TASTING: Natural Wine Fest, Brno
Passion and good taste undergird Tomáš Nossek & Adam Vaněrka's superbly well-run natural wine salon, now in its 3rd edition. It's like a scrappier, underdog version of Vienna's famed Karakterre.
April Fool’s Day in Brno saw the third edition of Tomáš Nossek and Adam Vaněrka’s Natural Wine Fest, a Central European natural wine salon conceived in 2019 and first realized in 2021. Uniting seventy-five producers, half from the Czech Republic and half from Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria collectively, the event provided me with a perfect excuse to finally visit the Moravian capital, which, despite being just two hours’ drive north of Vienna, remains somewhat off-grid for many wine travelers.
North of the Austrian border, Germanic culture ends and Slavic culture begins, a legacy of then-Czechoslovakia’s violent expulsion of its German population after World War II, and the ensuing four decades of Communist rule. These factors seem to influence the particular flavor of Moravia as much as any terroir or grape variety.
Brno itself, surrounded by the wine region of Moravia, is arguably the Czech Republic’s only viticultural city in the contemporary era.
“It’s very easy to come across someone in Brno whose family run a small traditional winery,” says Nossek, noting also that the city’s Mendel University has a department dedicated to viticulture and winemaking. “Brno is still beginning, in terms of natural wine, but local people are open to try new things, and when they try natural wine, they get excited and come back!”
A former coffee roaster and a restaurant manager, respectively, Nossek and Vaněrka founded Brno’s straightforwardly-named Natural Wine Shop in 2020 (Vaněrka has since departed that project). I first met them on the periphery of my friend Jan Culik’s Bottled Alive salon in Tábor in early 2022, and have appreciated their taste in wine from afar on Instagram ever since.
In registering participants for Natural Wine Fest, the duo’s criteria include the non-use of commercial yeasts, organic or biodynamic farming practices (without necessarily requiring certification), and sulfite levels at final analysis below 60mg/L. This rather mild latter threshold is in line with Bogdan Trojak’s Autentista group; in theory it is only marginally more radical than Isabelle Legeron’s RAW Wine Fairs, which permit 70mg/L, but in practice the roster at Natural Wine Fest heavily features younger, smaller-scale, and more radical vignerons.
“Besides these rules, we reject producers who are combining conventional and low-intervention approaches under one winery brand. We don’t want our visitors tasting nice wines at the fair and then coming across a wine from the same winery elsewhere with lots of residual sugar,” says Nossek. “This scenario is unfortunately quite common in South Moravia these days.”
It’s interesting that this one arguably rather lightweight criterion - that a participating winery should not pursue several divergent commercial strategies at once - seems, in the case of Natural Wine Fest, to go quite a ways to keeping profiteers out of the building.
Due to poor planning on my part, I had to depart the fair after only two hours to get to the airport. Rarely have I been as loathe to leave a wine salon! Natural Wine Fest took place on two floors of the city’s central Tržnice building. Each was helpfully furnished with areas to sit or stand at high tables and take a pause; excellent coffee and pastries were on offer; daylight was abundant. In short, ideal circumstances in which to sample the Moravian natural wine frontier.
Natural Wine Fest
Keep an eye out for Natural Wine Fest 2024 next April.
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