Mikulovská Wine Sub-Region – Czech Republic

Most of the grape growing and winemaking in the Czech Republic is in the region of Moravia (Morava in Czech), so my significant other and I headed by train from Prague to Brno (capital of Moravia). Moravia has four wine sub-regions – Znojemská, Velkopavlovická, Mikulovská, and Slovácká. We were fortunate to take a two-day tour to visit the latter two sub-regions. Day one was Mikulovská.

The first Moravian vineyards were said to be founded on the slopes of the Pálava Hills limestone formation, a dominant feature of the Mikulovská sub-region. The landscape of this area is exceptional, as can be seen by the view from our first stop on the tour at Sonberk Winery. We pulled into the parking lot, and I got out of the car and turned around… and was amazed by the breathtaking beauty.

Sonberk was founded in 2003 and the sleek, modern tasting building was built in 2008 but the vines date back to the 13th century. Their production is about 150,000 bottles per year. We learned that Sonberk was the first Czech winery awarded the highest prize at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London.

Sonberk’s winning wine was a dry Pálava, so it was fitting that we were first introduced to this grape here. Pálava, created in the Czech Republic and named after that limestone formation, is a cross between Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer and comes in both dry and sweet varieties. Sonberk had sold out of their dry version, so we tasted a sweet Pálava, which was refreshing on this hot, sunny day.

The staff member at the winery did not speak much English so we were glad to have our tour guide interpreting for us. Our guide explained to us that she was speaking Slovak and the winery staff member was speaking Czech but the languages are close enough to be understood. But once the tasting was initiated not much explanation was required – as we tried great wines outside in this stunning setting, few words needed to be spoken.

Czech Republic

Wine in the Czech Republic? When I learned I would have the good fortune of attending an international conference in the capital city of Prague, I did what I usually do when visiting a new place – I checked out the wine scene. The people of the Czech Republic are the largest consumers of beer in the world, so I wasn’t very hopeful that I would find a wine region to explore.  I was surprised and very pleased to learn there are in fact two wine regions in the Czech Republic with over 850 registered wineries.

Winemaking in the Czech Republic dates back about 2000 years; the first vine growers were thought to be Celts. These days, modern environmentally-friendly techniques are used to make 34 varieties of white wine and 26 varieties of red wine.

The vast majority of vineyards (96%) are located in Moravia (Morava in Czech), which has four sub-regions. The remaining 4% can be found within two sub-regions in Bohemia (Čechy), the home to the city of Prague. The most widely planted grapes in the Czech Republic are Grüner Veltliner, Müller Thurgau, Riesling, and Welsch-Riesling (whites), and Saint Laurent and Blaufränkisch (reds).

My significant other and I wanted the full Czech wine experience, which definitely meant a trip to Moravia. Our extremely helpful and accommodating travel agent, Rachel Blankfield (www.madtravels.org), booked us a two-day private tour to follow the conference. Posts about this awesome adventure to follow.

Prior to traveling to Moravia we toured around Prague and were amazed to find vineyards within the iconic Prague Castle complex. We learned this is the Vineyard of St. Vaclav, located on the eastern edge of the castle. The grapes have been there since 2008 and most are of the Pinot Noir and Riesling varieties.

We happened to be in Prague the weekend of Prosecco Fest, a celebration of the Italian sparkling wine at Prague Castle. How often do you get to attend a wine event in another country? So we braved the festival despite the threat of rain, and we were lucky that the gray skies never did open up.

This was such an amazing setting for a tasting – sitting in front of grape vines, overlooking a beautiful city (view is below) – and by far one of the most unique places I have sipped wine. I just tried to drink it all in…

 

Adair Vineyards – New Paltz, NY

wine tour

Located in a charming barn that is over 200 years old, Adair Vineyards offers an enjoyable and educational winery experience infused with a passion for charity. Mark, who owns Adair with his wife, is the winemaker and the person conducting the tastings. He attended UC-Davis to study viticulture and enology, and worked at wineries in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara (including at Zaca Mesa – see separate post on this winery), in addition to other wine areas.

Mark, originally from Philadelphia, headed back to the area when his wife attended graduate school in Philadelphia. He acquired Adair, in the Hudson Valley wine region of New York, in 1997. His wines are vegan (sometimes animal products are used and then filtered out in the fining process – the process of clarifying and stabilizing the wine). He also uses fewer sulfites in his wine.

The wine tasting was an excellent lesson in grape growing and winemaking. The wines are made from grapes primarily grown on the estate and then supplemented by a local farm. This leads to some interesting local blends such as the Solitary Oak, which is 90% Seyval and 10% Vidal and the Kir Rouge, which is 90% Dechaunac and 10% blackberry wine. Mark was a knowledgeable and engaging guide, as we talked about the wines as well as our favorite west coast wineries.

The other appealing aspect of this winery experience was learning about Mark and his wife’s passion for supporting charitable organizations. They particularly support charities for animals as well as cancer research. The winery holds a fundraiser every month and has an annual charitable dog walk. Donations can also be made throughout the year. Mark and his wife’s dogs are therapy dogs; Mark’s wife started a reading program for children. Their desire to give back to others is impressive.

A great winery experience and the opportunity to support a worthy cause – an excellent combination.

Rowan Asher Winery (RAW) – Stroudsburg, PA

I didn’t know Stroudsburg, PA had an up-and-coming urban winery scene, but to my surprise it does. On the charming Main Street in this Pocono town are two winery tasting rooms with a third just off the main drag.

The moment we stepped into Rowan Asher Winery (RAW), the first urban winery and hard cidery in the Poconos, we were blanketed by the owner’s warmth and enthusiasm. Misty immediately introduced herself and walked us through the tasting options. As we tried a couple of white wines and all of their reds, we learned the story of the winery…

RAW is named after Misty and husband Matthew’s children, Jude Rowan and Zoan Asher. Misty explained that Matthew, RAW’s winemaker, had learned to make wine from his aunt, and they had started by making wine at home. This hobby turned into a vocation when Matthew left the automotive industry and fully focused on his craft. Their original tasting room, in a former industrial lumberyard, is also in Stroudsburg outside of the downtown area. Misty said Matthew grew up in the area and they wanted to bring business to and support the local community.

They source their fruit locally and globally. Global examples include a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chilean grapes and a Pinotage from South African grapes. We enjoyed the wines and the conversation.

Everything has a thoughtful sentimental touch from the name of the winery to the names of the wines (“Misty Love” Cabernet) to the décor – the tasting room chandeliers (see below) are made from their first wine barrel.

Enjoyable wine, engaging conversation, and touching sentimentality on a vintage Main Street – I’m glad I discovered RAW and the urban winery scene in Stroudsburg.

Grange of Prince Edward – Prince Edward County, Ontario

wine tourism

It had been about seven years since my significant other and I had been to the up-and-coming wine area of Prince Edward County (referred to as “The County” locally), located on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The County became the fourth Designated Viticultural Area in Ontario Canada in 2007. Many of the wineries are small, family-run operations. We greatly enjoyed our last visit largely due to the conversations we had with the winemakers and owners in the tasting rooms. We were pleased to learn that the County continues to offer many winery experiences led directly by the winemaker/owner.

We entered the large, well-lit tasting room at Grange of Prince Edward and were immediately greeted by a friendly woman, who explained the tasting options. As we started our tasting, another woman came by and began speaking with us – asking where we are from, what brings us to the County (we always answer “wine” seemingly in unison), etc. Then she told us her story…

She was Maggie Granger, who makes the wine along with her mother, Caroline Granger. She explained that her mother decided to grow grapes on the family farm and went to school to learn winemaking. Although Maggie helped on the farm growing up, she said she hadn’t intended to take on the family business. She went to a university in Montreal to study liberal arts specifically to “not do farming.”

She said what brought her back was the Montreal wine culture. The County didn’t have much of a wine culture when she went off to school and so she wasn’t really excited about wine until she ventured off to Montreal. She returned to the County and began making wine, learning from her mother. Now their 100% estate-grown wines are a joint venture.

This was one of our best winery experiences in the County. The wine was very good (our favorite Cabernet Franc of the trip) but the positive experience was largely due to Maggie. She not only told a great story but she did so with such enthusiasm that we were caught up in it.

Telling a story evokes our emotions. And enthusiasm is infectious – when someone is truly enthusiastic about a product, others become enthusiastic about it. Decisions, such as about whether or not to make a purchase, are largely emotional so evoking positive, enthusiastic emotions is important in a customer service interaction.

On our last day in the County, we had just enough time for a glass of wine at one winery before we headed to the airport in Toronto. We wondered aloud where to go and instantly (and again in unison) chose Grange. An excellent winery experience not only leads to purchases in the moment but return visits with additional purchases. We were enthusiastically greeted by Maggie again.

William Heritage Winery – Mullica Hill, NJ

wine tourism

I hadn’t been to William Heritage Winery in a few years but noticed the winery garnering increased attention – touted as a “winery to know” in NJ and earning high marks for their wines (home of the first 90-point rated wine from NJ). This prompted me to ensure I made the trip, and I was very glad I did.

I walked into a totally redone tasting room – sleek and modern. It used to be more of a charming, rustic farm store with a small tasting bar. The transformation was so complete, I wasn’t even sure it was the same place (it was). I was told the renovations started about a year ago and finished up a few months ago. They also changed their name and design, apparently last fall. I was pleased by all of it, particularly the winery experience.

The person conducting our tasting was very knowledgeable about wineries and wine areas, as he has a 40-year history of wine tasting across 27 states. He explained that he and his wife started wine tasting as an accident. They were on a trip and could not do their planned activity due to inclement weather, so they went to a winery instead and they were hooked (I know the feeling).

Although he hadn’t worked at William Heritage long, he was knowledgeable about the winery and their wines. He explained that the land has been farmed by the Heritage family for five generations and the sixth generation was soon to start work at the winery. Originally an orchard, the current owners cultivated grapes starting in 1999.

There were three tasting options – classic, reserve, and sweet. We selected reserve but our excellent wine guide offered us a couple of wines off the list. This proved to be very educational, and it is also a good marketing move as I have often purchased a bottle of wine I tasted off-list. The wines and the company were so enjoyable that we added a sweet wine tasting. My significant other sometimes enjoys “other fruit” (non-grape) wines and I quite honestly wanted the tasting to continue – a sure sign of a great tasting (or perhaps too much wine?).

A friendly, likeable, knowledgeable person who finds commonality with the customers and offers a few well-chosen extra pours leads to an excellent winery experience. And certainly in this case (no pun intended), a purchase of wine.

Sheldrake Point Winery – Finger Lakes, NY

winery tour

Sheldrake Point Winery is on the western shore of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes wine region. My significant other and I were immediately struck by the beautiful grounds with a nice view of the lake. An interesting tidbit is that you can visit the winery by boat – boats up to thirty-five feet in length can tie up at one of their dock spaces.

Upon entering the winery, we were impressed by the welcoming warmth and cheerfulness of the person behind the tasting bar. We enjoyed trying the various wines, which were accompanied by some education about each one. I am always a fan of learning about the wines I am tasting, and I am always open to trying something different. Although I am much more of a dry wine drinker, I found their sweet Ice Apple Wine dangerously drinkable.

The person pouring the wine also shared some entertaining stories. We learned that her husband is a chef and she is quite the foodie. When asked if she was so into food before she met her husband, she exclaimed that she absolutely was not – she mostly ate tuna fish and potato chips!

The principle of liking was in play here – the principle that people tend to say yes to or make purchases from those they like. Being knowledgeable, warm, and engaging, and finding some commonality with customers (wine is a pretty obvious commonality at a winery and often food too) leads to a great winery experience. Of course the enjoyable wine and beautiful view didn’t hurt either but the excellent customer service really made the experience.

On a side note, we tried to get ourselves invited to dinner at the house of the person pouring the wine and her chef husband but apparently great customer service only goes so far…

Auburn Road Vineyards – Pilesgrove, NJ

vineyards

A busy tasting room can certainly be a challenge. So when my significant other and I walked into Auburn Road Vineyards on a Saturday afternoon and saw a packed tasting bar, we were not sure what type of winery experience we would be getting. But there was certainly no cause for concern, as the two women running the tasting bar had it covered. They seamlessly took turns with each of the customers, ensuring that one of them was always pouring the next taste when a glass emptied. This strategy seemed to work better than the often used one in which the person who starts the tasting finishes the tasting.

In addition to their attentiveness, the staff also imparted their knowledge of the wine. This educational aspect of the winery experience can often be lost, especially in a busy tasting room. We had just come from a couple of other wineries where the staff were attentive and friendly but their pours of wine were accompanied by these descriptions: “This is the Chambourcin.” “This is the Cabernet Sauvignon.” Learning something about the grapes, the way the wine was made, or even the name chosen for the wine can enhance the winery experience.

We learned at Auburn Road that they grow most of their own grapes but use Cabernet Franc and Grenache from Lodi, CA in their Winemaker’s Blend. We also learned that their Eidolon wine (a red blend) was named for the Walt Whitman “Leaves of Grass” poem; apparently the Whitman poem took seven years to perfect and so did this blend. A great story to engage the customer. They also infuse a little humor into their wine. Their peach wine (white wine blended with Jersey peaches) is called “Give Peach a Chance” named after the John Lennon song. Although I am not usually a fan of sweet wine, this one was crisp and refreshing and made me think longingly of summer.

I often find the story behind a winery interesting as well, especially in New Jersey where several of the winemakers did not start out their careers in the wine industry. Auburn Road is a good example. The staff member told us that the winery has six owners who were professionals in other fields but working long hours in their positions left limited time for their families and they wanted to make a change. She noted that some of the male owners started out making the wine but it turned out one of the female owners was better suited for the job. So they have a self-taught woman winemaker and created a successful business. An inspiring story.

Being attentive to customers in a busy tasting room without losing any of the interesting educational aspects of the tasting as well as using a little humor can lead to a truly excellent winery experience that engages customers and encourages sales and a return visit. We gave peach a chance and bought that bottle, and we will certainly be back.

Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars – Finger Lakes, NY

winery tours

Set upon beautiful, well-manicured grounds, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars has an impressive tasting room and a lovely view of Seneca Lake. They offer a standard tasting and a specialty tasting (my significant other and I shared both).

I was impressed that the tasting room staff really took the time to offer a great learning experience to the customer. For example, we selected three different Rieslings to try and the staff member leading our tasting poured all five of their Rieslings so we could appreciate the similarities and differences. She also set up some side-by-side tastings showcasing different vintages and oak versus stainless steel aging.

The staff member’s generosity with both her knowledge and the wine was much appreciated, as she shared her expertise in a warm and friendly manner that made us want to learn as much as possible from the tasting. Further, our experience with the various wines ultimately helped us to decide on which wines to purchase. A win for the customer and the seller.

After our tasting, we found the two picnic tables on their grounds and had lunch. An amazing view, friendly and knowledgeable wine staff, and a unique learning opportunity all made this a fabulous winery experience.

Foxen 7200 or “The Shack” – Santa Barbara County, CA

The Shack – the name alone holds some intrigue. This Foxen Vineyard tasting room was recommended to us by another winery. Several questions immediately came to mind – is it really a shack, what does that look like, how is the wine? My significant other and I decided we had to know the answers and we headed for the Shack.

Foxen Vineyards was founded by long-time friends Bill Wathen and Dick Doré in 1985. The Shack, a blacksmith shop built in the 1860’s, was Foxen’s original tasting room (they opened a large solar-powered tasting room in 2009). The Shack features Bordeaux and Italian-style wines whereas the newer tasting room has more of a Pinot Noir and Rhone-style focus.

Yes, the Shack is a shack (see photos below). It has a roof and is mostly enclosed but one side is open leading out to tables on a patio where the mountain view is beautiful. The wine was great; poured by knowledgeable Foxen staff who bolstered a friendly atmosphere. We particularly liked the Cabernet Sauvignon from Happy Canyon (part of Santa Barbara County).

I didn’t miss any amenities or opulence of a fancier building. In fact, the tasting room atmosphere with its laid-back and comfortable vibe fostered warm interactions among the customers. Perhaps due to the simplicity of the setting (in addition to the friendliness of the staff and the tastiness of the wine), everyone turned to each other to chat.

We spoke with two brothers, one of whom had recently lost a close friend. We listened to the story of his friend, who sounded like an amazing person, and raised a glass in his honor.

This winery experience had rustic charm, good wine, and new friends.