Vinobranie: A Celebration of Young Wine
For centuries, Autumn has always been known as the end of summer, the beginnings of cold weather, the start of the school year, and especially the time of the harvest. Farmers pick their wares from the plants they grew all summer in the hopes of both sustenance and profit. In many parts of the world, the harvest is definite cause for celebration, as countries all around the world feast, drink, pray, play, share, and savor the flavors that come with the changing of the seasons.
Last year, I was privileged to witness an Autumn celebration in Slovakia known as Vinobranie (“vee-no-brahn-yay”), which took place in a small village called Pezinok (“peh-zeh-nook”). At first glance you would think it’s just a small European town of just over 20,000 people with the usual shops and minor tourism known to most of these villages. However, come September, Pezinok has become the de facto center of the yearly Vinobranie celebrations.
The Young Wine
What Vinobranie is all about is Burčiak (“boor-check”). To the eye it looks like a cloudy red or yellowish beverage that has a fermented taste similar to kombucha. While it contains alcohol, you really don’t taste it. Hence why many warn tourists not to liberally drink burčiak, unless they like a good hangover.
The name Burčiak translates into “young wine”. Farmers, winemakers, and even garden hobbyists grow their grapes, harvest them, and press the juice out. Yeast is added and the beverage is allowed to ferment 24-48 hours before serving. Nothing is strained out, hence the cloudy appearance of the final product.
Driving around the small villages, you’ll see many producers on the side of the road selling homemade burčiak out of plastic bottles. At first I was honestly reluctant to buy an alcoholic beverage from a stranger like that, but Zuzana informed me that those are the best sources to buy the young wine.
This drink isn’t only known to Slovakia. Much of Central Europe will craft burčiak under many different names. Even Germany will make what they call Federweißer (“fee-der-vise-er”) and have their own celebrations right alongside Oktoberfest.
When it comes down to the actual celebration, that could go one of two ways. Many small villages such as Pezinok will set up the tents and hold grand festivals which lately seem more like an Autumn version of a Christmas Market. Hand-crafted gifts, smoked meats, burčiak, crafted spirits, and much more are sold and consumed with plenty of live music and people.
For those thinking of trekking to Pezinok for the fest, I will forewarn you. The popularity of Vinobranie brings with it very large crowds. There was much fun to be had, but manipulating our way through the very packed streets became a challenge, but for those seeking burčiak and a cornucopia of Slovak street food, it’s worth experiencing at least once in your life. Here’s some of what you’ll find to eat:
Langoše: (pronounced “lahn-goshe”) A street food staple of much of Central Europe, also Zuzana's favorite. Yeast dough is rolled and stretched out to a thick pancake, and then fried to a crisp in oil. Top with garlic butter, or ketchup with cheese, or sour cream with cheese.
Kebabs: Pork, beef, or chicken seasoned with local flavors (usually paprika and Vegeta or salt), then broiled over an open flame.
Cigánska:(pronounced “chee-gahn-ska”) A hearty sandwich made with cutlet of pork or chicken fried in lard with onions, and topped with the onions and sometimes lettuce. Mustard or hot sauce are the standard condiments.
Trdelník: (pronounced “trre-dell-neek”) This can be best described as a cake-like pastry dough that’s wrapped around a thick cylinder, then rotated over an open flame like meat on a spit. The dough bakes on the metal cylinder and is finished with a coating of sugar and/or nuts. Unique and delicious.
Goulash: A staple of the region. A hearty bowl of this meat soup with some good bread will make anyone ready and able to consume alcohol. Try out our recipe.
Potato Pancakes: Shredded potatoes formed into patties and fried in oil or lard, then topped with sour cream.
Sausages: I can’t fathom any kind of a Slovak or Central European celebration without sausages in the mix, and you’ll find all sorts in Vinobranie. From bland to spicy, cooked or uncooked, moist or dry, many local butchers highlight and sell their crafted encased meats for all to enjoy.
Going beyond the major festivals, many Slovaks, Czechs, Austrians, and others in the region will opt for smaller gatherings with family and friends in their own homes. Someone will bring the burčiak, and a feast of braised duck is served with sides of cooked red cabbage and thin potato crepes called lokše (“lok-shay”).
Whether you choose the massive crowds of the festivals, or the intimacy of loved ones at home, Vinobranie is an event worth experiencing once in your life. Definitely put it on your bucket list if you happen to be in Central Europe in September.