Viticulture and Winegrowing

by Dušan Hažír


It is said that wine is as old as mankind. History confirms this. Even according to the Bible, the first vineyards were planted by the forefather Noah himself up on sacred Mount Ararat and he made the first wine. Georgians named the grape drink “gvino” and this term was adjusted in many languages of the world to the words known to us, such as vino, vini, wine, and wein. Throughout this long period that lasted a few thousand years, wine spread across the world. Grape vines are grown and wine produced wherever permitted by climatic conditions. Today it is not only in Europe, but places such as Australia, South Africa, California, and Latin American countries are taking a lead as well. The biggest boom in wine production has been recorded in recent years in China.
The oldest evidence of wine-growing on the territory of Slovakia dates back to the 5th century BC, when our country was inhabited by Celtic tribes, as evidenced by archaeological finds from Linz, Austria, and from Smolenice in the Small Carpathians. However,the growing of vines and wine production intensified only after the arrival of the Romans to our territory. In the third century, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus even ordered his legions to plant new vines on the conquered territories of Gaul and Pannonia. Vines found good conditions in these “northern” areas and took root. However,the cultivation of vines did not end with the fall of the Roman Empire, but continued until the arrival of the Slavs in the Carpathian Basin. Viticulture had a firm place in farming activity even in Great Moravia.
During the reign of King Stephen I (997 – 1038) he began to create a unified Small Carpathian viticulture by expanding vineyards from Bratislava to Rača, Svätý Jur, Limbach, Pezinok, Modra, and to Horné Orešany. The expansion of wine production also continued in other areas northeast of Nitra and south of Central Slovakia until the invasion of Tatar troops in our territory in 1241. After the sudden departure, many vineyards remained ravaged, and what’s more, the population was decimated as well. Therefore, at the King’s initiative Germans, Habana, Croats moved to our territory, along with Italians arriving in East Slovakia, bringing with them the unprecedented development of viticulture in our country. They brought new, more advanced methods of processing grape, new varieties of grape vines and customary viticulture laws. The development of viticulture had a positive impact on the development of crafts, many cities were awarded the title of free royal town. Vintners formed separate communities – guilds, which also had substantial rights, such as the choice of mayors and masters. In 1451, the Association of wine growers was established in Bratislava, and the famous Wine Guild Brotherhood was founded in 1494 in Pezinok.
Eastern Slovakia did not remain outside of the events either. Free royal cities were being formed from the 13th century, which were brought together in 1412 to create the well-known Pentapolitana. Cities of Košice, Prešov, Bardejov, Levoča and Sabinov formed an association to protect their interests. Political and economic importance of the association increased after the battle of Mohacs (1526), when the common religion of the local population was adopted. After the Thirty Years’ War, there was a re-development of crafts and the development of viticulture. In Eastern Slovakia, mainly the production of wine in Tokaj developed, and trade with Tokaji wine formed the largest urban income in these cities.
During the reign of Maria Theresa and Joseph II, we recorded the flourishing of viticulture in our territory. Vineyard acreage reached nearly 57,000 hectares. During this time, various wine-growing traditions were established that have survived to the present day, for example, the Vintage Festival. The abolition of serfdom (1848) brought favorable conditions for further development of viticulture, many wines from Slovakia competed with Europe’s best brands and also reached the royal courts. However, the end of the 19th century brought havoc to European vineyards in the form of phylloxera, a pernicious vine disease that decimated almost 80% of the vineyards. Some traditional varieties were permanently destroyed, viticulture throughout Europe was on its knees. Salvation came from across ocean, when an American rootstock vine resistant to the disease was used in the vineyards for planting. Noble varieties that we know today then began to cleave into it.
The first half of the 20th century was mainly marked by military conflicts. The acreage of the Slovak vineyards was never again restored to the extent before the phylloxera. Wine growing brotherhoods, guilds and municipalities were replaced by associations and cooperatives. Postwar acreage of about 12,000 ha climbed to nearly 30,000 ha in times of collectivism, but the quality of the wines gave way to quantitative needs. Only the change of social relations in 1989 started the modern form of Slovak viticulture and winegrowing.


The change of social relations after 1989 also brought a turning point in viticulture and winegrowing. Large-scale production gradually ceased to exist and a natural estate of the vineyard owners and wine producers was created. The consequence of these changes was a retreat from the production of low-cost low-quality wines to the modern processing of grapes for wine of the highest quality. The anonymity of wine disappeared and preferred was the emphasis on the character of wines in which the technologist’s wisdom blended with the prerequisites of specific areas, wine-growing villages and even directly individual plots, using the help of modern technology. Only then it was possible to discover the magic of wine, associated with climatic and soil conditions of individual areas, which is called “terroir” in professional circles.
Unfortunately, these political and social changes also brought negative effects. After the collapse of cooperatives, a significant part of vineyards remained unused and gradually disappeared. Even today we still have unsettled ownership relations in a significant proportion of vineyards, which also prevents the development of a wine-growing tradition. A breakthrough year in the development of viticulture was year 2004 when European rules began to apply to our manufacturers thanks to the membership in the EU, among them the prohibition on the planting of new vineyards. On the basis of access agreements we set out an acreage limit in the range of 22,227 ha for Slovakia vineyards. In addition to this agreement, all the EC Council Regulation on the common organization of the wine market, on the protection of origin and labeling of wines, ecological practices and the use of additives apply to us as well.
Slovak legislation reacted to all these changes by amending the laws on Viticulture and Winemaking. The adjustments are in Act No. 313/2009, which we have been following. It defines all the basic concepts, vine growth conditions, categorizing of wine products, conditions for the introduction of wine products on the market, and it also defines wine-growing areas and their breakdown. A single Slovak region is divided into six wine-growing regions, which are divided into wine-growing areas and wine growing villages where the smallest territorial units are wine-hunts. According to statistical data on 31 Dec. 2015, the acreage of individual areas is as follows:

  1. Small Carpathians        5475 ha
  2. South Slovakia              5116 ha
  3. Nitra                                3391 ha
  4. Central Slovakia            2227 ha
  5. Eastern Slovakia              777 ha
  6. Tokaj                                1415 ha

In the total it is now 18,401 ha, which also represents young, flattened vineyards, vineyards of unknown owners and even vineyards that are yet to be planted. This area of existing vineyards is thus almost 4 000 ha less than in the time of our accession to the EU. This means that domestic wine production falls far short of the needs of the Slovak market, since there are only about 12,000 ha of vines. The biggest changes were recorded in Eastern Slovakia, where the Eastern Slovak wine-growing region has shrunk by half, and vice versa, Tokaj recorded a nearly 50% increase and has already overtaken its neighbor in the acreage.

  1. Small Carpathian wine growing region

It is an area with the largest area of vineyards, but also the biggest differences in the conditions. It consists of 12 wine area and 120 wine-growing villages. In addition to the vineyards extending on the slopes of the Small Carpathians, there are affiliated vineyard in Stupava and Záhorie, as well as vineyards around Senec, Trnava and Hlohovec. This artificially created unit makes access to the raw material also possible for those producers who do not own any vineyards. Vineyards in the Small Carpathians have predominantly a south-east orientation with an inclination of 20%. Altitude of the vineyards ranges from 145 – 260 m above sea level. With their composition, the soils create ideal conditions for vineyards, they are lightweight, trap little water and absorb the sun’s heat.

  1. South Slovakwine growing region

It spreads over the area of 8 wine-growing areas in the cadastre of 114 wine-growing municipalities at an average altitude of 140 m. It’s mostly the flat region of the Danube plain with an arid climate around the towns of Galanta, Komárno, Dunajská Streda, Hurbanovo or Štúrovo. The nature of the soil also changes according to the position of the vineyards from light sandy to moderately heavy soils with a deeper profile. In outlying areas, the influence of river sediments changes the landscape relief to a slightly undulating highland with river terraces.

  1. Nitra wine growing region

The vineyards of this geographically diverse area spread on the south-facing slopes of the Tribeč Mountains and extend to the slopes of Považský Inovec. This includes 9 wine-growing areas with 159 wine-growing villages around the towns of Nitra, Zlaté Moravce, Vráble, Levice, Topoľčany and the northern boundary is formed by vineyards in the village of Radošina. The average altitude of the vineyards is 150 m above sea level and extend particularly along skeletal soils of limestone, dolomite, quartzite and sandstone. The south and west areas are formed by sediments.

  1. Central Slovak wine growing region

The vineyards spread on the southern slopes of the Krupina Hills and the elevated position of Ipeľ plains in the area of 7 wine-growing areas with 107 wine-growing villages. They do not form a continuous area but are spread from Ipeľ to Sebechleby, Vinica, Veľký Krtíš and Fiľakovo to Rimavská Sobota and Tornaľa in the east. The average altitude is 180 m and the soil base consists of sediments, clay and sandstone base, on which lies moderately heavy soil.

  1. Eastern Slovak wine growing region

It is a geographically diverse area that lies on the slopes of Vihorlat and curled edges of the eastern Slovak Lowlands. It consists of 4 wine-growing areas in which we have registered 89 wine-growing villages from Moldava nad Bodvou to Michalovce, Sobrance, Tibava and Orechová, to Kráľovský Chlmec and Streda nad Bodrogom. Vineyards extend to a height of 180 m above sea level. Vihorlat is dominated by clay-loam soil formed on volcanics, limestone soil is typical for the Moldova area, and light, sandy soil is predominant in the southeast.

  1. Wine-growing area of Tokaj

An exclusive and also the most developed area has the status of a specific wine-growing region with a specifically declared area of 7 wine-growing villages with a prescribed varietal composition and specific wine-making technology. It is situated on the southern slopes of the Zemplín mountains with rocky and gravel soils on a geological base of rhyolites, andesites and tuffs with a high mineral content. Exceptional natural conditions have allowed for it for centuries to produce unique wines that have no equivalent in the world.


The oldest archaeological findings show that vines as a plant existed already in the Cainozoic period. Not only imprints of leaves, but also the fossilized remains of seeds have been found. Its spread reached up to the Arctic Circle. At the beginning of the Quaternary during the glacial period, vines were pushed to the south, where its development continued to its present form. However, from the 10 genuses that belong to the family of Vitaceae, only the Vitis species is used for the production of wine. Vitis vinifera, common grape vine, is best known from the 60 kinds of the Euvites subgenus. Within this species, several thousand varieties of grapes are spread around the world. Other types of vine are used for the production of wines in some parts of the world (Vitis labrusca in North America), which served mainly to avert the disaster of phylloxera, as they are resistant against it. So called hybrid varieties that allow the production of wine in extreme climatic conditions have been created through interspecific crossing.
The effort to describe the vine as a plant can already be found with the ancient writers. Democritus and Virgilius characterized and described about 50 grape varieties according to the size and shape of the fringes, color and taste of the berries, ripening time, the suitability for wine production and disease resistance. At present, these issues are being addressed by a unified scientific field – ampelography. The real heyday of ampelography came in the modern age, when many authors described the vine according to various morphological characters or regionalization. The breeding of new grape varieties came to the fore in the early 20th century, when Slovakia stands in a prominent position especially thanks to Dorota Pospíšilová, who brought many wonderful varieties to our vineyards.
The first group of varieties consists of graft varieties that are mostly hybrid and serve as support plants for the noble varieties. The second group are table varieties which are mainly used for direct consumption. The composition of the berries is not suitable for the production of wine. Wine grape varieties are those that are utilized primarily for processing into wine. Wine grape varieties are divided into white and red grape varieties; within the white varieties we know non-aromatic and aromatic varieties.
Every country with wine production has registered varieties that are used for wine production. In Slovakia we manage the Charter of Registered Varieties. Varieties that we can use for the production of wines according to the act on viticulture and winegrowing are registered in it, and their names may appear on the labels of bottles. The earliest varieties were registered in 1941, the other ones in 2011. The list in this document today registers 45 grape varieties.

White wine grape varieties:

Aurelius, Bouviertraube, Wroclaw, Devin, Fetească Albă, Feteasca Regala, Hetera, Chardonnay, Irsai Oliver, Milia, Moravian Muscat, Muscat Ottonel, Müller-Thurgau, Neuburger, Noria, Pálava, Riesling, Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon, Green Silvaner, Gewürztraminer, Frühroter Veltliner, Grüner Veltliner
The designation “white” does not mean that the grape skin color is light – yellow, greenish, but rather that white wines are produced from them. Therefore, it also includes varieties with pink grape skin color (Traminer, Milia) or gray-claret (Pinot Gris). Some of them have the ability to create more aromatic substances in their skins, so the wine made from them is included among aromatic white wines. These are Traminers, geraniums, Sauvignons and varieties resulting from the crossing of these varieties.

Tokaji wine grape varieties:

Furmint, Lipovina, Yellow Muscat

Red grape varieties:

Alibernet, André, Cabernet Sauvignon, Danube, Lemberger, Hron, Blauer Portugieser, Neronet, Nitria, Rimava, Rosa, Rudava, Pinot Noir, St. Laurent, Torysa, Váh, Zweigeltrebe

Other varieties are also planted in our vineyards, such as Dornfelder, Merlot or Tokaji Zeta, but since they are not yet registered in the Charter of Registered Varieties, their name cannot be used on the labels of bottles. Manufacturers must use the brand forms of wine naming on the bottle, for example, Dorn, Mer, Petit Merle and so on.
The color of the skin of these varieties is completely dark blue to black and are mainly used to produce rosé and red wines. This group also includes many varieties that originated through the process of crossing. The latest additions to the “list” like the Danube, Hron, Váh and Torysa are currently in high demand on the Slovak market. A particular variety is Alibernet which we include among the “staining” varieties, where the berry pulp is colored red so that white wine cannot be produced from it. Color of the wine from this variety is dark ruby red to black, colours the tongue and teeth blue, but only for a short time.


There is no doubt that Tokaj has a unique position among the wine-growing regions in Slovakia. Its larger part is indeed situated on the Hungarian side, but the history, soil and climatic conditions, as well as wine production technology are common to both parts. Even the handling of “Tokaj” trademark is valid in both countries in the same way, although the fight for the brand lasted several decades.
The first written mention of vineyards in Zemplín is from year 1214, vineyards in the village of Zoluska (Viničky) are documented in writing from 1249, 1336 in Horeš, 1390 in Borša, and vineyards in Malá Tŕňa are in the records from 1390. After the Tatar invasion (1241) vineyards were almost completely destroyed. Their recovery is credited to King Belo IV, who planted new species of vine with the help of Italian settlers (Furmint, Ballafant, Bokator) imported from Italy. A great development of Tokaji wine was also recorded during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus (1458 – 1490), but at the time of Turkish invasion the production of Tokaj wine was in decline.
Tokaj wine was purchased mainly by upper Hungarian medieval towns that were carriers of the development of viticulture. In the 16th century in Eastern Slovakia, vines were grown in large areas and 12.6 million liters to 21 million liters were produced annually depending on fructuousness. Prešov achieved a net profit of 18,408 gold coins from the sale of Tokaj wine in 1600. Tokaj vineyards were owned by merchants and townspeople not only from Prešov, but also from Levoča, Košice and Bardejov. Tokaj wine exports were directed mainly to Poland, especially to Krakow and later to Czarist Russia, and especially to France at the court of Louis XIV, who described Tokaj wine as a “wine of kings – king of wines”. Between 1707 – 1711, Prešov’s income derived from trade with Tokaj wine exceeded 135,000 gold coins.
The first Tokaj six puttonyos selection was produced during the Easter holidays in year 1650 in Sárospatak by Sepsi Lacskó Maté (born in Moldava nad Bodvou) for the widow of Juraj Rákoczi I, Zuzana Lórantffyová. Five years later, the first law was issued in Hungary to govern the collections of nobly rotted grapes, and thus began the production of Tokaj puttonyos selections. Raisins (aszu) are formed on the Tokaj grape varieties in favorable years, when the effects of the noble rot Botrytis cinerea Persoon change the composition of grapes to nobly rotten grapes with a high proportion of natural sugars. The basis for the production of nobly rotten grapesistherefore favorable climatic conditions and the rare composition of Tokaj’s volcanic soil. However, the occurrence of these conditions is very special, so that the Tokaj puttonyos wine production occurs only a few years in a single decade.
The expansion of Tokaj production showed the need to precisely define the Tokaj wine region. The regulation dated 1737 allocated 21 sites that could be described as Tokaj. This was to prevent the labeling of other types of wines as Tokaj. Therefore, sellers were liable for its authenticity under the Slovak name translating as “autogenous,” which also meant the protection of its origin. At that time the Slovak Tokaj vineyards were only in the villages of Malá Tŕňa and Viničky, where according to census dated 1865 Viničky had nearly 100 ha of vineyards and the largest part was owned by Julius Andrássy.
The phylloxera epidemic hit the Tokaj region later, but even here it inflicted immense damage. Tokaj vineyards were almost completely destroyed within a few years. Dr. Julius Szabó began with the renewal of vineyards in the late 19th century on the basis of new cultivated grafts on American rootstocks. The preparation of the new varieties was mainly thanks to Ján Mathiász (1838 – 1921) from Slovakia, the most important breeder of the Kingom of Hungary, a native of Mošurova pri Prešove. Already in 1866 he founded the first collection of varieties from all over Europe in Košice and began to deal with the breeding of new grape varieties. In his work he described and offered 231 varieties, including 163 table varieties. In 1880 he moved to Tokaj, where he worked as an administrator of Count Andrássy’s vineyards in Viničky, but his primary task was the development of new resistant vine plants. Up to one million new vine seedlings were planted between the Danube and Tisza thanks to his efforts. In 1897 he won the main national price at an exhibition in Hamburg, later in Paris and in 1901 he won an award in Brussels. During his lifetime, he bred around 3,500 vine varieties, becoming one of the most important pioneers in the world of breeding. To this day, some of his wine grape varieties are planted in different parts of the world and especially his table grapes form an inherent part of the world’s wine-growing heritage.
The current conditions of the Tokaj wine production are analyzed by the Act on Viticulture and Winemaking from 2009. It defines wine-growing villages where it is possible to use vines of permitted Furmint, Yellow, Muscat, and Lipovina varieties (the fourth Tokaj variety is Zeta) for the production of Tokaj wines. This includes vineyards in the administrative territory of the municipalities of Bara, Čerhov, Černochov, Malá and Veľká Tŕňa, Viničky and Slovenské Nové Mesto. Supervision over the Tokaj production is done by the Tokaj Association, which includes producers of Tokaj wine. Its scope consists in determining the beginning of the grape harvest, classification of new Tokaj vineyards, decision-making on permission of import into the Tokaj wine region, and Tokaj wine exports. Grapes for Tokaj wine production must be healthy, undamaged and have an issued certificate of grape quality.
In standard years, following a verification of the origin and quality of grapes, classic white wine varieties or brand name wines are produced in the Tokaj region, which can have all the quality standards applicable in other regions of Slovakia as well. They are manufactured with the modern technology of controlled yeast fermentation with the help of noble yeast and thus have the character of classic white wines.
In exceptional years, when nobly rotten grapes are formed on the Tokay varieties due to the effects of Botrytis mold, it is possible to produce fine autogenous Tokaj wines, Tokaj puttonyos selections, and the most precious product of Tokaj, the Tokajessence.
Based on the number of nobly rotten grapes, puttonyos Tokay wines can be 3-, 4-, 5- or 6- puttonyos. The first step in their production is to sort out the most nobly rotten grapes from the grape bunches harvested by hand still in the vineyard. Subsequently, a dry white wine is produced from healthy grapes with a sugar content of at least 21°NM (1 °NM = 10 g/l), which is poured over the nobly rotten grapes. In the case of 3-puttonyos wine, the content of three puttonyos of nobly rotten grapes (one puttonyos is about 22 to 25 kg) is coverd by 136 liters of wine. The nobly rotten grapes macerate in the wine for several days, giving sweetness and distinctive taste to the wine. After subsequent pressing, such wine is aged in the Tokaj cellars for at least three years. The strange thing is that Tokaj wines are aged with the supply of air, thus achieving their final color and delicious taste. This oxidative aging process is made possible thanks to another noble mold, Cladosporium cellare, which forms on the walls of the Tokaj cellars thanks to wine fumes and ensures a “sterile” area where bacteria can not spread. The max. 6-puttonyos Tokaj is created by increasing the share of nobly rotten grapes during maceration in 136 liters of wine, having the sweetest, most intense taste, color and aroma within this technology.
If the proportion of raisins is terribly small and there is no point in selecting them, autogenous Tokaj wine that has matured in Tokaj wine cellars for at least two years with an air supply is produced. Where the residual natural sugar content of wine is below 10 g/l, it is defined as dry autogenous, when the proportion of the wine sweetness is above this level, it is referred to as sweet autogenous.
Tokaj’s essence is produced by the slow fermentation of freely flowing nobly rotten grapes and it may be introduced on the market only after three years of aging in the cellars of Tokaj. This is the most precious product of Tokaj wine production.
Tokaj mášláš and Tokaj forditáš were included in our law as the latest products produced in Tokaj based on the Hungarian legislation, utilizing the exceptional composition of fermentation lees or pressings of nobly rotten grapes for repeated affection of the basic dry wines.


There is no country in the world where wine is unknown. Wine has become our daily companion, it is used in religious ceremonies, accompanies us during jubilees, joys and sad events. Already Homer wrote that for human happiness and joyous well-being we need a full table, wine, friends and music. However, not every wine will bring us joy and comfort. In today’s busy world, there is no time to waste, and so we don’t pay enough attention to the choice of wine either. We are satisfied with the first store, the discount flyer and the selection of wine is narrowed down to its color and sweetness.
The choice of a good wine requires a little more time and knowledge. Just the choice of where to buy wine can affect our future relationship to wine. Because of its life, wine needs suitable conditions for storage, and they are bound to a temperature of 10-12°C. However, if a bottle of wine stands on the shelves where the temperature is twice as high for a long time, the wine will age very quickly and lose its quality. To last as long as possible, it is protected by high volumes of sulfur. Such stabilization of wine can only be used for lower wine qualities.
When choosing wine, it is therefore necessary to know not only the color, but also what quality class it belongs to. Our Wine Act also speaks about these facts, which introduced a similar categorization of wine products to those that apply throughout Europe. For the common needs of the consumer, the most important are the three newly introduced indications for wines based on quality:

  1. Wine without geographical indication – we know this category as table wine. Wines produced in this quality from Slovak grapes must reach a sugar content of 13 ° NM. The wine is not subject to another inspection anymore. There are no limits on the yield per hectare, for chemical stabilization, the cider and wine sweetness can be customized by adding sucrose. The origin of the grapes is often not known either.
  2. Wine with a protected geographical indication – it represents the former category of regional wine. The origin of the grapes is already clearly declared within this wine quality, so it is clear what country, region or vineyard it represents. In Slovakia, this wine quality must be produced from registered varieties that have reached the sugar content of min. 13 ° NM and the yield per hectare does not exceed 20,000 kg.
  3. Wine with a protected designation of origin – it was introduced based on the image of the French “Appellation d’origine contrôlée” (AOC), replacing the former category of quality wine and quality wine with special attributes. Within this quality class, wine can be produced only from authorized varieties grown in our areas, which reached the sugar content of at least 16 ° NM and the yield per hectare did not exceed 18,000 kg. Each grape must be certified by origin and quality control, after completion of the technology the wine undergoes certification before it can be marketed. Tough chemical stabilization cannot be used for these wines. Wine stability is achieved only with quality filtration and sterile bottling. Slovak variant of the AOC abbreviation is D.S.C. (Districtus Controllatus Slovakia) designation. Whereas this new system of wine categorization is not yet sufficiently established by custom, the law also allows the use of traditional expressions in the form of adjectives: cabinet, late harvest, selection of grapes, berry selection, selection of raisins, straw and ice wines. If the label of the wine indicates an attribute, the bottle must have a stamp in the Slovak tricolor with the control data. Mostly it is placed on to the top of the cap.

Stickers with awards that the wine obtained in a domestic or foreign competition are often stuck on the wine bottle. The organizing of domestic wine competitions, however, is not subject to any inspection, except for a single Slovak competition that takes place under the supervision of the International Organization of Vine and Wine, based in Paris. Every year, the Wine Museum in Prešov organizes the International Exhibition of Wines MUVINA, one of the world’s prestigious wine competitions. According to the published ranking of the world’s best competitions in 2015, Muvine belongs to the top twenty across Europe.
The best way to buy wine is directly from the manufacturer or a specialized wine shop that can be found in almost every city. We choose wine based on the circumstances. A lighter wine is sufficient for a barbecue in the garden but if we want to have a good time with friends and family, it is better to reach for higher quality wines. The choice of the wine color can be adapted to the menu, but personal preference is above all rules. Slovak wines have traveled a long way in recent years. They are able to compete with the world’s best wines and our new varieties have enriched the world with a unique character.