Did you think of France, Italy, Spain, California, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington?
Did anyone think of Bohemia and Moravia? Probably not.
As we had the opportunity to be in the Czech Republic for two weeks, the wines of this area became intriguing to me. I found that most of the wines offered in restaurants were from Italy. Something was missing. I started searching.
A Long History Of Wines
Prague has been making wines since the tenth century, when Duke Wenceslas (that we know from the Christmas song as “Good King Wenceslas”)* planted vines in the Prague Castle. The vineyards from that time are still there. They have undergone a restoration that took several years and opened again to the public in 2008 on the 1100th anniversary of the birth of Saint Wenceslas. Today it is called The Saint Wenceslas’ Vineyard, but legend calls this the “divine vineyard” or the “Lord’s vineyard” and it is said to be the oldest vineyard in Bohemia. The history of the “divine vineyard” is inseparable from the Czech statehood and the adoption of Christianity.
If wine is the drink of kings, it was especially true in the Czech Republic and Prague in the fourteenth century. The spread of wine in this area was promoted by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (also known as King Charles IV). The king was a wine lover and during his reign the number of vineyards drastically increased. Charles grew up in France and was exposed to the growing and drinking of wines at an early age. He cared about the quality of the wines as well as the quantity. In his time, Bohemia experienced the cultivation of high quality vines.
In 1358 King Charles IV mandated that if you grew a vineyard in the city of Prague, you would be exempt from taxes and levies for twelve years. The size of the plots were 100 yards by fifty yards: a football field. Prague and the surrounding countryside became full of vineyards. By the end of his reign there were over 1,700 acres of vineyards in and around Prague.
Until the time of Charles IV, the grapes grown in the region were white and acidic. The new grapes that were planted came from France (primarily Burgundy and Champagne), Austria, Hungary, Italy and even Croatia. A new grape was introduced called “rout” – probably from the French word “rouge” or red. This was the beginning of red wines being grown in what is now the Czech Republic.