Sunday, 9 August 2015

To Winnica Jakubów - for Poland's finest wine

A few weeks ago, Moni visited a Polish wine festival in Łódź. She'd tried a few wines - and came across one that really impressed her. To the extent that she spent 67 złotys of her student income on a single bottle - one she brought home to Jeziorki. Hibernal 2014, by Winnica Jakubów, a dry white. We tried it the same night after chilling it accordingly.

I must say this was among the best three wines I've tasted over the past decade (the other two being a Chilean Pinot Noir from Casillero del Diablo, the other being the first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region I tried, Oyster Bay).

So impressed was I that I wrote to the the owner of Winnica Jakubów, asking where I could buy this outstanding wine. He wrote back saying I should visit the winery - which I did. I rode 1,300km from Warsaw to Głogów and back on my motorbike, taking two days to get there and two days to get back, taking a back-roads route, passing Łowicz, Łęczyca, Sieradz, Krotoszyn, Rawicz and Kalisz on the way.

Three wines from Jakubów won medals. The semi-sweet Solaris won gold medal among the white wines, the Hibernal (related to Riesling) won bronze. Jakubów's rosé won gold in the rosé category.

Jakubów is in the west of Poland; if you draw a line from Wrocław to Poznań, it's to the left of that line. Near Głogów, near Polkowice - copper country, with lots of KGHM mines dotted around the landscape, which is hilly, not the flatlands of the Polish plains. This was Germany before WWII, but Polish centuries before that. The Wzgórza Dałkowskie rise up to 230m above sea level between the Odra and Szprotawa rivers. And on these sunny uplands I find the south-facing slopes on which the Pajdosz family has planted three hectares of grapes, near the village of Jakubów.

The secret of the wines that come from Jakubów is partly the terroir - the vineyards are ringed by the woods of a nature reserve, haunted by birds of prey that keep the starlings off the grapes. There are three horse-riding stables nearby; manure from the horses is the only fertiliser used. It is also the intense dedication of the owners, hard-working perfectionists, determined to create the best wines possible. One grape plant produces but 300cl of the sweet wine.

Below: in the cool of the tasting cellar, out of the roasting heat outside. Nearly all of what Jakubów produces is snapped up by canny restaurateurs. I literally bought the last three bottles of last year's Hibernal; the gold medal-winning rosé has sold out. I tried several whites, all of which impressed, not a single dull taste. The climate ensures the right balance between acidity and sweetness. Too much sun = too sweet, not enough complexity. This is one of Planet Earth's most northerly vineyards, at 51 degrees, 36 minutes North.

As well as whites and rosés, Jakubów produces a fruity red using a Moldovan grape variety with red pulp and a characteristic cherry note. It is refreshing and fun. Production from last year was limited to just these three oak barrels (the oak makes a noticeable difference to the less-exclusive reds that mature in stainless steel vats).

Jakubów itself is certainly worth a visit. With five buildings listed in the national heritage register, including the 14th Century church with a holy well (below). The church of St James bears the symbol of the scallop shell, for it is on the pilgrims' route from Głogów to Santiago de Compostela. The church itself looks quite English, does it not? The brick-built 19th C. bell-tower (not in shot) is more Germanic in character. German viticulture existed around Zielona Góra (then Grünberg in Schlesien), and even in communist-era Poland, white wine was produced around here. The Jakubów vineyard, however, is a very much 21st-Century venture, making the most of what nature brings to this region.

Below: the palace ruins at Jakubów, destroyed by the Red Army in February 1945. Three months later, the village was under Polish administration. There's a wealth of historical information about the village, the church and the place here (in Polish and German). Horse-riding is another attraction that Jakubów offers. However, as of now, there's no bed-and-breakfast (agroturystyka) facilities in the village, but nearby Głogów does have a couple of hotels.

I bought as much wine as I could - just three bottles of Hibernal. Production of the 2014 vintage was limited to 270 bottles - so I have over 1% of the total! Not one to be stowed away for any length of time, as it will begin to go off in two-three years' time. But - fingers crossed - this season will be a good one, with plenty of sun right into October. "A week's sunshine in October is worth a month's sunshine in summer," is the saying. And the Pajdosz family have bought three more hectares on an adjacent plot, and will be preparing to plant grapes there next season.

Given that the very first Polish wine I tried was so utterly excellent, I must try to hunt down some more. Because production is small-scale, there are no cooperatives bulk-buying second- and third-rate grapes to mix together to make cheap plonk. And because the climate is colder, with late frosts into May, and early frosts from October, the fruit imparts unique qualities to the wine. The best Polish wines are made by people who care intensely about the quality of their produce. It is neither cheap, nor easy to get hold of. But it is definitely worth exploring further.

The more I dig deeper into Poland there more I find there is to be discovered. This is partly because there's so much off the beaten track (Warsaw-Kraków/Zakopane-Sopot), so much of it takes ages to get too, so little is available in English-language guidebooks, and so few Poles themselves know their own country well.

But this is changing. Infrastructure investments are opening up Poland and shortening journey times. What used to take four-and-half hours now takes two hours. The internet offers access to new information that otherwise would not see the light of day. And Most importantly, Poles are seizing the opportunities that a free-market democracy offers. Find a business opportunity - and tourism is a huge one - work hard at it and pass on a growing family firm, confident that it won't get expropriated by the State.

All over rural Poland the miracle is taking hold. In years to come, Poland as a tourist destination will offer varied and fascinating offerings for enthusiasts seeking to discover something truly new and original.

This time last year:
Eat Polish apples, drink Polish cider

This time two years ago:
Hottest week ever (37C likely to be beaten this week)

This time three years ago:
Progress along the second line of the Warsaw Metro (now a normal part of city life)

This time four years ago:
Doric arches, ul. Targowa

This time five years ago:
A place in the country, everyone's ideal

This time eight years ago:
I must go down to the sea again


Alexander said...

I am surprised you never tried a Polish wine before. Equipment for making wine is available in many shops, like Tesco.
My Warsaw inlaws had a long tradition of making their own wines. They had a garden near Kanie, south of Warsaw.
Qualities differ by family member. Something to do with patience. -))
Best regards,

Neighbour said...


Proszę bardzo: selling their own wine of Dom Bliskowice, some 10 kilometres north of Annopol, in Małopolski Przełom Wisły.
The shop, with some finest Burgundy wines, is located on ulica Wileńska in Warsaw.

Best regards,

John Savery said...

I've visited Winnica Milosz in Laz, east of Zielona Gora on at least 3 occassions. Their Pinot Noir was very nice and drinkable. Like Jakubow, it's in the former wine producing area, and is a relatively small vineyard. It's also slighlty further north.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ John Savery

Worth creating a Sideways-style tour map around Poland's best vineyards! Would be great to visit a few in an afternoon :-)

@ Neighbour - will check it out. Worth knowing which wine shops in Warsaw sell Polish wines.

Anonymous said...

I understand there are serious tax/duty impediments constraining the growth of the Polish wine industry?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anon

The problem is not with the level of the duty charged on a bottle of wine, but with the way it is collected - using the 'banderola' or excise band. In theory, every winery should have an excise duty clerk present for eight hours each working day; banderolas should be delivered to wineries in armoured cars (!). In practice, the nearest excise duty clerk is in Głogów, and he had to be trained by the wine-makers, as the local Urząd Celny hadn't a clue before. I'm sure wine-makers in Greece, Sicily, Corsica or Cyprus don't have any of these problems :-)

Ian Wilcock said...


We vistid this region but couldn't get to Jakubow on the day we were there. Instead we found another vineyard, Julia in Stary Kisielin, whose owner took us for a tour and talk about wine production in Poland. The wine was really very good and we bought a few to enjoy over the summer. As you said there is no way to buy this other than visit so we may have to head off to the Bacchanalia in September to which the owner invited us to replenish supplies.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Ian

I'm delighted you visited the area and found another good vineyard! I shall definitely be back this summer. Great stuff!