Wine or Wodka?
When someone says ‘wine country,’ everyone automatically thinks of France, Italy, Spain, or California. Why not Poland?
Because, you might say, Poland’s climate and soil are good for growing potatoes and wheat grains, which are good for making wodka and beer. It’s not good for growing grapes, which are used for wine.
Well, Poland is trying to set that record straight.
To be honest, most of Poland is good for growing potatoes and wheat grains. That’s why there’s so much good wodka and beer in Poland. These are also the two most popular drinks in Poland. If there’s no wodka, there’s no party. That being said, there are several parts of Poland that are hot and dry, with just the right type of fertile soil to cultivate grapes, the most popular of which is Zielona Góra. Giving Zielona Góra a run for its money, though, is Sandomierz.
Sandomierz (sahn-doh-mee-ezh) is a small medieval town in the south east of Poland, about two and a half hours driving from Kraków. It’s very picturesque; all around it are green and yellow fields, forests, and the Wisła River as it winds its way up towards the Baltic coast. It’s home to a castle that served as a summer residence for the Polish royal family (back in the days when Kraków was the capital of Poland – it was built by Kazimierz the Great) and a new hit TV show about a priest who helps solve crimes. In the 16th century, the people there realized that the ground was good for growing grapes, and the viniculture began. However, due to sporadic wars, unstable governments, and economic hardships, the cultivation of grapes fell by the wayside. It wasn’t until recently that the people have started raising grapes again.
A Visit to a Winery
On our Central European Circuit, my cousin and I decided to stop in Sandomierz, because her family comes from there. Reading up before we went, we found that they made wine. The next logical step: we had to try the wine. We picked up a few brochures in the hotel we stayed at, and picked one on our way home, called Winnica nad Jarem (vin-neet-sah nahd yahr-em; Vineyard Over the Ravine). When we drove out there, we thought we’d had the wrong address. There was a sign for the winery, but it looked like somebody’s house and a barn. As it turns out, that’s exactly what it was.
A woman came up to us and invited us to park the car. She then gave us a tour of the vineyards. She showed us the grapes and the pavilion for wine tastings and the place where they actually press the grapes and make the wine. Between her English skills (she was a bit rusty) and my Polish skills (I’m still a newbie), she told us the story of the winery.
The vineyard began in 2008, when her husband inherited some land outside Sandomierz. The couple then decided to start growing grapes, and they opened a winery. They do all the work in the vineyard themselves, by hand. They bottled their first wine in 2011, and they now offer five wines for your tasting pleasure.
Standing in the store room, we sampled all five, and watched as our hostess demonstrated how she labeled the bottles. Imagine our surprise when she told us that she labels several thousand bottles of wine each season – by hand. Using a ruler and the straight edge of the table, she rolls the bottle across the sticky side of the label, then does it again with the sticker for the back label. This is very time consuming, but it shows a certain amount of pride in the work that she and her husband do in their vineyard.
And the Winner (Wine-er?) Is…
I’m no connoisseur, but I enjoyed these wines. My personal favorite was a red so dark and dry that it was almost purple in color. My cousin preferred one of the white wines, and we compromised and bought a bottle of their pink wine, Rose. It has a great flavor, and has just the right amount of sweetness and dryness (thus, our ability to compromise on it).
At any rate, whether or not you’re a wine aficionado, whether or not you prefer French wines to all else, whether or not you’re steadfastly in favor of drinking wodka in Poland, it’s hard to argue with that view.