Perhaps Maribor’s most famous resident is a 400-year-old grapevine. But to find the hidden history of wine in Slovenia’s second largest city you must venture underground to the vast cellars beneath the streets — capable of storing enough wine to get the country’s entire population of 2 million drunk. Twice.
You could be forgiven for missing the rather plain entrance to the Vinag Wine Cellar (Vinagova Klet). It’s on a plaza behind the Maribor castle, now a local museum. Tours of the tunnel wine cellar are given Monday through Friday at 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm., and on weekends at 11 am, 12:30 pm and 3 pm. Visit the Vinag1847 website for updated details on pricing and packages, starting at 10 euros per person.
You’ll be guided through just part of the 2.5 kilometers of tunnels, named mostly for the street or building that is above. Some of the huge wine barrels were underneath restaurants, allowing for a direct pipeline to the drinkers above. The cellars were opened in 1847 to take advantage of the position on the trade route between Austria and Italy. You might be led on the tour by a young man whose older family members worked here when it was still operating only a decade ago.
The historic wooden barrels have long been retired in favor of glass, ceramic or even cement containers. One of them is the size of a small apartment and perhaps you can wiggle through the opening to get inside. Back in the day, small children were hired to clean the vats — getting drunk on the fumes.
Another portion of the cellar was a repository for rare vintages, although few survived the thirsty occupying Nazis — and bad corks. Some 250,000 more recent bottles are still in storage. You can still see bottles for the wine from the famous 400-year-old vine. Don’t worry about the black “mold” you see on the walls. It sent a tour group of from Japan running for their face masks, we were told, but there’s no reason to worry. It’s “wine mold” which is said to be the sign of a good winemaking environment.
One or two generous samples are included with the “classic” or classic premium tour, and of course you can pay for more wine tasting with or without food. Vinag features white wines named Mariborčan and Mariborčanka — Maribor guy and girl. A surprising dry red called Modra Frankinja is one of my favorites in the region, which is more famous for its whites..There’s an annual competition to pick the white wine that is best for the Styrian spritzer, a drink that is taken seriously in Maribor. If you have more time, tours to specialized winemakers in the surrounding region can be arranged through the tourist office.
And about the world’s oldest grapevine…
The Old Vine, now flanked by two “daughters,” was planted more than 400 years ago in the Middle Ages, when Maribor was threatened by invading Turks. It survived centuries of conflict including World War II bombardment, which destroyed the vine house but not the plant itself. It is believed to be the oldest vine in the world still bearing grapes. They are of the “žametovka” or the “modra kavčina” variety, and while you can easily taste similar wines today, you have to be a head of state or royalty to get one of the 100 or so bottles produced each year from the Old Vine, given as protocol gifts. A small museum and vinoteka (wine shop) has more information about the vine and the long line of local wine queens.
Terry’s Travel Tips:
Visiting the Maribor Wine Tunnels: You must be 18 for wine tasting here, but I was told that teens 16 and up can taste under the supervision of their parents. Mineral water will be cheerfully served to your designated driver.
Reservations can be made at the Maribor-Pohorje tourist board info point in the city center or online, but are not needed for Individuals or small groups (less than 15). Click on this link for my post with more ideas for what to see and do in Maribor.
Staying in Maribor: There’s a wide choice of hotels in Maribor around the charming old center of the city, adjacent to the riverside Lent quarter. I visited on a day trip from Ljubljana by rental car. Save money by reserving your car rental through Auto Europe before you leave the USA. Thanks for clicking on these links, which helps to support this blog at no additional cost to you.
The Slovenian Tourist Authority and the Maribor-Pohorje Tourist Board partnered with us for the writing of this post. Many thanks! The article reflects the typical experience any visitor can expect. Research and opinions are my own.
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