Wine: Bohemia Sekt
A day in the life of a sparkling Czech wine
Posted: January 9, 2013
Bohemia Sekt cellar master Josef Švéda performs dégorgement à la volée on a bottle.
Think of sparkling wine in the Czech Republic and the name Bohemia Sekt immediately comes to mind. With more than 70 percent of the local market, statistically around one in four inhabitants of the Czech Republic indulges in it at least occasionally, and these days it is even available in an alcohol-free guise.
This vinous giant makes its home in a small town near the west Bohemian beer capital of Plzeň and recently celebrated 70 years since its founding in 1942, at the height of World War II. Based in the premises of a former brewery, the Prague company Czech-Moravian Wine Cellars purchased the site in Starý Plzenec, converting it to wine production. Later, so the story goes, the workers managed to delay the first batch of 37,000 bottles of sparkling wine, called Black Widow, originally intended for the rump of the Third Reich, sufficiently so as to come off the bottling line as the war was ending, just in time to quench the thirsts of Patton's army after the liberation of Plzeň in May 1945.
The company emerged from the dark years of Bolshevism to thrive under the charismatic and long-serving Josef Vozdecký, who retired in 2012 after more than 40 years with the company and 20 as its head.
During this period the firm came under the wing of German food and beverage multinational Dr. Oetker. Later on, four Moravian wineries - Habánské sklepy, Víno Mikulov, Vinařství Pavlov and Chateau Bzenec - were added to the family, receiving a healthy dose of inward investment in the process, which now shows in the quality of the product. Bohemia Sekt Group is by far the biggest wine producer of the Czech Republic, owning more than 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of vineyard.
One of the key personnel is head cellar master Josef Švéda, who has worked 20 years with the firm and who, with his 10 children, spends every Christmas performing in local nativity plays for disadvantaged people. As for the wines, he is particularly proud of the 1997 Sekt Riesling. This rarity with its atypical deep golden hue and fine effervescence was made using the traditional method. It proudly displays its age with a complex taste of wild strawberries laced with spice and smokiness. A bottle was auctioned by the model Tereza Maxová for her children's charity for 18,000 Kč.
The aim is to provide a variety of vintages for different pockets, starting out with the basic Bohemia Sekt range, available since 1970, moving up through Chateau Radyně, Prestige and such newcomers as a varietal sparkler from Chardonnay and a Blanc de Noirs (white wine made from red grapes), culminating with the small production of hand-riddled Louis Girardot, named after the French expert from the Champagne region who came to advise on the production in the 1940s.
For the past 15 years, Bohemia Sekt has organized its sommelier of the year competition. This has become the major event and benchmark for ambitious wine waiters working in the Czech Republic.
Winery of the month: Vinařství Pavlov
Headquartered in one of the most picturesque villages in the Mikulov wine region, overlooking the vast Nové Mlýny reservoir, Pavlov is a relatively small enterprise though still by far the largest in the village specializing primarily in whites for the upper segment of the market.
Cellar master Ctibor Čech likes to equate wine tradition with nature. Here on the hilly slopes of Pálava hill, the dominant landscape feature, the soil is minerally rich mainly in limestone, with the Chardonnay grape leading the way, while the higher elevations give excellent Sauvignon and Pinot Gris, not forgetting the Pálava variety itself. Grapes are bought in from across the entire region and all wines mature in stainless-steel tanks. The enormous wooden casks are empty and serve as decoration, as visitors can see for themselves if they attend any of the now celebrated Days of Open Cellars that allow the general public access to at least one of the wineries of the Pavlov Winemakers' Association (Vinitores Palaviensis) every summer weekend, with the final flourish on this year's last November day.
Wines of the Month:
Sekt: Louis Girardot Cuvée Brut 2008
Producer: Bohemia Sekt, Starý Plzenec, Bohemia
Rich golden in appearance with a stream of fine bubbles, from the flagship sparkler of Bohemia Sekt, made using the traditional method. The three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Riesling, all come from Moravian vineyards. Excellent toasty nose with biscuity and yeasty undertones comes from two years lying on the lees in the cellar, during which the so-called champagnization takes place. On the palate it displays a good mature fruit character and traces of walnuts with a great mouthfeel. Very pleasing, crisp-cool acidity plus a nice long finish. Yes, the party season is over, but we still need an occasional celebration. (465 Kč)
White: Pálava late harvest 2011
Producer: Vinařství Pavlov, Pavlov, Moravia
Wine from a grape crossing created at the research institute at nearby Perná from the Gewurztraminer and Müller-Thurgau varieties. This particular sample comes from the Stará hora vineyard on Pálava hill, which boasts calcareous soils with limestone subsoil. Goldeny-straw to the eye, on the nose a touch of exotic fruits, spice and honey, as in Gewurztraminer itself. The palate has a light minerality with a clean fruity aftertaste. (200 Kč)
This year's Viniční Altán wine tastings in Gröbovka Park kicked off with Chateau Lednice Jan. 7. Thursday, Jan. 10, sees Kolby, and Vinařství Dvoráček LTM follows on the Monday, Jan. 14. Tanzberg show their wares Jan. 16, followed by Proquin Jan. 21, with Modré Vinařství of Mutěnice making a maiden appearance Jan. 23, and Reisten of Pavlov coming Jan. 28. Tastings commence at 6:30 p.m. and cost 150 Kč. (Check details at Vinicni-altan.cz)
John & Helena Baker can be reached at