A visit to Moravia
South Moravia is the wine region of the Czech Republic.
Sometime between 275 and 282 AD, the border of the Roman Empire shifted as far as the Pavlov Hills in southern Moravia. Soldiers of the 10th legion of the Emperor Probus, settled under the cliffs of the Pálava Highlands, quenched their thirst with water they mixed, for sanitary reasons, with wine. Nonetheless, supplies of wine from the homeland were irregular and so they planted the first vineyards on the south-western slopes of the sunlit hills; this is likely how the foundations of Moravian grape growing came to be laid. Direct evidence concerning the planting of vineyards is also available for the Podpálaví region but it dates back only to around the beginning of the 9th century. The growing of grapevines is corroborated by archaeologists’ findings at the locations of former fortified settlements from the era of the Great Moravia Empire at Dolní Věstonice and Strachotín. Physical evidence in the form of the findings is supplemented by the words of the chronicler Václav Hájek of Libočany: “In 892 the Moravian Prince Svatopluk sent a barrel of excellent Moravian wine to Prince Bořivoj, his father-in-law. This was to celebrate the birth of his son Spytihněv…”
In centuries following, the Moravian wine industry was to encounter its upturns and downturns. Following on the Middle Ages, when viticulture was primarily the prerogative of the church and aristocracy, came the 16th century – the golden age of Moravian grape cultivation. But the century which followed, with its periods of war and invasions by foreign armies, led to depopulation of settlements, vineyards falling into decay, and an overall decline in the region. The post-war restoration of the vineyards lay predominantly in the hands of the country population. It was at that time that the wine cellar and so-called búda became common – two important economic, social and architectural elements of the Moravian village ever after. The history, atmosphere and appearance of cellars and wine-cellar lanes in the more than sixty vine growing villages and towns presented in this guide are captured in the words of Rudolf Malík, a viticulture pedagogue. In 1936, he wrote:
The ‘búda’ is a small cottage added to the cellar itself. It serves the purpose of retaining the direct effect of sunrays and in this way it contributes to the preservation of uniform temperature in the cellar. Búdas may be found either directly within the village or outside by the vineyards, either standing on their own or in clusters, several búdas standing together. Such a colony of búdas can make an almost depressing impression on an uninformed stranger. He considers búdas to be abandoned farmhouses and the whole mysterious settlement a place of the dead. But such an assumption is an enormous delusion. Búdas may not be permanently inhabited; still they are often a place of great merry-making.
Underground cellars without pressing houses
A significant monument in the settlement is the chapel of Mary the Painful (Panny Marie Bolestné) with ornamental decoration typical for the Slovácko region. An impressive folk building guards the entrance to one of the most valuable complexes of wine buildings in Moravia. In 1983, it was declared a preserved monument reservation of folk architecture. The wine cellars in Plže are already referred to in the 15th century; later these cellars were used not only to store wine but also as a hiding place against the hardships of war. The locality, whose name is derived from the shape of cellars dug up in pliable yellow soil that were reinforced by tunnel vaulting, was probably constructed together with the planting of vineyards. These constructions belong to a style of underground cellars which lack pressing houses; the function of a pressing house is fulfilled by a rectangular room behind a brick front. And it is just these fronts that constitute a distinctive artistic and aesthetic feature of the cellars in Vlčnov. Since the 16th century, they have been built according to a unified style. The artistic rendering is dominated by Baroque architectural elements featuring an arch over the vaulted entrance into the space before the cellar itself. White lime paint with a blue stripe at the bottom and a door of oak intensify the aesthetic impression. At the front of the cellar where the blue stripe on the side wall of the žudro is replaced by red, not only is good wine to be found but also a girl eligible for marriage.