Slovenia. Kras. Wine

There is a region known as Karst (Kras in Slovene), which is a limestone plateau extending from southwestern Slovenia into northeastern Italy and parts of Croatia. This region is famous for its karst landscape characterized by barren limestone plateaus, underground rivers, sinkholes, beautiful caves and unique Slovenian wines of Kras. 

What is Kras? 

The Kras region covers parts of southwestern Slovenia, including the municipalities of Sežana, Divača, and Komen. It is situated between the Vipava Valley to the east and the Adriatic Sea to the west. The landscape is dominated by limestone rock formations, which have been shaped by erosion over millions of years.

Slovenian Kras is renowned for its karst phenomena, which include underground caves, sinkholes and rivers disappearing underground. Some of the most famous karst features in the area include the Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its massive underground chambers and subterranean river.

Karst phenomena are geological features that result from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. These landscapes are characterized by distinctive surface and subsurface features, shaped by the processes of dissolution, erosion, and deposition. 

Here are some key karst phenomena:

Caves and Caverns: One of the most recognizable karst features, caves and caverns form when acidic groundwater dissolves soluble rock along fractures and bedding planes, creating underground voids. Over time, these voids can enlarge to form expansive cave systems. Some caves feature spectacular stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations formed by the deposition of minerals carried by dripping water.

Sinkholes: Sinkholes are depressions or holes in the ground that form when underlying rock dissolves, causing the surface to collapse. They can range in size from small pits to large craters. Sinkholes can develop suddenly or gradually over time and pose hazards to infrastructure and human safety.

Karst Springs: Karst springs are groundwater outlets where underground streams emerge onto the surface. These springs often occur at the base of limestone outcrops or in sinkholes. The water in karst springs is typically clear and cold, as it has been filtered through the porous limestone.

Poljes: Poljes are large flat-bottomed valleys or basins surrounded by limestone hills or mountains. They form when the roof of an underground cave collapses, creating a broad depression. Poljes often contain rivers, lakes, or wetlands and are important agricultural areas in karst regions.

Karren: Karren, also known as limestone pavements or alvars, are extensive flat surfaces of bare rock formed by the dissolution of limestone. They are characterized by grooves, ridges, and pinnacles created by the flow of water over the surface and the chemical weathering of the rock.

Dolines: Dolines, also called sinkholes or sink depressions, are bowl-shaped depressions in the landscape formed by the collapse of cave roofs or by the gradual dissolution of limestone. Dolines vary in size from small pits to large depressions several hundred meters in diameter. They often contain vegetation and may form natural catchment areas for rainwater.

Karst landscapes are not only in Slovenia. You can find them worldwide, with notable examples in regions such as the Kras Plateau in Slovenia, the Dinaric Alps in the Balkans, the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, and parts of China and Southeast Asia. These unique landscapes support diverse ecosystems and are often of significant ecological, geological, and cultural importance. It is noteworthy, however, that the German word Karst came from the Slovenian name Kras and spread throughout the world as the term Karst landscape

Natural Features of Slovenian Kras

Despite its harsh and rocky terrain, the Kras region supports a unique array of plant and animal species adapted to the karst environment. Endemic species can be found here, including certain types of insects, reptiles, and plants. The flora and fauna of the Kras region are diverse and adapted to the unique environmental conditions of the area. 

The region features vegetation typical of Mediterranean climates, including scrublands dominated by low shrubs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and lavender. These plants are adapted to the dry summers and mild winters of the region.

In areas with deeper soils, oak forests can be found. Common oak species include downy oak (Quercus pubescens) and sessile oak (Quercus petraea). These forests provide habitat for a variety of wildlife.

The Kras region is home to several plant species that are endemic to karst landscapes, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. These include rare orchids, saxifrages, and other specialized plants adapted to the limestone substrate and harsh growing conditions.

Travelling through Krass you will see terraced vineyards covering many slopes. Viticulture is an important agricultural activity in the Kras region. The main varieties grown here are Refosco and Malvasia. 

The Kras region supports a diverse bird population, including both resident and migratory species. Raptors such as eagles, falcons, and owls are common, as well as songbirds like nightingales, warblers, and finches. The numerous caves and caverns in the Kras region provide important habitat for bats. Several bat species can be found roosting in these underground environments, including the greater horseshoe bat, lesser horseshoe bat, and common pipistrelle.

The warm and sunny climate of the Kras region is conducive to reptiles and amphibians. Common species include European green lizards, European adders, European pond turtles, and fire salamanders. These places are also inhabited by a variety of invertebrate species, including endemic cave-dwelling insects and crustaceans. Some of these species are adapted to the unique conditions of caves and underground rivers. Rodents such as dormouse, field mice and shrews are common in the Kras area, which of course attracts small  carnivores such as foxes, martens and weasels.

The flora and fauna of the Kras region contribute to its ecological richness and biodiversity, making it a unique and valuable natural environment. 

Why Visit Kras? Hiking, Biking, Caving and Wine Tasting

So, what should we recommend to tourists visiting Kras? Well, you have a wide range of attractions and activities to explore. Here are some recommendations for things to do and see: 

Visit Škocjan Caves: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Škocjan Caves are one of Slovenia’s most impressive natural wonders. Take a guided tour to explore the vast underground chambers, towering stalactites, and rushing subterranean river. The caves offer a unique and unforgettable experience for visitors.

Explore Karst Villages: Wander through picturesque villages such as Štanjel, Hrastovlje, and Komen, where you can admire traditional stone architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and charming town squares. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit local artisans, taste traditional cuisine, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the region. 

Hike or Bike in Nature: The Kras region offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation amidst stunning natural landscapes. Explore hiking and biking trails that wind through vineyards, olive groves, and limestone hills, providing panoramic views of the countryside. The Karst Plateau is also home to several nature parks and reserves where you can spot rare plant and animal species.

Visit Karst Castles and Fortresses: Discover the region’s medieval history by visiting historic castles and fortresses, such as the fortified village of Štanjel with its imposing castle and defensive walls. Learn about the area’s rich cultural heritage and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside from these ancient vantage points.

Wine Tasting: Indulge in a wine tasting experience at one of the many local wineries scattered throughout the Kras region. Sample a variety of indigenous grape varieties, including Refošk and Malvasia, while learning about the winemaking traditions and techniques that have been passed down through generations.

Explore Cultural and Historical Sites: Delve into the region’s history by visiting museums, archaeological sites, and cultural landmarks. Learn about the area’s Roman past at sites like Tabor near Sežana, or explore the fascinating frescoes depicting the Dance of Death at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Hrastovlje.

Historical and Cultural Heritage of Slovenian Kras (It’s Not About Wine Yet)

The Kras region has a rich cultural heritage, with a history dating back to ancient times. Throughout its history, the area has been inhabited by various peoples, including the Romans, Slavs, and Venetians, each leaving their mark on the landscape and culture of the region. 

Here are some notable cultural heritage features of the Slovenian Kras:

Settlements and Architecture: The Kras region is dotted with picturesque villages and towns characterized by traditional stone houses and narrow cobblestone streets. Many of these settlements have retained their medieval layout and architecture, providing visitors with a glimpse into the region’s past. Notable examples include the town of Štanjel, known for its stone-built houses and Venetian Gothic architecture.

Churches and Religious Sites: Throughout the Kras region, you can find numerous churches, chapels, and religious monuments that reflect the area’s strong religious heritage. These buildings range from small rural chapels to grand churches adorned with frescoes and ornate altars. Many of these religious sites are also significant cultural landmarks, such as the Church of the Holy Trinity in Hrastovlje, famous for its frescoes depicting the Dance of Death.

Karstic Architecture: The traditional architecture of the Kras region is influenced by the local karst landscape and building materials. Houses and other structures are often constructed using locally sourced limestone, blending seamlessly with the natural surroundings. This style of architecture is not only aesthetically pleasing but also practical, providing insulation and protection against the region’s harsh climate. 

Traditional Crafts and Folklore: The Kras region has a rich tradition of craftsmanship and folklore, with artisans producing a variety of handmade goods ranging from pottery and ceramics to lacework and wood carvings. Many villages host craft fairs and festivals where visitors can experience traditional music, dance, and artisanal products firsthand.

Historical Sites and Museums: The Kras region is home to numerous historical sites and museums that showcase its cultural heritage. These include archaeological sites dating back to ancient times, such as the Roman ruins at Tabor near Sežana, as well as museums dedicated to local history, art, and ethnography. 

Also, in the forest next to Komen you will find a small cemetery where soldiers and officers who died in the First World War are buried. Different people lie there: Germans, Poles, Jews, Slovenes, Italians, Czechs, Hungarians… But for some reason their nationalities are not so important to us, right? We only know that they were humans, and they died fulfilling the will of some fucking politicians. In general, about a million people died in these places during that war, can you imagine? But this is a completely different (and sad) story. 

Wine Culture: Wine production has been an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Kras region for centuries. Vineyards cover the hillsides, and winemaking traditions have been passed down through generations. Wine cellars and tasting rooms can be found throughout the region, offering visitors the opportunity to sample local varieties such as Refošk and Teran while learning about the history and techniques of winemaking in the area.

The cultural heritage of the Slovenian Kras region is a testament to its rich history and the resilience of its people in adapting to the challenges of life in a rugged and beautiful landscape. Whether exploring ancient ruins, wandering through charming villages, or tasting local wines, visitors to the Kras region can immerse themselves in its vibrant cultural tapestry.

Kras Is a Wine Region 

Well, here we come to the most interesting part: the Kras region is also known for its wine production. The terraced vineyards that dot the landscape produce a variety of white and red wines, with the indigenous Refošk and Teran grape varieties being particularly notable. 

Here are some interesting aspects of the Kras wine region:

History: Winemaking in the Kras region dates back to ancient times, with evidence of viticulture dating back to the Roman era. Over the centuries, winemaking traditions have been passed down through generations, with the region’s karstic landscape providing ideal conditions for grape cultivation.

Climate and Soil Characteristics: The Kras region experiences a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild winters. The proximity to the Adriatic Sea moderates temperatures, while the limestone-rich soil of the karst landscape provides excellent drainage and imparts unique mineral qualities to the grapes. The combination of these factors creates optimal conditions for grape ripening and the production of high-quality wines.

Wine Varieties: The Kras region is known for its indigenous grape varieties, which have adapted to the specific climatic and geological conditions of the area. Some of the most notable grape varieties grown in the Kras region include:

Teran: The name Teran (Terra Rosso – red soil) is geographically protected. Only Refosco grapes grown on the red rocky soils of Kras can be called by this name. Teran is an indigenous red grape variety that is highly prized for its intense color, vibrant acidity, and distinctive earthy flavors. It is often used to produce dry, fruity red wines with excellent aging potential. And what is Refosco? Refosco (Refošk in Slovenia) is a red grape variety that produces full-bodied, robust wines with notes of dark fruit, spices, and herbs. It is one of the flagship varieties of the Kras region. 

Malvasia: Malvasia (Malvazija), is a white grape variety that thrives in the Kras region’s Mediterranean climate. It produces aromatic wines with floral, citrus, and stone fruit notes, as well as a crisp acidity that makes it ideal for refreshing white wines. 

Wine Routes and Wine Tourism in Kras 

The Kras region is home to several wine routes and tourist trails that allow visitors to explore its vineyards, wineries, and cellars. Wine tastings, vineyard tours, and culinary experiences are popular activities for tourists, offering the opportunity to discover the rich cultural and gastronomic heritage of the region.

The Slovenian Kras wine route (Kraška vinska cesta) passes through some of the most picturesque and culturally rich areas of the Kras region. Along the route, wine enthusiasts can explore hundreds of vineyards and wineries located in historic villages surrounded by  stunning natural landscapes. 

Here are some interesting places that the Slovenian Kras wine route passes through:

Štanjel: This charming medieval village is known for its narrow cobblestone streets, stone houses, and Venetian Gothic architecture. Visitors can explore the Štanjel Castle, wander through the Ferrari Garden with its Mediterranean plants, and admire panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Komen: The village of Komen is home to the Kras Regional Museum, where visitors can learn about the cultural heritage, history, and traditions of the Kras region. The museum exhibits archaeological artifacts, ethnographic collections, and displays on local crafts and winemaking.

Divača: Divača is a gateway to the Škocjan Caves, renowned for their massive underground chambers, towering stalactites, and subterranean river. Visitors can take guided tours of the caves to explore their natural wonders and learn about their geological and cultural significance.

Sežana: Sežana is the largest town in the Kras region and serves as a hub for exploring the surrounding area. Visitors can visit the Sežana Castle, which houses a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the region, and stroll through the beautiful park surrounding the castle.

These are the biggest places that the Slovenian Kras wine route passes through. The Slovenian wine region of Kras offers a captivating blend of history, terroir, and grape varieties that produce wines of exceptional quality and character. 

Whether exploring historic villages and cultural attractions, or sampling wines, the wine route travellers are sure to encounter unforgettable experiences visiting original local wineries in the beautiful Kras.  

And now we’ll stop at one of these wineries. 

Wines of Emil Tavčar

As we drive our way through the picturesque hilly roads of Slovenian Kras, we find ourselves drawn to the charming village of Kreplje. Nestled at the heart of Kras, stretching near the Italian border, this village holds a special allure. Here, we park near Emil Tavcar’s winery, a hidden gem amid the karst landscape. 

At the winery we talk about the local concept of viticulture, about soil, climate, traditions… The karst rock dominates the scenery, leaving little room for soil and some vines are growing straight from the stone. To cultivate vines here requires ingenious methods, including bringing land from the Dolines, karst depressions formed by collapsed subterranean caves. 

Emil’s family history runs deep in this area, with ancestors who came heere from Bavaria about 500 years ago. The German spelling of his surname on the label reminds us of this: Tauzher. 

Emil Tavčar makes wine sourced from their modest 3-hectare vineyard, which boasts old vines of the Kras grape varieties: Malvasia, Vitovska Grganja, and Teran. The vineyard practices here shun chemicals, relying solely on minimal amounts of sulphur. 

Fermentation takes place naturally, with indigenous yeasts doing their magic in wooden vats, and brief macerations lasting just a few days. Oak barrels are the chosen vessels for aging, adding depth and character to the wines. 

So we are tasting wines here. Emil Tavcar’s wines are a true reflection of this unique landscape. They are very strong and dense, despite the low alcohol content. This is one of the features of local wines.

Emil Tavcar makes wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malvasia, Vitovska Grganja, and Teran. We do not describe the wines here as you can easily find all descriptions in our store. But don’t read too much, these wines should be drunk, not read! 

And What About Food?

Enjoy local cuisine. Treat your taste buds to the flavors of the Kras region by sampling traditional dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss specialties like pršut (air-dried ham), kraški pršut (Karst prosciutto), and jota (bean and sauerkraut soup), paired with delicious wines from the region.

Here are some culinary specialties of Kras:

Pršut (Air-dried Ham): Pršut is a traditional Slovenian dry-cured ham that is a staple of the Kras region’s cuisine. Made from high-quality pork legs, pršut is seasoned with sea salt and aged for several months to develop its characteristic flavor and texture. It is often served thinly sliced as an appetizer or paired with local cheeses, olives, and bread.

Kraški Pršut (Karst Prosciutto): Kraški pršut is a regional variation of dry-cured ham that is specific to the Kras region. It is made using traditional methods passed down through generations, with pork legs salted and aged in natural drying rooms with controlled humidity and temperature. Kraški pršut is prized for its delicate flavor, tender texture, and distinctive aroma.

Jota: Jota is a hearty bean and sauerkraut soup that is a traditional dish in Slovenian cuisine, particularly in the Kras region. Made with ingredients such as beans, sauerkraut, potatoes, onions, garlic, and smoked pork, jota is simmered until thick and flavorful. It is often served hot with a dollop of sour cream and crusty bread.

Bobiči: Bobiči is a traditional Slovenian dish made with potatoes, beans, and bacon. It is similar to jota but with a thicker consistency and a richer flavor from the addition of bacon. Bobiči is a comforting and satisfying dish, especially popular during the colder months in the Kras region.

Kraški Sir: Kraški sir is a type of cheese that is produced in the Kras region using traditional methods and locally sourced milk. It is often made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and cow’s milk, resulting in a rich and flavorful cheese with a firm texture. Kraški sir can be enjoyed on its own or paired with pršut, olives, and wine.

These are just a few examples of the culinary specialties that showcase the rich and diverse flavors of the Kras region in Slovenia. Whether you’re sampling pršut and kraški sir with a glass of Teran wine or enjoying a comforting bowl of jota, the culinary traditions of Kras offer a delicious taste of Slovenian culture and hospitality.

Slovenia. Kras. Teran 

Yes, it’s about wine again. We have already mentioned Slovenian wine Teran several times. What is it? Slovenian Terane is a unique and distinctive red wine made primarily from the indigenous Teran grape variety. It is predominantly produced in the Kras region of Slovenia, as well as in parts of neighboring Croatia and Italy. 

Here are some interesting aspects of Teran wine:

Indigenous Grape Variety: Teran is made from the grape variety Teran (Refosco grown in the red limestone soil of Kras), which is native to the karst landscape of the region. This grape is known for its thick skin, deep intense color and high mineral content, which contribute to the wine its characteristic intensity and bright lively taste. 

Health Benefits: Teran wine has gained attention for its potential health benefits, attributed to its high levels of iron, as well as polyphenols, particularly resveratrol. Polyphenols are antioxidants that have cardiovascular benefits and contribute to overall health. As a result, Teran wine is often touted for its potential to promote heart health and longevity. 

Distinctive Flavor Profile: Teran wine is known for its bold and robust flavor profile, characterized by notes of dark fruits such as blackberry and cherry, as well as earthy undertones and a pronounced minerality. It typically exhibits a firm tannic structure and lively acidity, making it well-suited for aging. 

Traditional Winemaking Techniques: Traditional winemaking techniques are often employed in the production of Teran wine, including extended maceration and aging in oak and limestone barrels. These methods help to extract maximum flavor and color from the grape skins while preserving the wine’s natural freshness and acidity.

Protected Designation of Origin: In Slovenia, Teran wine is protected by the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which ensures that only wines produced from Teran grapes grown in specific geographical areas and made according to strict quality standards can be labeled as Teran. This designation underscores the wine’s unique regional identity and heritage.

Food Pairing: Teran wine pairs exceptionally well with a variety of dishes, particularly those with rich and savoury flavours. It is often enjoyed alongside hearty meat dishes such as grilled steak, game meats, and aged cheeses. Its lively acidity and bold flavors also make it a refreshing and versatile choice for pairing with traditional Slovenian cuisine.

Teran wine is a beloved symbol of the Kras region’s winemaking tradition and cultural heritage, celebrated for its distinctive flavor, health benefits, and close connection to the unique terroir of the karst landscape. 

This wine is made in every village and every home. And of course, everyone believes his Teran is the best in Kras. But no one says this out loud. Otherwise, can you imagine what’s going to happen here? 

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