Time to raise a toast to new wine
Slovenia is getting into a festive mood on 11 November to celebrate St Martin's Day, when according to age-old custom grape juice or must matures into wine. Public events are being held throughout the country and many will observe the tradition at home.
The hugely popular festival will see wine blessing ceremonies in virtually every winery, while roast goose or duck with mlinci, or pasta tatters, and red cabbage will be served in many homes even outside the winemaking regions.
St Martin is the patron saint of new wine and his name day is the biggest festival for winemakers. Legend has it that in winter the humble Martin met a beggar who had no clothes, so he gave him half his cloak. He was sought to be rewarded and made a bishop. In his modesty he hid, but honking geese are said to have betrayed his hiding place.
This year's St Martin's Day falls on Saturday, which means that most festivities are centred at the weekend but on years when the holiday falls on weekday feasting and drinking parties are often held on the weekend before and after or for the whole week.
Biggest party in Maribor
The biggest and most popular event is held in Maribor, Slovenia's second largest city, which is also home to what is arguably the world's oldest vine. It usually attracts up to 20,000 visitors from Slovenia and abroad.
Held for 38 years, the event opens with the blessing of new wine. Apart from wine and food stalls, it also features wine queens, grape pickers and representatives of wine orders and fraternities who perform a rite to thank the autumn for the good harvest.
Major events are also being held elsewhere, including in Ptuj and Ljubljana. The south-western winemaking region of Kras has been holding its St Martin's Festival for a week.
The public has been urged to drink sensibly and not to get behind the wheel if they had more than one small glass. To get wine lovers home safely, intercity buses are running for free today, while police have set up set up sobriety checkpoints.
Grape harvest affected by weather
Around 26,400 registered wine growers in the country produce some 80,000 tonnes of grapes and between 60 and 90 million litres of wine a year, depending on the weather. Most are white varieties.
This year's harvest has been affected by bad weather with heavy rains and hail, but the favourable autumn weather contributed to better quality, Marjan Colja, director of the Wine Company of Slovenia, told the Slovenian Press Agency.
"We've harvested around 60% of quality grapes in Slovenia this year and 30% or even more of top quality grapes, the reverse of what was the case last year," he assessed. He expects this year's output to be around 55 million litres, slightly less than last year.
Sixty grape varieties are grown in Slovenia, the most common being Riesling (11%), Refosco (9%), Chardonnay (8%), and Sauvignon and Malvasia (each 7%).
But vineyards are getting increasingly abandoned; Colja said almost 500 hectares were abandoned last year and another 600 this year. This trend is present in all wine-growing areas where vineyards are fragmented, except in Goriška Brda on the border with Italy.