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The 400-year Old Vine of Maribor

A living monument to wine growing

Slovenia is a wine growing country, producing red and white wines of high quality, with a history that can be traced back to Celts and Romans. The documents of the Benedictine Monastery from St.Paul in Carinthia dating back to 1091, are the first evidence of wine growing in the area around Maribor, the second largest city of Slovenia, and the capital of the Štajerska region. Maribor was the centre of lively wine trade in the Middle Ages, which contributed to its increasing growth and prosperity.


In the old city centre, on the banks of the river Drava, the visitor to Maribor can see an amazing sight - the extraordinary ancient vine, called by the Mariborcani simply "stara trta"- the Old Vine. Along the frontage of the long solid two-storey town house, facing the majestically flowing, serene Drava River. Planted in the center of the building, near the main entrance is the grapevine - the visitor will learn that the stalk is 81 cm in circumference in its widest part.

Its great age - 400 years - has been subject to disbelief, suspicion and investigation. Finally enough evidence was gathered to leave no doubt. "stara trta" na Lof Maribor will appear in the next issue of the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest vine in Europe. The enthusiasts would like it to be the oldest in the world, but that evidence would be next to impossible to collect.


The 400 year Old Vine of Maribor

Grape harvest has become a great folk festival


The origins of the wine is guaranteed
by the Maribor seal of the year 1520
and by the city winedresser


According to the archival data of the Provincial Archives in Maribor the house in the Vojašniška ulica No. 8 was built as early as the 16* century and since then had not undergone any major architectural changes. The evidence for the "Old Vine" is provided by two paintings depicting Maribor, dated 1657 and 1681, which are kept in the Styrian Regional Archives Graz and in the Regional Museum in Maribor. Both paintings show distinctly a pergola with grapevine spread over the entire south facade of the house to the right of the town gate. It is clear from this evidence that in 1657 the Old Vine was at least 100 years old.


The venerable age of the Old Vine was further confirmed by specialist measurements carried out in 1972 by Prof. Dr. Rihard Erker, a dendrologist from the Forestry Department of the Biotechnical Faculty in Ljubljana. With the help of the method of sounding (boreholes) and a microscope Erker counted the annual rings and established that the Old Vine was at least 350 years old, possibly 400 years. Due to the rotten centre of the medulla of several centimeters he could not determine the age more precisely.
The above-mentioned proofs of the great age of more than 400 years suggest that the Old Vine on Lent in Maribor may be the oldest fine grapevine not only in Europe, but possibly in the world.

The yearly yield of the grape "modra kavcina", one of the oldest naturalized fine types of vine in Slovenia, during the last decade has been on the average 35 to 55kg, from which up to 100 bottles of wine are pressed. The grape harvesting has become a great tradition and a yearly festival attracting huge crowds as well as dignitaries from all the European countries. Cutting the grapes, crushing them with a wooden winepress, the weighing of grapes and establishing the sugar level are now all part of the grape harvest ritual, performed by men in traditional Slovenian garb, with humor, gusto and dedication to the merry strains of authentic village polka bands.

After surviving almost four centuries, The Old vine on Lent was severely threatened in our time, in fact, it nearly died.

Due to the increased water level of the Drava River- the building of the power station in 1968 resulted in the ground-water level increasing to the area of the roots - the Old Vine began to wither quickly. Irregular tending and care as well as the extremely neglected environment on Lent also contributed to the decay of the Old Vine.

On the initiative of the Institute for the Protection of the Natural and Cultural Heritage in Maribor the City Community of Maribor issued a special decree in 1981 with which it protected the Old Vine. In the same year a group of experts began the rescue. They cut off the dead side parts of the grapevine stem and other dry parts. After a few years of painstaking care the Old Vine began showing signs of re-growth and re-development. It was pruned so that only very short tendrils were left. Such pruning encouraged the realization of tiny dead roots on the bank of the Drava River where the root hairs have water, warmth and air essential for growth. The Old Vine began to spread again over the facade of the renovated house and the pergola, gaining in vigour and yielding the first bunches of grapes.
Since that wonderful recovery the yearly pruning has become a public event. Some hundred people gather to observe the expert, Tone Zafošnik, who is responsible for The Old Vine, at work. Hobby winegrowers take grafts of the Old Vine and plant them next to their houses and in gardens.


Plying an ancient craft

The city of Maribor gives grafts as presents to other towns or communities as a sign of friendship and co-operation. Together with the graft the recipient also gets a Certificate of Originality.

Specially designed bottles of "modra kavcina" are at mayor's disposal and used mainly for protocol. A Certificate with a serial number and the vintage year accompanies each bottle. The copy of the issued Certificate with the name of the recipient is kept in the city archives. Pope John Paul and the USA President Bill Clinton have been recipients of this unique wine in its elegant container on their nineties' state visits.

Aleksandra Ceferin, Thezaurus (Melbourne 2001)

From: Jože Zafošnik, Four Hundred Year Old Vine in Maribor (Maribor, 1996)
Photo: Aleksandra Ceferin