Monika Bielka-Vescovi introduces wine enthusiasts to her homeland. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.
Have you ever thought of travelling to Poland for wine? It is one of the most beautiful and geologically diverse countries with access to the sea, mountains, rivers, amazing National Parks and, what may come to you as a surprise, wine. Believe it or not Poland has 230 registered wineries, double that number if unregistered wineries are included.
Viticulture in Poland dates back to introduction of Christianity in 966. The first vineyards were located on Wawel Hill in Krakow. Polish viticulture was developed by monks and later became popular among Polish nobility. By the end of the sixteenth century due to climate change (cold waves) and war as well as the rise in popularity of imported goods, including wine from warmer climates, wine production started to diminish. Communism eventually destroyed all that remained of wine production.
The modern era of winemaking started in the 1980s with Roman Myśliwiec who planted his first experimental vineyard, and later started a nursery, in Jasło in the Subcarpathian region. In the harsher climatic conditions then prevailing, hybrids proved to be the most successful varieties.
It was not until late 1990s when vine growers started experimenting with Vitis vinifera varieties. Finding the right site, with enough warmth and sunshine as well as protection from winter freeze, is crucial for the success of Vitis vinifera in Poland. The first plantings of Pinot Noir in Silesia saw severe winter freeze damage and cast a shadow on the possibility of growing vinifera there. At the same time Agnieszka Wyrobek Rousseau, a flying winemaker, decided to settle back in her home country bringing a wealth of knowledge with her. She has planted 100% viniferas, choosing clones carefully, as well as the site for her biodynamic vineyard, the first in Poland, located on hills above Krakow, in Wieliczka (pictured above right). Soon Agnieszka became a consultant for many winemakers and thanks to her, as well UC Davis graduate Piotr Stopczyński, and many other brave producers, Polish winemaking started to flourish.
Where do you start? Fly to Krakow. Thirteenth century downtown, one of the most beautiful in Europe, or perhaps in the world, will take your breath away. Of course while you are here you do need to visit a few of the cult wine places.
Start with a glass of wine at legendary Piwnica pod Baranami, home of the political cabaret that made a difference in the difficult 1960s and 1970s. Have your, perhaps first ever, glass of Polish wine from winnica Turanu while listening to the music of the well known Polish musician Grzegorz Turanu, the winery investor. All of them right there on the square at Main Square 27.
Refreshed, move on to explore the wine bar scene to Stoccaggio at Krupnicza 9. You will find the largest selection of Polish wines in Krakow. Choose from well-known cool climate grape varieties grown here like Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Noir or venture to hybrids well adapted to harsher conditions and crossings such as Regent, Hibernal or Solaris.
Many wines from all over the world are also available here by the glass or small taste. Right around the corner there is Słoneczny Kredens, yet another place for fine Polish wines with a selection of European wines, great cheese, deli and the most admired Polish water Kinga Pienińska. You may not know that Poland is also well known for great quality mineral water springs.
If you venture further, visit the wine bars in Kazimierz (Jewish quarter). Go to Bar a Wino at Mostowa 1, a concept developed by famous Polish actor Marek Kondrat with a large international wine selection at reasonable prices, or walk to the newly-opened wine bar Lustra at Bocheńska street.
Those of you who love natural, organic or biodynamic wines will fall in love with Krakó Slow Wines. Focused on central and eastern European selection, and located right next to Schindler’s Factory at Lipowa 6F, which you may want to see as well.
A special night ahead of you? Go for a fine dining experience to Bottiglieria 1881 at Bocheńska 5, with one of the most amazing wine lists in town. All servers and sommeliers there are WSET-trained and the service is perfection, not to mention unbelievable food made with local ingredients.
Ready for your day two? Plan your trip to the Wieliczka salt mine. It is a mere 20-minute train ride away, but if you rent a car you will also be able to visit a winery. Outside of Wieliczka you will find the first and only Polish biodynamic winery Winnica Wieliczka, led by the most famous Polish winemaker Agnieszka Wyborek Rousseu and Piotr Jaskóła.
Agnieszka is a Polish rock star. In a cool climate she managed to plant vitis viniferas, and they are doing extremely well. Obvious cool climate players like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling are planted here. Agnieszka was also brave enough to plant Merlot in her vineyard (we are still in zone A for cool climate growing). She based clone choices on her New Zealand experience and the quality of this wine was a great surprise, although she did start producing red blends like Regis to get the most out of her red grape varieties. When coming with a group, pre-order her famous prażonki, a pheasant dish cooked over the fire in a cast iron pot, and enjoy a late afternoon and the most beautiful sunset in the vineyards. If you would rather have a fine dining experience go to Dwór Sieraków, a magnificent mansion with a great wine focus, located few kilometres away
Just in case you wanted to stay in Krakow for day two, you can visit Winnica Srebrna Góra in Krakow, and take a walk to the Kościuszko mound after wards.
Day three – rent a car and go for a short but stunning trip to Ojców National Park. Explore the Pieskowa Skała castle and the Hercules bat, a large stone formation that resembles a baseball bat. Take a slow walk through the serene valley to Pstrąg Ojcowski for a glass of Polish wine, and the best smoked trout you ever had, from the most prestigious fishing farm in Poland. Lie down, take a breath and enjoy nature.
Whenever you are ready, you have few options of visiting wineries in the area. Winnica Słońce i Wiatr, Winnica Kreasy and Winnca Goja are all possible destinations. Słońce i Wiar (Sun and Wind) is an organic winery focused on hybrids and crossings. Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska with its outcrops of limestone is much cooler then hills above Krakow, hence classic cool climate viniferas are not doing as well here. Wines from here tend to show minerality with a salty aftertaste and higher acidity. Refreshing rosés and zesty whites are great choices in all of those wineries.
If you want to venture further visit Silesia where you will find the amazing Winnica Jakubów with Poland’s most innovative winemakers Michał Pajdosz. and Winnica Wzgórz Trzebnickich. This is the home of the best Polish Pinot Noir. If you are lucky to get it, his Riesling Pet Nat will send a chill down your spine. Stay at the magnificent Villa Elise led by a couple whose hospitality is famous throughout Poland, and taste one of the finest homemade breads you can get your hands on.
Lubuskie and West Pomeranian
You have a whole week? There are more vineyards for you to see around city of Zielona Góra, known for sparkling wine production. You may not be aware that one of the first German Sekts was made here in Grünberg (Zielona Góra) at the Grempler & Co winery dated 1826. Two wineries Gostchorze and Winnica Miłosz, produce traditional method sparkling wines that are definitely worth trying.
Ready to rest? Stop at Pałac Mierzęcin for its wine spa, and be greeted by a skilled Polish winemaker Piotr Stopczyński with a glass of wine. Dining here is yet another amazing treat. About an hour away towards the Baltic Sea you could stop in Baniewice for the famous wines of Turnau. Try their late harvest and ice wines and you will be surprised. This is one of the most developed wineries in Poland by far with state-of-the-art winery equipment.
Sandomierz and Subcarpathian
Going east from Krakow you may want to visit the medieval city of Sandomierz with a warmer mesoclimate allowing for winemaking. Stop at Winnica Płochockich or, even better, book your night there as the winery has five delightful guest rooms. Be sure to taste their qvevri wine as they are the first to bring qvevri from Georgia to Poland. At the end of your tasting ask for Rasins, sweet wine made by drying grapes, in this case in the shed, a real jewel among sweet Polish wines.
Other great wineries to visit here are Winnica Nad Jarem, Modła and Nobilis, and Dom Bliskowice. You will also find wineries at the foothills of the Carpathian mountains in the Subcarpathian region known for harsher growing conditions. One of the best Polish reds comes from Rondo and Regent grown here. Try Winnica Spotkaniówka or Winnice Półtorak.
As you see, there is a lot to discover in Poland. You simply must come and visit, although don’t forget to make your bookings in advance. As we say in Poland when we raise a glass: Na zdrowie! (to your health)