The Old Vine House, built in the 16th Century, is apart from being a hotspot of wine tradition and culture of Maribor, Styria and Slovenia, an exceptional event room offering wine tasting of excellent wines from the Styria region. About this Slovenian gem, which also offers space for business events and for incentives, we talked to Tina Heinrih, the Head of the Old Vine House in Maribor.
Q: How does the Old Vine House compliment Maribor’s life? How important is it for Maribor?
In my opinion, the Old Vine House is very important for the city of Maribor. It is a unique place dedicated to the Oldest Vine in the world, with an exhibition place, wine shop, a venue for different events and also a tourist information centre. It is the most popular attraction in Maribor, with around 60.000 visitors in 2017. Since it is open every day in a year, here one can always count on a good, friendly atmosphere, excellent wine (conversations) and the very special feeling of spending time in the company of the world`s oldest vine.
Q: The Old Vine House has a rich and interesting history. Could you tell us more about it?
The building dates back to the mid-16th century and it used to be a part of the city wall. In medieval times it suffered from several natural disasters, such as fires, floods, and earthquakes. But the hardships did not stay in the past and nature was not the only enemy, as the building also survived the world wars, especially the heavy bombing during WWII, which partially demolished it. Before the restoration of the house and the opening of the restaurant in 1982, it was mostly used as living quarters. The restaurant was short lived and in 2007 the house was re-established as we know it today, the Old Vine House.
Q: What about the history of the Oldest Vine in the World?
The Old Vine (variety Žametna črnina – “velvety black”) was allegedly planted in late 16th century. Its first depictions go back to a painting from the year 1657, where the Vine is clearly visible climbing the front of the House. It is estimated that the Vine could be at least 100 years old even then. The challenges it faced through its long life are many, some of which we already described above. But the Vine braved through even when the House was partly in ruins, which might be in some part due to very specific micro-climate of the Vine. It was thanks to the fact that the roots of the Vine extend all the way to Drava river, that the Vine managed to survive another dangerous predator – the Vine louse, which infected and ruined almost all the vineyards in Europe. However, when Drava rose over its banks, the roots started to flood, and it would’ve been the end of the Old Vine if not for very capable team of Tone Zafošnik and the Faculty of Agriculture, that through extensive care and careful cutting managed to bring the Vine back to its former glory. The Vine bore fruit again and the first ceremonial harvest took place in 1987, also the year the Vine’s first descendants were planted.
Q: There is also a wine shop and a winery where it is possible to taste wines from the Styrian region. What about the wine made out of the grapes from the Oldest Vine? Is it possible to taste it?
In the wine shop, we are offering excellent wines made by local producers (with international success), which we also offer for wine tastings. At the moment, our wine shop boasts of 165 very best wines from the Slovenian Styria region! Unfortunately, the wine made from the Oldest Vine is not possible to taste. It is very precious; the amount is very limited and it is used as the protocol gift of the city. However, there is a great comfort to that – wine of the first descendants of the Old Vine, available also in our wine shop.
Q: Could you describe how this wine, called »Žametovka« or also »Modra Kavčina« looks and tastes like?
The colour is a clear, pale red with purple hues. It is a low aromatic variety, the taste is mellow and fruity with a primary aroma of raspberries, but not very intense. It has lively acids and it is most commonly used in sparkling wines and cuveés.
Q: There are many events held in and around the Old Vine House. Could you describe a few?
The most important events to honour the Oldest Vine in the world are:
At the same time, we want to bring the events, dedicated to the world`s Oldest Wine, to a higher, international level, meaning inviting winemaker from around the world not only to make a tribute to the Old Lady, but also to actively participate in the programme of the annual Old Vine Festival.
Q: It is estimated that in the past decade since it has been renovated, more than half-a-million people visited the Old Vine House. What do they like the most about it?
The number of visitors is growing every year and so is the recognition of the Old Vine and the Old Vine House throughout the world. Visitors are the most impressed with the story of the Old Vine and the diverse collection of excellent local wines available for tasting. They are also impressed by the beautiful floor mosaic symbolising the river Drava, which flows through the House.
Q: What kind of guests/visitors come to the Old Vine House?
We host every kind of visitors, from travelers, groups to business guests. Mostly (around 77 %) our visitors are from foreign countries (the most common visitors are from Austria, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Russia, and Taiwan), but of course, also the locals like to come and visit the house, especially when they have guests from abroad.
Q: The Old Vine House also offers unique gifts. Which one is your favourite that you would recommend for a business guest to get?
Yes, in the House we sell unique gifts and souvenirs telling the story of the Oldest Vine in the world. My favourite gift for business guests would be the bottle of wine from the two descendants of the Old Vine growing on both sides of the Old Lady and the special jewellery made of her leaves.
Q: As the Old Vine House works as an exceptional event room, how much space it can offer for business events?
The Old Vine House is a special venue that can host up to 60 guests. We are organizing and hosting many events in the house during the year. The uniqueness of the world’s oldest wine, located in the old town core of Slovenia`s second biggest city, spiced up by excellent wine in food creations and the notorious hospitality of the locals, definitely results in the uniqueness of the event itself. This year, we held a (catering & cultural) event in front of the Old Vine House for the guests of the Slovenian Incoming Workshop.
Q: If there are incentive programmes on offer, how do they look like?
Incentive programmes are available on demand. We organize special events for groups. For instance, an event can include a top culinary experience along with excellent wines from the region and diverse cultural programme that ranges from folklore to high culture. Our programme is prepared individually based on client preferences.
Recently we hosted international assembly of SIW guests. For them we prepared an outdoor dinner. Venue was in front of the Old Vine house, so that guests were in direct touch whit the oldest grapevine in the world. Dinner was prepared by the Michelin star chef whose creations reflected the history of the Old Vine. Wines to accompany food were selected by our sommeliers. Each plate was presented along with a story from a piece of history of the Old Vine. For the first part of the evening we chose a trio that has more classic music repertoire, for second part we chose instrumental trio that has ethno roc-pop repertoire. The guests were absolutely impressed by the location, programme and culinary experience.
Q: What are the future plans for the Old Vine House?
We plan to renew and upgrade our exhibitions to satisfy even the most curious and demanding visitors and to put even more emphasis on the Old Vine and its story.
The Old Vine House is a must see in Maribor, now it is time to become a must see in Slovenia and to attract from worldwide all lovers of wine (making). Alongside we`ll be continuing with the development of wine- and cuisine-related products or programmes, as for example this year`s novelties Maribor Culinary Trail and Maribor Wine Trail. This kind of products we give the opportunity to our visitors to get the “full package”: to enjoy food in the best city restaurant, taste excellent wine and get to know the city, its sights, friendly people, and nature right in the vicinity.