The past and the future of Polish winemaking

via Dawid Lipiec

Wine-making in Poland, although today it still seems something new and unusual for northern Europe, has traditions that go back to medieval times. Here is how its fascinating history took shape. 

A brief history of winemaking in Poland

The origins of winemaking in Poland date back to the adoption of Christianity in 966, when wine became an integral part of the religious liturgy. Initially, wine was imported from neighbouring countries, but over time the first vineyards began to be established, mainly in southern Poland.

The period from the 12th to the 15th century was the golden age of winemaking in Poland. Many documents from that time attest to the existence of numerous vineyards throughout Poland at that time. Reminders of these times include such place names as Winnica, Winiary, Winna Góra, etc. However, from the 16th century onwards, winemaking in Poland began to decline. Climatic changes contributed to this, i.e. the so-called Little Ice Age, which introduced a colder climate unfavourable for the cultivation of vines. The development of road infrastructure at the time made it easier to import cheaper wines from southern Europe, and in addition, the numerous conflicts and historical turmoil that haunted Poland at the time were not conducive to the development of professional winemaking.

Today, the city most associated with wine in Poland is, of course, Zielona Góra. Although it was not part of Poland for a long time, it had been known for its wine production since the Middle Ages. In the 18th and 19th centuries, wines from the area gained international recognition, and the wine tradition was nurtured there for centuries. The area of vineyards in and around Grunberg alone was almost the same as the area of vineyards in the whole of present-day Poland!

VineyardLidl VineyardLidl

On the other hand, a famous wine region that was gaining fame in the Second Polish Republic was Zaleszczyki. The town, located on the Dniester River, is today part of Ukraine, but it was one of the few places in interwar Poland where vines were grown on a larger scale. Very favourable climatic conditions were conducive to this. The wines produced in Zaleszczyki were highly regarded and were an important part of the local economy.

The communist era and the lack of vineyards in Poland

The period of the People's Republic of Poland was a time of stagnation for Polish winemaking. Wines imported from Eastern Bloc countries were cheaper and more available, and viticulture was almost completely neglected.

The stagnation of Polish winemaking came to an end in the 1980s, when Roman Mysliwiec decided to revive the wine-making tradition in Poland. Thanks to his initiative, the first modern vineyards were established, and the knowledge of winemaking began to be gathered anew and passed on to the next generation of winemakers. Thanks to figures such as Roman Myśliwiec and the passion of many enthusiasts, Polish winemaking began to flourish anew, referring to centuries-old traditions and adapting to contemporary wine trends.

Polish wine regions

Polish winemaking, although relatively young compared to that of the world, has a number of distinct wine regions with a unique, though still being clarified, character.

At the forefront is the Lubuskie region, centred around Zielona Góra, where wine-making traditions are still nurtured and recreated. In turn, Krosno Odrzańskie, located nearby, is called the capital of Polish sparkling wines, thanks to the excellent conditions for their production. The main strains that dominate the region are vitis vinifera such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, as well as hybrid strains such as Regent and Solaris. The Lubuskie region is characterised by the largest acreage of vineyards and the largest amount of riesling plantings.

The Lower Silesia region, located in the vicinity of Wrocław and the picturesque Trzebnica Hills, is also a region with a long wine tradition. Varietals such as Pinot Noir, Riesling and Solaris predominate here. The vineyards are often located on hills, which provide excellent conditions for growing grapes. Next to Lubuskie, this is the region with the highest production of pinot noir.

Slightly to the east is the Małopolska region, with, among others, the famous Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska region. Known for its picturesque landscapes and favourable conditions for viticulture, Solaris, Seyval Blanc or Johanniter varieties dominate here. Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska, located on limestone subsoil, is a sub-region that produces repeatable wines with a very distinctive, mineral character.

The Podkarpackie wine region is characterised by vineyards in hilly areas, often overlooking the Bieszczady Mountains. Hybrid varietals such as muscaris, regent and rondo are prevalent here, and the region's winemaking history has rich roots, although it has experienced a real renaissance since the 1980s.

The Małopolski Przełom Wisły (Lesser Poland Gorge of the Vistula), today increasingly referred to as the Kazimierski Przełom Wisły (Kazimierski Gorge of the Vistula), is another region with a rich history, benefiting from the favourable microclimate of the Vistula Valley. Varietals such as riesling or johanniter or hibernal are found here. Most vineyards are concentrated around Kazimierz and Sandomierz.

Finally, it is worth noting the vineyards scattered across the rest of Poland. At least several vineyards can be found in every province today. Particularly outstanding are the vineyards in the Zachodniopomorskie Voivodship, Wielkopolska and the area around Łódź. The variety of varietals and soils in these regions is impressive, and the innovative approach of the winemakers gives hope for further development of Polish winemaking.

The best Polish wines

There are wines being made in Poland that are gaining recognition. Here is an overview of a few of them:

WHITE ROCKS VINEYARD - PINOT NOIR 2021 A classic of the genre in a Polish release. Pinot Noir from the White Rocks Vineyard reveals delicacy and elegance. Aromas of cherries, raspberries and subtle spices combined with balanced acidity and velvety tannins make this wine almost perfect. Winner of the Golden Cork in the red wine category of the Polish Corks 2023 competition!

MARGARET VINEYARD - BLASK STO EXTRA DRY RIESLING 2021 Riesling extra dry from Margaret Vineyard is the essence of freshness. The nose is dominated by notes of green apple, lime and field flowers. In the mouth, the wine is lively and full of energy with a mineral finish, making it a perfect match with fish dishes. Bronze Cork in the category of sparkling wines produced using the classic method in the Polish Corks 2023 competition.

SAGANUM WINERY - SOUVIGNIER GRIS 2021 The unusual Souvignier Gris varietal is on full display here. The wine offers rich aromas of white fruit, pear and lilac blossoms. The mouthfeel is full-bodied, with a creamy texture and subtle acidity that gives a long, satisfying finish.

SAGANUM WINERY - SOVINIER 2022, made from grapes dried on straw mats, is a combination of intense honey, fruit and herbal notes with well-integrated acidity. The wine is sweet, yet fresh and complex. Golden Cork in the sweet wine category of the Polish Corks 2023 competition.

TURNAU WINE - ROSE 2022 is like a Polish summer encased in a bottle. Aromas of strawberries, redcurrants and wild rose make this wine extremely refreshing, yet multidimensional and elegant. In the mouth, we feel a good balance between sweetness and acidity. Golden Cork in the rosé wine category of the Polish Corks 2023 competition.

BARCZENTEWICZ - CHARDONNAY BETON 2021 Chardonnay Beton is a unique approach to a classic varietal. Through fermentation and maturation over lees in concrete eggs, the wine gains structure and depth without losing the mineral character resulting from the local terroir. The bouquet is dominated by aromas of apple, quince and flowers. In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied, with good acidity and a long, mineral finish.

Trends in Polish winemaking

Polish winemaking, although relatively young compared to the global wine scene, is assimilating new trends and striving for excellence in its categories at a rapid pace. Several trends are clearly shaping the face of contemporary Polish winemaking.

First and foremost, sparkling wines made using the traditional method are gaining in popularity. This technique, also known as the Champagne method, involves a second fermentation of the wine directly in the bottle. What's more, producers are also increasingly opting for wines made using the ancient method, or so-called pét-nats (pétillant naturel), which are fermented only once, giving a wilder, livelier and more unpredictable effervescence, and other methods such as the Merret method or carbonation.

Another noticeable trend is orange wines - that is, white wines made with longer contact with the skins. Such wines offer a distinctive structure and complex flavours, often resembling red wines while retaining the freshness of whites.

In parallel, due to the good conditions and small acreage of vineyards, natural wines are becoming increasingly popular. These are wines produced with little or no added sulphites or other additives, fermented with wild yeasts and often unfiltered. They are characterised by a more authentic flavour profile that is appreciated by many wine lovers.

Today's wineries are growing older generation hybrids less and less, focusing instead on modern hybrids and vinifera, or traditional European grape varieties. This results in an increasing quality of wines and demonstrates the ambition of Polish winemakers to produce world-class wines.

The phenomenon of professionalisation in Polish winemaking is also extremely important. Modern wineries are investing in modern equipment, educating themselves and learning from the best foreign specialists. Many young winemakers choose to study or do their apprenticeships abroad, bringing valuable experience back to Poland.

The ever-improving level of wines is also the result of winemakers' knowledge, increasingly older vines, a better understanding of the local terroir and skilful selection of suitable varietals. Winemakers increasingly understand their soils, climate and habitat specifics, which allows them to produce wines of unique character.

Do Polish wines stand a chance on the global market?

The answer is definitely yes, but it still requires a lot of work in perfecting wine production, professionalising and promoting wines abroad.

It should be noted that in recent decades, due to a warming climate, we have seen the limit of suitable conditions for viticulture shift towards the north. Regions that were once too cool for wine production, such as Poland, are now becoming more vine-friendly. Due to the cooler climate compared to traditional wine regions, Polish labels are often characterised by exceptional freshness, soaring acidity and aromatics, which are highly sought after by today's wine consumers. Moreover, Poland brings a fresh approach to winemaking. The young generation of winemakers, who were often educated abroad, bring modern techniques and approaches to the country, while combining them with the tradition and authenticity of the native terroir. Polish winemaking has the potential to be seen as innovative, experimental and bold.

The narrative is also important. The history, culture and individual stories of small producers add value to each bottle of wine. Consumers are no longer just concerned with taste, but also with the story behind the product, authenticity, and feeling a connection to the place and the people who created the bottle.

Prospects for the future of Polish winemaking

Polish winemaking, although it has its roots in the distant past, is currently experiencing a renaissance. The innovation, passion and determination of Polish winemakers are contributing to the development of the sector and could make Poland quite an exciting player on the European wine scene in the future. The future of Polish Wine could be influenced by factors such as:

  • Changing climate: Global warming may bring benefits to viticulture in Poland, enabling the cultivation of increasingly demanding varietals and the production of stylistically diverse wines. However, it should be borne in mind that climate change does not only mean higher temperatures, but also greater risks for vine growers (heavier and more violent rainfall, hail and very dangerous spring frosts)
  • Education and skill development: More and more Polish winemakers are gaining international experience and educating themselves at renowned oenological schools. Education and exchange of experience with the international wine community will certainly contribute to improving the quality of Polish wines.
  • Development of wine tourism: Wineries are becoming attractive places for tourists to visit, offering not only tastings but also local cultural attractions. Wine festivals, competitions and tastings are also becoming increasingly popular. The development of oenotourism is becoming an important source of income for wineries and is enabling them to develop, grow and professionalise.
  • Uniqueness and diversity: Polish wines can stand out from the global competition thanks to their unique character and the choice of appropriate wine styles (e.g. natural, sparkling, orange wines).
  • Government and organisational support: Government support in the form of tax breaks, subsidies or promotion abroad can significantly accelerate the development of the sector. In addition, industry organisations and associations can play a key role in shaping the standards and promotion of Polish winemaking.
  • Difficulties on the market: Polish wines have to compete with imported wines, which are often cheaper and already well established on the market. To break this trend, Polish winemakers need to focus on quality, authenticity and effective promotion.

Summary

In conclusion, the prospects for Polish winemaking are very promising, but require commitment, investment and a long-term vision. Combined with the passion and determination of Polish winemakers, we have a chance for a permanent place on the international wine scene.

We encourage you to familiarise yourself with with a wide range of Polish wines in the Rafa-Wino shopwhich we strive to develop regularly!

See also other articles

Leave a comment

The website uses cookies. By using the site, you consent to the use of cookies. Accept Find out more