There has been a long tradition of wine production in the Czech Republic. It is believed that wine production in the dates as far back as the year 276, where a conquering Roman legion laid out the plans for a vineyard in the Moravian town of Palavain. Today, almost one and a half million hectoliters of wine are consumed annually by Czechs. Although these numbers are much lower than the traditional drink in the Czech Republic beer, wine is gaining in popularity.
Earlier this week the 6th International Wine Exhibition took place in Prague brining together hundreds of wine producers from not only the Czech Republic but from all over the world.
I caught up with Jindrich Dusek who is the editor-in-chief of the Czech Republic's leading wine magazine 'Vino Review'. I asked him how much the wine industry in the Czech Republic has changed in the last decade.
"I think the change is big. In the last ten years the assortment of wines completely changed because ten years ago we only knew Czech or Moravian wine and some brands from France, Italy, or Spain. The first change is in the quality of wine. The second change is in the structure of the wine industry. I think the biggest difference is between Prague and other cities. In Prague there is the biggest consumption of wine, here there are a lot of lovers of wine, also restaurants and hotels where you find really nice wines. In other cities and small villages you still find cheaper wines in barrels."
The Czech Republic imports 50 percent of the wine it consumes. The top exporters of wine to the Czech Republic include Italy, Hungary, Spain, Austria, and Slovakia. With the Czech Republic's expected accession to the European Union foreign wines should become more available to consumers. I asked Mr. Dusek first if he expects the consumption of foreign wines to increase in the Czech Republic.
"I think Czech and Moravian people would like to try foreign wines, wines from Italy, France, Spain, and to compare these wines to Czech and Moravian wine. I think a lot of lovers of wine still choose Czech and Moravian wines but more people have money to buy wines from say Bordeaux or Piedmont, they want to try something new."
Do you know what the duty is on foreign wines in the Czech Republic, is there a large tax?
"This is all changing, in July there will be a new lower tax. Its an impulse for importers to bring new brands to the Czech Republic."
What about Czech wines in terms of export, is there a market for them in Europe or around the world? How popular are they?
"My opinion is that Moravian wines are not well known in Europe, it's a pity. I think Czech and Moravian wines are generally unknown by people. I think it will be hard for producers here to change this. It's necessary to prepare some marketing study and to build the brand name of Moravian wine. Perhaps to prepare an exhibition of these wines, the producers must form a strategy. Maybe it's a little bit late for this."
In an increasingly competitive wine market domestic producers can seek the help of the Ministry of Agriculture. I asked Pavel Heinlich from the Ministry of Agriculture's winery department how exactly the ministry helps wine producers.
"The Czech Ministry of Agriculture supports the restructuring of vineyards and improving them, for example support for irrigation. We also support the presence of Czech producers in international exhibitions, but they are also supported by the Wine Makers Fund. The Wine Makers Fund's revenue comes 50 percent from the state and 50 percent from the contribution of wine importers and wine producers. They contribute one Czech crown per imported or produced liter of wine."
And finally what would a wine exhibit be without wine tasting? Well after trying a delicious white wine from Cejkovice I had to ask Zbynek Sirovy, a representative from the winery to find out more about Cejkovice and the wine they produce.
"This is a small village in Southern Moravia. This village is full of small wineries and two larger wineries, one of these is our winery, Templar Cellars of Cejkovice. We are a producer of typical grape varieties from Moravia and we have wines from different categories such as predicates and wine in barrack. We are also an importer of foreign wines."
You have on your label 1248, can you tell me the history behind this?
"We have very old cellars from the Templar knights from the 13th century. We have a very large capacity for the lying of wines in wooden barrels. We have predicate wines, for example the Tramin Red variety, late harvest from the year 2000. I think that its good, you tried it. We also have other assortments of wines in barrack, this are in fresh wooden barrels. We have five varieties including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Blue Portugal, and two white varieties including Chardonnay and Riesling."
You said that your also an importer of foreign wines, how is competition between domestic and foreign producers? Are Czech wines more popular with consumers than say French or Spanish wines?
"I think that this could be a problem in the future. Now we have very good results in the distribution of Czech, and in our case, Moravian wines. But we are going to continue to enlarge our assortment of foreign wines because we want to be ready for the situation when the customer would want to have a larger assortment of wine. We are an importer of Argentinean wines, we have two cellars from Australia, and D.O.C. quality wines from Spain. We want to enlarge this for other states but it is a secret for this time."