It is grape season in Primorska [near the sea]. The air is sticky sweet with sun warmed juice, tractors snail from the vineyards hauling loads of grapes and vats of juice, chatting and laughing rises from between the rows and entire families and close friends spend gloriously sweet days picking grapes. Many hands make light work; but it is also a traditional event of working out side, easing the labor of a loved one, socializing while working, gathering around the table outside for a harvest lunch, and enjoying the wine of your labors the rest of the year."Spoiled grapes" In some vineyards it was not a good year for grapes. Some of the hillsides had hail the size of eggs destroying much of the crop. Some bunches were full and sweet on the protected side but on the outside bruised and dried like raisins. In addition there was a lot of rain followed by high temperatures. Disease grows rapidly in these conditions and if the grower is not able to spray within an hour of the rain the mold is unstoppable. "Picking in Vogrsko"
Each grower has his own style of picking. Some who have larger vineyards tell us to cut the bunches and not worry about trimming out the dried parts, but others ask us to cut out every bit of the bad and only put the sweetest berries in the bucket [they call the single grape jagoda meaning strawberry]. Trimming every bad spot in the vineyard is a tediously slow process, but makes for lots of time for conversation. "Svetinje"
We traveled this week to Prlekija above the Pannonian plain, in eastern Slovenia on the Hungarian and Croatian borders, to visit the villages and vineyards there. Picking has not really begun yet so the vines were still heavy with grapes. The vineyards look so different because they are tended in different ways. The soil in Primorska is rocky and nothing grows under the terraced vines that follow the contour of the hillside. But in Prlekija the paths between the vines are grass, the vines are trimmed very close to the support wires [maybe to make it easier for machine harvest] and some of the vines run vertical on the hills as well as long twisting ribbons of green. "Jeruzalem"
In Prlekija there seem to be fewer villages on the top of hillsides, but small church communities. We stayed in Jeruzalem [pop. 55] named by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem who brought the image of the Lamenting Madonna here on their return from a crusade to the Holy Land. The Knights were a Christian organization who built a hospital on the site of the monastery of St. John the Baptist in Jerusalem in1080 to provide care for sick and injured pilgrims to the Holy Land. In 1099 they were charged with defense of the Holy Land, and along with the Knights Templar, were one of the most powerful crusade organizations fighting the Muslims. When the Muslims expelled the Christians from Jerusalem in the 13th century the Knights were given land on this ridge in Slovenia where the Benedictine brothers built a chapel and church community. The current church was built in the 16th century. Now the monastery buildings have been converted into a lovely hotel. "View from Jeruzalem" We of course came up with our own fractured history: Richard the Chicken Hearted grudgingly started out for the Holy Land kissing his mama goodbye and promising a souvenir on his return. After a torturous crossing of the Alps and then going up and down, and down and up again and again he decided that the view was pretty good from this hill top so he stopped and called it Jeruzalem. Now he could tell everyone that he made it safely to Jerusalem and sent mama a bottle of Rumeni Muškat for her souvenir. The amazing thing about both stories is the amount of traveling people did hundreds of years ago. We think we are so modern and global and we complain how tired we are from a 12 hour overseas flight. But these people traveled for years and were offered hospitality along the way and were somehow able to communicate along the journey and used trade to pay for everything.
For a country of only 2 million people and a land mass the size of northern Ohio the diversity is incredible. In this region of Prlekija the language does not even sound like Slovene. Our friends tell us that they can’t understand the language here and we certainly didn’t understand anything. In our area everyone speaks English and Italian, but in this area everyone speaks German and probably Hungarian too. We saw homes that had Hungarian influence, stork nests, Austrian castles and regional dishes are made with pumpkin oil and buckwheat. It feels like a different country.
Along our walk from Jeruzalem to Svetinje we followed the sound of the klopotec echoing throughout the valley. The clacking sounds of wood blocks striking wood are used to scare the birds away from the ripening grapes but to us it was the giggling sound of laughter which added even more joy to our adventure. "Klopotec"