STA, 8 November 2019 - Considering themselves a nation of wine lovers, Slovenians will celebrate St Martin's Day throughout this weekend. Every year, thousands turn out at public celebrations, while many wine makers throw their own parties and nearly all cooks in the country serve a traditional dinner of goose, red cabbage and mlinci, a flatbread speciality.
St Martin's Day, observed on 11 November, is arguably one of the most party-dense weekends in Slovenia. And being the day when, in folk tradition, grape juice turns into wine, it is always accompanied by police warnings against drunk driving.
The biggest public celebration will be held in Maribor, which prides itself on its wine-making tradition, on Monday, when 20,000 people are expected to gather in the city centre.
Between today and Monday, a variety of events featuring wine, food and music will take place across the country, even in regions where wine making is not a tradition. In Kranj, for example, a wine tour takes participants into the ancient catacombs under the city.
Ptuj in the northeast will also hold a number of events over the weekend and on Monday. Here St Martin's Day is not merely a day when juice turns into wine, but also the start of carnival celebrations, which will culminate in late February with the biggest carnival party in the country.
Meanwhile, many vineyard owners and winemakers will hold their own parties for friends and family. By tradition, these also feature a priest, or somebody dressed up as priest, blessing the barrels of young wine.
A dinner of roast goose, red cabbage and mlinci, a softened dry flatbread, is served at these parties, but also at low-key family meals in the days around St Martin's Day.
This year's wine harvest produced around 66 million litres of wine, some 30% less then last year. The harvest was very good nonetheless, as 2018 was an exceptionally good year in terms of quantity.
Slovenian wine makers can be relatively optimistic despite the additional demands put on them by the weather this year. Despite interchangeable spells of warm and dry weather, the quality of wine is satisfactory, Dušan Brejc, the head of the Slovenian Wine Company, an association of winemakers, has told the STA.
"Those who make their living with grapes and winemaking have made such a giant leap in know-how that they manage to meet all the demands to produce healthy grapes even in demanding circumstances," said Brejc.
The output of Slovenian vineyards in terms of quantity is moderate, which means that winemakers are building above all on quality, with the bigger ones focusing on export.
In the past five years, winemakers have started exporting more to China, which has allowed an increase in price of wine, while the US remains a key export market.
While import of wine was on the increase until 2016, there has now been a slight drop in imports. "Most of the imported wine is in the lower price range, the production of which Slovenian winemakers have abandoned," said Brejc.
Slovenian winemakers, like their peers all over the world, face climate change challenges and will need to adapt to demands for lower pesticide use, according to Brejc.
"New varieties will be introduced, more resilient to some diseases. We could predict that Slovenia will face rather big changes in terms of weather predictability in the next ten years," he said, adding that a lower use of pesticides will drive the demand for more manual labour in vineyards.
The wine is blessed by some comedy religious figures before it becomes wine