1640 km so far.
When we toured Human Fish Brewing a few days ago, brewmaster Matt suggested we go visit his expat friend and wine-maker Nick, who has a winery just off our route east through Slovenia. I emailed Nick and arranged to meet up and have a look around his winery, Heaps Good Wine Company.
Side note: Slovenian women must be something special. Both Matt and Nick moved here from far away, learned Slovene, left behind their salaried jobs, and started their own businesses – all after marrying Slovenian women
Drink Some Wine Ere You Go
We met Nick Gee at the Heaps Good Wine winery, just a few kilometres off of our route.
Nick is a New Zealander who was essentially a vintner for hire, helping other wineries produce the best wine possible. He decided to start his own winery four years ago here in the east of Slovenia. He has produced two years’ of bottled wine, has a third in the barrels (which we gladly sampled), and has his fourth year on the vine. Since winter was extreme and extremely long this year, his vines only started to show leaves a few weeks ago, but there has been a lot of rain and warm weather since so they’ve grown heaps since.
He tries to be hands-off after picking the grapes, known in the wine world as a non-interventionist vintner. More work in the fields means less work in the barrells. He tries not to mess around with the pressed grapes once they are in the barrels very much at all, keeping the additives to an absolute minimum. No egg yolks, no isinglass. A pure, vegan wine.
Nick took us into the cellar (below an old farmhouse) where the wine sits in barrels doing its business. We tasted the Heaps Good 2012 Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Blaufrankisch straight from the barrels.
Let me be clear: neither of us are wine connoisseurs. We do both, however, love wine, love drinking wine, and know what we like in wine. We are also quite lucky as we have very similar palates.
We were quite excited that Nick bottles two Pinots (white and red) as Pinots are our go to wines.
The Pinot Gris was delicious. It is done much of its work and will just deepen and get a bit more complex between now and August when it will be bottled. It is crisp, clean, and not too sweet (as many white pinots tend to be). If we had a way of properly cooling it while biking we would have bought some to take with us.
The Pinot Noir was in the midst of its malolactic process so wasn’t as finished a wine as the Gris, but I could tell it was going to be a great batch. On Nick’s recommendation we bought a bottle of the 2011 for dinner tonight. Neither of us knew anything about Blaufrankisch before visiting with Nick but I really liked the wine. The play on my palate was intense and it was very complex. We also bought a bottle of the 2011 Blaufrankisch and I am very excited to try the finished version of this.
The intimate setting, just the three of us in a an ancient cellar surround by oak barrels, reminded me of our trip to Bordeaux many years ago.
Nick also gave us a tour of his bottling operation, which is a big storage room containing filled bottles, stacked empty bottles, a labelling machine, huge vats for holding wine, and a collection of other wines he’s enjoyed from around the world.
In Wine There Is Wisdom, In Beer There Is Freedom
The big differences we noticed from our tour of Human Fish Brewery and Heaps Good Wine, apart from the obvious differences in the final product, was the time scale of each operation.
While Matt can make a new batch of beer in a few weeks, more easily meeting the fluctuations in demand, Nick’s wine takes a full season for the grapes to grow and another full season for the wine to mature. He is also much more dependent on good weather at the right times of the year. Wine also sounds like a more corporate world, where even small vintners are dependent upon big distributors to get their wine out to the world.
Luckily, we were able to buy a bottle of the 2011 Pinot Noir and the 2011 Blaufrankisch straight from Nick. At Human Fish, Matthew doesn’t bottle and we couldn’t fit a keg on our bikes, so I had to make do with drinking as much as I could while in Ljubljana.
A Glass Of Wine, A Bath, And A Good Sleep
After drinking a few glasses, we rode the final and very flat 20 km to Terme Ptuj, a hot spring resort and campground outside the city of Ptuj. We haven’t had the opportunity to ride truly flat land much yet. It is actually hard work. There is never a chance to coast along, never a break from pedalling or you stop.
As we pulled to camp, we spotted the French cycle touring family we had seen on Velika Planina. This time we had a chance to chat with them. They have four young children, two of whom are riding their own bicycles, as they ride from France through Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Czech, Germany, and back to France. With four children! We are most impressed.
Once again, we have met people who remind us that when our ride feels difficult, when we start to whine, we should pause, think, refuel and keep going.
After pitching our tent and making dinner (which included a delicious bottle of Heaps Good Pinot Noir) we hit the pools, hot tubs, and sauna that are some of the bonuses of a campground at a hot spring. Thoroughly cleansed, heated through, and cheery from the great wine, we crawled into our sleep sacks, and… zzzzzzzz.
Soundtrack: The Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia | The Magnetic Fields, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea | The Blow, Paper Television | Elastica, The Menace ♥