Slovenian wine is rising. For a country less than 7,800 square miles, wineries from this landlocked country make an enormous impact. Most bottles that make it to U.S. shores follow a similar model: minimal intervention, low production, featuring indigenous and international varieties, and easily accessible in price and taste.
The country is situated at the intersection of sea and mountains; Slovenia features diverse landscapes that span the Adriatic Sea’s Julian Alps forests, lakes, and coastlines. Regarding geography, Slovenia forms part of Central Europe with borders on Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, and Croatia to the southern region. These are all essential wine-producing nations.
Culturing vineyards inside Slovenia’s current borders is a tradition that dates back to the Celts and the Illyrians who lived in the area around 400 BC. The Romans came to Slovenia in the 1st century BC and expanded viticulture to quench all the thirsts of the empire’s developing colonies. The winemaking process continued throughout the Middle Ages, flourishing through the hard work of monastic instructions. At the end of the 14th century, Slovenian regions were ruled by the Habsburg dynasty. An era-old relic that is the oldest wine in the world is now maturing in Maribor — with an encapsulated museum, which is around 450 years old.
Take advantage of the latest drink industry news and insight. Sign up for our award-winning SevenFifty Daily Dispatch newsletter,–delivered to your inbox every week.
In the end, phylloxera, and later socialist control during the 20th century – when the state was in charge of the wine industry — would stifle the production of fine wines and artisan wine.
“Slovenia has had its ups and downs,” Explains Peter Gonc, the winemaker for Gonc Winery in Ptuj, one of the cities with the most extended history in Slovenia, located inside the Podravje wine region. “Before the year 1991, Slovenia were in Yugoslavia which was a communist-oriented state. It was not possible to run an winery. Everything was run by the government. Massive wineries produced massively-produced bottles to retailers; there was no freedom of thought permitted.”
In 1991, Slovenia was granted independence and sparked the modern wine industry. “After that, winemakers at big companies went independent and started personal brands,” Gonc says. Gonc. “Slovenia is in a rebirth phase at the moment. The generational shift is shifting from old to modern, and there’s a fresh method of winemaking that is being implemented in a positive manner.”
Gonc is a winemaker imported through JP Bourgeois, a producer who operates in a minimalist style that often involves skin contact. He also has contemporary, rock and roll-inspired bottle labels. Gonc’s wines have been prominently featured in the wine trade’s acceptance of the increasing Slovenian natural minimal wine movement.
Today, the Slovenian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Food forecasts that the country has around 17500 hectares of vineyards. More than 2,500 wineries and a production volume of between 8 and 9 million liters per year, based on 50-60 varieties.
“Slovenia is exciting for a few reasons,” says Daniel Lukin-Beck, general director at Vinum Importers. “The wines are vibrant and refreshing, filled with enthusiasm and excitement. In order for Slovenian wines to become more capable of claiming their place at the table with the top wines from around the world There is no doubt that there will be anticipation ahead. The story is being written in the present.”
Slovenia’s history in winemaking spans centuries, but a revival in the industry is creating a new identity worth watching. Photo courtesy of Vinum.
Key Wine Regions
Slovenia has nine winegrowing areas in three significant zones: Podravje in the northeast, Primorska in the west, and Posavje, located just south of the center.
Named after its Drava River and accounting for roughly half of the nation’s total wine production, Podravje has two distinct districts: Stajerska and Prekmurje. Of the two, Stajerska forms the core of the country’s wine production. Vineyards with slopes and terraces located just outside the town of Maribor cover the valleys of Pesnica, Drava, and Mura rivers. Growers working in soils composed of clay and sand with marl within the bottom layers shepherd fragrant white varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Traminer into clean and bright wines. This region’s Sauvignon Blanc competes with the finest in the world, and so do the dessert wines.
The coastal region across the Adriatic has a milder Mediterranean climate comparable to Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Soils of marine sediments, or flysch, are in limestone, clay, marl, and Sandstone layers. The Goriska Brda district Goriska Brda, located near the Gulf of Trieste, has attracted the region’s attention because of its popularity in the production of Rebula, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.