Spring, summer, burcak, winter


On the rainy days of early September, when summer is just gone for another year and the bleak, cold months of winter are approaching, people dwell on darkest thoughts and their hearts sink into melancholy. But there is one region in the Czech Republic where locals look forward to the beginning of autumn more than any other time of the year.

I am of course talking about South Moravia, the low-land region between the Morava river and the slopes of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands where the core of the Czech wine-growing industry is located.

Depending on the weather, the first grapes of the early varieties, like Veltlinske cervene rane, also known as Malvasier, are usually harvested at the end of August. Ripe grapes are picked, destemmed, crushed and pressed, vine juice is let to ferment for a couple of days and then comes the time all wine-makers and wine-drinkers have been waiting for the whole year - the time of burcak.

Burcak, young, fizzy fermenting wine, is taken away from the barrels for immediate consumption instead of letting it ferment and transform into young wine, as they do in some other wine-producing like countries where they don't know any better. It is true that the more burcak you enjoy in autumn, the less wine you have in the end, but who could resist?

Most wine-making communities hold special events that are usually called vinobrani, or wine-harvesting festivals. Perhaps the biggest of them takes place in Znojmo in mid September. But if you want to enjoy burcak more than crowds of drunken fellows from all over the place who see these festivals as some sort of carnivals where you can drink yourself out of your mind and nothing happens, I strongly recommend some smaller-scale events. The best thing to do is probably just go any time between now and, say, November, to a town where they make wine, and you will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy burcak without the crowds, and without the risk of drinking something that is as far from burcak as anything.

Burcak has become so popular that some clever wine-makers make a kind of apple or carrot juice with lots of sugar and yeast and sell this horrible stuff to people who can't tell the difference. Before you buy burcak, it is a very good idea to ask for a sample. If they refuse, you might just go elsewhere. Proper wineries are ready for letting customers taste what they are about to buy. If the burcak is too sweet, chances are high that sugar had been added, and the quality of such drink is probably very low.

So enjoy your autumn full of fizzy burcak, and one more piece of advice - it is considered highly inappropriate among Moravians to clink your burcak-filled glasses!