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Trgatev – the finest time for winegrowers and their helpers

October 2009

In September and October, when the grapes on the vines have sufficiently ripened, begins a time of joyful communion, steeped in tradition, in the three wine-growing regions of Slovenia. All winegrowers, whether large or small-scale, have since time immemorial been inviting their friends and relations to celebrate  the beginning of wine-making. Although they can expect a day of strenuous work, young and old alike are always happy to be invited. For instead of being paid, the invited grape pickers can by all means expect good food, a lot of fun and a great party. This is what the tradition of trgatev demands.

Vineyards in autumn. Photo: D. Mladenovič and M. Drascek

"I will buy a little hill / Upon which I will plant vines / Invite friends and drink it too" ("En hribček bom kupil / bom trte sadil / Prijat'le bom vabil / še sam ga bom pil") goes an old Slovenian folk song.

There could hardly be a better or more apt description for the background to this special sociable event, which over the years has not lost any of its popularity. Even nowadays, enthusiasm for the trgatev or bendima, as it is known in the coastal region of Istria, brings all generations together. . At the end of the summer, the houses and wine cellars are cleaned and repainted, the tools and machines necessary for grape harvesting and wine-making are prepared, and the ripeness of the grapes is checked regularly and eagerly.  

The host must ensure the culinary and general well-being of his helpers

Whoever has received an invitation by no means nurtures any hopes of being paid for his or her work, but rather looks forward to a gregarious day on which there will be no shortage of good food and excellent wine combined with fun and entertainment..All pickers from the grandchildren to the great-grandparents try to invest all their skill and experience, but very quickly the pleasure of being together wins out over sporty ambition. It would after all be impossible to find the winner, as all the grapes are collected in the enormous panniers carried on the backs of the carriers (pütaš). This group of strong men transports the harvested grapes at regular intervals from the vineyard to the wine cellar, where the wine producers (vinar) are waiting.

In the vineyards the mood is very upbeat.

Ajdovi štruklji. Photo: UKOM archive

Funny stories and jokes keep the helpers’ spirits up. During the short pauses for breath, Slovenian folk songs are sung in order to heighten the enjoyment and to get in the mood for the party after the harvest is over. The end of the successful working day is celebrated outside the vineyard with good food, wine and traditional accordion music until late in the evening as the new wine season begins.

Typical trgatev dishes, which traditionally the women prepared in the kitchen during the day, are golaš, štruklji (buckwheat rolls) and jota (sauerkraut with ham and beans). Of course, the menu cannot fail to include a freshly baked potica, which helps make every Slovenian feast a special one. The wines that are drunk are from the previous year and have been specially kept by the winegrowers to be enjoyed and savoured at the trgatev.

Red wine, white wine

For red wine, for example, the grapes must remain for a few days or up to a week in the barrels before undergoing further treatment. In the past, the barrels could only be made of wood. Meanwhile, the grapes meant for the production of white wine are immediately pressed into juice (mošt).

After a long rest period this sweet juice turns into outstandingly good Slovenian wines, whose excellent quality was already prized at the time of the Roman Empire.

History

It was the Celts who planted the first vines on Slovenian land, thereby laying the foundations for wine production. With Roman settlement the techniques of vine cultivation and wine production were further refined, and the quality of Slovenian wines became known far beyond the territory's borders.

To cite just one example, Pliny the Elder described the wines from the Karst region as being like elixirs.

Since independence in 1991 and the privatisation of the wine sector, successes at international wine fairs led to increased replanting and production of top-class wines. Particularly popular and desirable wines from the Primorska region include the white Rebula as well as the red wines Merlot and Teran. The Posavje region is where the internationally famed rosé known as Cviček originates. It is a blend of different wines. The Podravje region particularly enthuses wine lovers with the classic white wines Rizling, Šipun and Beli Pinot.

Wine culture has an important role in Slovenian identity. The best proof of this is the Slovenian national anthem, which, not without reason, is the seventh verse of the Zdravljica ("drinking song") by the poet France Prešeren. So it is hardly surprising that many traditions and customs are connected with the production of wine.

Martinovanje - the feast of Saint Martin.

In the meantime, friends and relatives come together a second time to celebrate wine again. On 11 November, the feast of Saint Martin – the patron saint of wine, a countrywide wine feast takes place. This day of martinovanje has even greater significance than being just the day on which the sweet mošt becomes wine. The winemakers celebrate it with a feast for friends and relations during which seasonal chestnuts are eaten and the new so-called "young" wines are tasted. After that, the wine rests undisturbed in the wine cellars until the winter is over.

Text by Jana Bogataj, Sinfo, November 2009