salvi MW after his third visit to the country, guided by Wojciech Bosak, Vice President of the Institute of Viticulture and Wine. His account might be an eye opener for those interested in Poland and would make Indian wine producers feeling clobbered under the weight of officialdom and governmental procedures smile secretly and thank their Gods for the small mercies bestowed on them and whatever little support they think they are getting from the government

When talking of renaissance one cannot avoid a comparison with England.  In the past Poland had thousands of hectares of vineyards in a considerable number of regions and was very much a wine drinking country like England. For economic, political and historic reasons vineyards gradually fell by the wayside, disuse and were uprooted until virtually not a single vineyard remained and not one commercial vineyard; same happened in England. Very recently and much more gradually and on a much smaller scale a renaissance began.  It was miniscule and vineyards today in many cases are so small that one wonders they can be even vaguely viable.  Indeed the majority are not and those intrepid producers for the most part have made money elsewhere or have alternative incomes.

Here are some figures of the first registered vineyards as recently as 2009:

YEAR                    NO: OF VINEYARDS            TOTAL hA               PRODUCTION hL
2009                                    21                                36.1                                     412.29    
2010                                    20                                37.0                                     437.13
2011                                    26                                58.6                                      428.47
2012                                    35                                97.9                                      898.21
2013                                   49                                 99.5                                     1979.28
2014                                   78                                129.3                             TO BE DECLARED

One can clearly see how small some of the vineyards are for 78 registered vineyards to only cover129.3 hectares and to produce last year less than 2,000 hectolitres.  During my visit I discovered that vineyards as small as just ¼ hectare were acceptable as registered vineyards and with as few as 2,000 vines.

Taxes and Complex Laws

However there are more non-registered vineyards than registered ones at least as far as surface area is concerned. To register a vineyard in Poland requires both courage and perseverance.  The rules and regulations are astoundingly restrictive and draconian and this puts many growers off.  However vineyards that are not registered may not sell their wine commercially in shops, hotels or restaurants.  They may ONLY sell from their cellar door.  Therefore many of them have developed agro-tourism which is hugely popular.  They receive visitors for vineyard tours, tastings and wine talks.  Some have restaurants and lodging, much of it rustic and charming.  They are open for events, weddings, baptisms and celebrations.  As they may not sell commercially the price of the wine is built into the price of the meal or lodging, not mentioned and therefore not officially sold.

I have said that the rules and regulations are highly restrictive.  This is a post-communist reaction to control and the state still has a lingering anti-alcohol philosophy from the days when alcohol was seen as a major problem.  However the controls are clearly excessive. Without exaggeration, one vineyard, that prefers to remain nameless for obvious reasons, received 41 official control visits between September and March.  You name the control – they had it.  Customs, excise, sanitation, plant control, soil control, hygiene, construction, yield, etc.  In addition, if the grower wishes to put the name of the grape variety on the label then there are more controls and taxes. Therefore they invent fictitious names such as Rouchling instead of Riesling, Regely for Regent and SeySey for Seyval etc.

These tiny vineyards are planted with very little vinifera.  A bewildering variety of grape varieties are planted, but many of them are recent crosses, frequently from Germany, but also from Switzerland and further afield.  One grower that I visited (Winnica Golesz) has even registered his own crosses and is propagating and selling them.  Many I had never heard of and for one that apparently originated in Switzerland – Salome – I can discover no parentage!  Offers are welcome!


Here are some of the grape varieties that I tasted in the different vineyards! Hibernal (Seibel 7053 X Riesling 239 (F2)), Geisenheim), Zweigelt, Leon Millet (Hybrid), Seyval Blanc (Hybrid), Riesling, Traminer, Rondo ((Sap. Sever X Saint Laurent), Marechal Foch (Hybrid), Regent (Diana X Chambourcin), Bianca (Villard Blanc X Bouvier), Sibera((Sap.Sev. X(Foster X Prachttr)), Cabernet Cortis (Cabernet Sauvignon X Solaris), Cabernet Dorsa (Cabernet Sauvignon X Dornfelder, Germany), Pinot Noir (experimenting), Czerszegi Füszeres (Hungarian), Jutrzenka (morning star, not registered), Hibernal (Seibel X Riesling), Kristály,  Johanniter, Ortega, Helios (Merzling X Seyve-Villard X Müller-Thurgau), Phoenix (Bacchus X Villard Blanc).  Table grapes (huge production) are Golubiena, Piesnia, Podarok (Ukraine), Podarok Zaporoza, Timur, Arcadia,  Vostorg and Denal. 

Here is a winner: Elvira (a cross between Taylor which itself is a cross of vitis riparia X vitis Labrusca and Martha which has a touch of Vinifera!!   An inter-specific hybrid created in 1869 in Missouri - Wow!

Wojciech took me as deep into Poland as one could go and show me vineyards so hidden away in isolated beauty spots that one had to go down rutted lanes and open gates to arrive at them.  One would never have guessed that these little gems were hiding away so secretively, but wherever we went the welcome was the same – warm, enthusiastic and timeless.  In these hidden away villages Poland is still cheap by our standards.  In one tiny hamlet I took mine host out to supper.  We enjoyed a vast freshly cooked omelette stuffed with diced fresh fruit and thick cream and covered in more fresh fruit.  He drank coffee and I drank tea.  My bill came to the princely sum of 5 Euros!

Vineyards Visits

Here, very briefly, are the vineyard visits that we made together with a few of the most interesting details about them.
WINNICA KROKOSZÓWKA GÓRSKA.  Region: KRAKOW (the official name of the Krakow region is Małopolska).  OWNER: MAREK GÓRSKI.
This vineyard is not registered, but has 2 hectares and 2 partners.  In this region there are also some 10 other vineyards covering some 25 hectares.  He also has a vine nursery with some 50,000 plants that he sells.  He plants Jutrzenka, Seyval, Kristály, Leon Millot and Marechal Foch, which is excellent.  He says that they, and Poland in general, do not use Vinifera because the climate is too cold, the yields are too low and they are not regular enough.  They need frost resistant varieties as frost is probably their most important problem.

 WINNICA ZADORA.  Region: Krakow (Małopolska).  OWNER: officially, according to the register, the owner is Mrs Zofia Michałowska, but the vineyard is also well managed by her husband Professor Jan Michałowski.

This vineyard is situated in the foothills of the Piedmont Carpathians near the river Dunajec which has its source on the border of Slovakia.  There are some 15 other vineyards around him.  He registered in 2011 to please his wife!    He only has ½ hectare with 2,000 vines.  He makes a delightful Solaris at 17.5° perfumed and exotic.  He is also the only grower in Poland with the grape variety Phoenix (see varieties above).  Zadora denotes a coat of arms with a lion breathing flames dating from 16th century nobility.

WINNICA UROCZYSKO.  Region: Krakow (Małopolska), Owner: Andrzej Haus.

This vineyard is on a high slope, overlooking the Dunajec River near the small town of Zakliczyn, where we stopped briefly. The owner was not present so we were unable to taste the wines there. He is a qualified horticulturist. The vineyard, designed by Wojciech, is still not registered, but they have made two vintages of very decent wine that were was presented during some tastings and events. They have planted Regent, Rondo, Cabernet Cortis, Zweigelt, Seyval, Jutrzenka, Hibernal and some Pinot noir and Traminer.

WINNICA SMYKAŃ.  Region: Kraków  (Małopolska). Owner: Marcin Lorek

A renowned agritourist place, especially for gourmets. Mrs Jadwiga Lorek, Marcin's wife, is a superb cook and their son Kuba is also involved in this family enterprise. They produce good cheese, have own fishing ponds and keep a primitive race of Hungarian hairy pigs called “mangalica”, grazing freely in the forest and orchards. They have less than a single hectare of vineyard planted with Seyval, Bianca, Aurora, Johanniter, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, Regent and Rondo. They have also an ancient hybrid variety called locally “Krasne” that has a pronounced Labrusca flavour (probably one of countless Seyve Villard crossings that were propagated before the war among the surrounding farmers by local fruit processing plants for juice production). They use this grape for juice and as an addition to their cider. As of the last vintage they have officially registered their production of wine that amounts to a few thousands bottles and their cider (around 50.000 Litres).  They are recommended by the restaurant guide “Gault Millau Polska”.

As we had not had lunch we paused here for an early dinner of Zurek, the wonderful universal soup, and pirogi, the little dumplings filled with savoury and sweet fillings.

 WINNICA JASIEL.  Region: Rzeszów (official name of the region Podkarpacie).  OWNER: Elwira and Wiktor SZPAK.

Wonderful people and wonderful vineyards.  Here we stayed 2 nights in their charming apartment and in this apartment we did long and detailed tastings.

Elwira and Wiktor are both college teachers (musician and biologist).  They have 2.5 hectares under vine and have a registered commercial production. The vineyard is situated near the town of Jasło (where Roman Myśliwiec lives – see under).

Roman Myśliwiec makes great sweet wine

WINNICA GOLESZ.  Region: Rzeszów (Podkarpacie).  Owner: Roman Myśliwiec

Established in 1984 it was the first professional vineyard in Poland after the collapse of the historical vineyards in Zielona Góra at the beginning of the seventies. Roman started by selling the table grapes to local groceries and a few years later opened a small commercial vine nursery. Now it is the biggest such nursery in Poland. At the beginning he made wine as a way of advertising the vine varieties offered by his nursery. From 1992 he published over a dozen books about wine growing and winemaking.

Today Roman works with his daughter and son.  They have 2.5 hectares of vineyard, partly used as a source of cuttings (scions) for grafting. During the last few years they have limited their production of plant material in order to make more wine. They plan to start registered wine production very soon now. Roman won an OIV prize for his book on “ampelography” published in 1996.

In addition to all the above we visited two other places:

WINNICA SZTUKÓWKA. Region: Rzeszów (Podkarpacie). Owner: Leszek Szczęch.

A former teacher of English, now working for the telecom company - A man who always goes barefoot!!

1 hectare planted with Johanniter, Solaris, Seyval Blanc, Hibernal, Regent and Rondo.  A registered producer located near the small town of Frysztak.

WINNICA RODZINY STECÓW (Stec Family Vineyard).  Region: Kraków (Małopolska).  Owners: Rafał and Agnieszka Stec.

Estate agents and publishers of the local newspaper in the town of Tarnów (the second biggest in the region after Krakow).

The vineyard is situated in the vicinity of the small town of Tuchów around 90 kilometres east of Kraków and 15 km from Tarnów. Here there are 3.5 hectares of Seyval, Bianca, Hibernal, Jutrzenka, Johanniter, Solaris, Regent, Rondo, Marechal Foch and Leon Millot. They began registered production in 2014.

I would like to conclude by thanking my friend Wojciech Bosak for organising the tour and being my guide.

John Salvi Master of Wine

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