One of the perks of working in wine is that at some point, you’re likely to have the opportunity to travel. What makes this common in the wine industry is the strong link between wine and geography. Because wine is inextricably linked to a sense of place, it means that wine lovers are either drawn to the source, or the wine itself travels to curious palates the world over. The best part of this all? The most wonderful wine grapes seem to only grow in places that are naturally beautiful, with mild climates and a general sense of la dolce vita. Suits us just fine!
But then there’s Poland. Not exactly the first place you think of when asked to rattle off a list off wine-producing countries. Vodka, snow, sauerkraut and calorific potato dishes spring to mind. Maybe Gosia too, our very own half of Glou Glou, who happens to be Polish-born and loves nothing more than munching on her mama’s drool-worthy pierogi paired with Pinot Noir. But lo-and-behold, on a recent work trip to Poland (promoting South African wine, mind you) we came across not only a burgeoning wine drinking culture, but also an actual fledgling industry of ambitious winemakers determined to put Polish wine on the map.
So what’s the deal? Why are we only hearing about Polish wine now? Well, according to a young sommelier at the Enoteka Pergamin wine bar and restaurant in Kraków, a lot of it has to do with communism. In the words of the helpful somm whilst pouring me a glass of Polish Chardonnay, “We always made wine. We were like Germany. But the Russians destroyed all of our vineyards under Communism, so after 1989 when the regime fell, we had to start again.”
With wine especially, it takes a looooong time to start from scratch (for example, if you plant a vineyard, it will only yield a decent crop after three years). Never mind all the time it takes to really understand a vineyard site, which grapes would thrive there and how to best take care of them! It’s no surprise then that there are currently only six wineries registered to sell and produce wine in Poland.
The second reason Polish wine is only coming to the fore now has to do with climate change. Regions that were once completely inhospitable to viticulture are now viable. Which is good news for the Poles, but not exactly great for most of the world’s wine regions. Lastly, Poland has a strong tradition of vodka and beers, so while wine is fashionable, it has a long way to go before taking on the Poles’ firm favourites.
So to answer the question we’ve all been waiting for… What’s in the glass? It seems that at the moment Polish winemakers are focusing on grape varieties that typically perform well in cooler climates like Chardonnay and Riesling. They also have a number of native varieties like Solaris, Rondo and Regent that hold up well when it gets seriously cold. We tried both a Chardonnay and Riesling, and while they probably wouldn’t rank among our favourite wines we’ve ever tasted, they were certainly interesting. What was most startling about the Chardonnay from Winnica Wieliczka (pictured below) is its distinct vegetal aromas of asparagus, artichoke and perhaps even Sauerkraut.
Seeing as Polish wine production is still pretty small, you probably won’t find these wines in many other parts of the world. So if you find yourself in Poland, why not pass on the wódka and try a glass of wino?
Our favourite places in Poland to drink Polish wine:
- Winosfera (multiple locations in Warsaw, Kraków, Poznań and Bydgoszcz) – beautiful unique wine shops, bars and fine dining restaurant where ‘wine meets culture’
- Enoteka Pergamin -restaurant and wine bar in Kraków, featured in this post
- Mielżyński – quirky wine shop and restaurant in Warsaw
- Alewino – cosy wine bar and restaurant in Warsaw