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DECEMBER 2023/ UNDER THE TREE

INTRO


Nestled between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia lies the breathtaking mountains and forests of Slovenia.  This is a land that has been soaking up Slavic, Germanic, and Romance cultures for centuries as they have been annexed and re- annexed by different superpowers until their independence in 1991. What makes Slovenia feel different from her European neighbors who have all experienced their fair share of takeovers and coups, is that Slovenia never really had a chance to develop any national awareness to begin with.  Therefore after the Roman Republic, monarchical empires, and a socialist regime, Slovenia today is like a brand new nation still coming into adulthood and figuring out who they are.  One place where you can really see all the layers of their fascinating history is in their winter holiday celebrations.

 

Like most of Europe, Slovenes celebrate Christmas on December 25, as the majority of the population identifies as Catholic, but this is a relatively new holiday.  Christmas arrived into the Slovenian psyche at the turn of the 20th century by Germans, and was then abolished in 1953 when Slovenia became a socialist state under Federal Yugoslavia.  It was not until their independence in 1991 that Christmas started to make its way back onto the cultural calendar.  And when it did, it was joining two other similar celebrations: Miklavž (St. Nicholas) and Dedek Mraz (Grandpa Frost) which both have roots in pagan celebrations around the winter solstice.  These mythological figures (all bearing a resemblance to the assimilated Christian version, Santa Claus) were brought back into popularity during the socialist years as a means to celebrate the start of winter while maintaining the atheist principles of communism.  And when their communist era was over, these celebrations were so deeply rooted into the ways families and communities connected to one another that they all stayed.  It seems that Slovenia has learned to indoctrinate each new culture more into its identity rather than cancel them with every regime change, leaving Slovenia now with three bearded gift givers to ring in the winter season.  Popularly, it is believed that they are all friends, and towns and cities hold equally festive celebrations for each character.  Perhaps it is a very giving culture that welcomes more opportunities to give.


In honor of the holiday season, we have 2 wines from Bordon located in Istria, Slovenia.  We thought we would take a look into two lesser known (by Americans) local traditions of Miklavž and Dedek Mraz celebrated during this magical time of year in Slovenia.  Like wine, these pagan occasions reveal a connection to earthly events that inspire stories and rituals.  By visiting this time and place, we can better understand our own reasons for celebrating this time of year, and why gift giving and generosity has become the token of winter’s start.


THE PRODUCER

Bordon Wines,

Slovenia, Istria, Primorska, Dekani

 

Bordon Wines was founded in 1985 by Ivan Bordon in the Istrian Hills of Slovenia. Located near the Rizana River in Dekani, Bordon wine benefits from the moderate climate and the renowned Istrian Terra Rossa soils. These soils, rich with iron oxides and minerals, contribute such distinctive aromatic and flavor components to the wines of Slovenia. So much so that most winemakers pride themselves on working with varieties like Refosk and Muskat because of how boldly they express their place of origin. Over the past few decades, Ivan passed the winery operations onto his son Boris, who has since passed them on to his son Jan. With Jan at the helm, Bordon Winey and their wines have been certified biodynamic and organic as well as vegan. While most Slovenian vineyards exist inland, there is a 29 mile stretch of coastline that is pure paradise.

 

All vineyard work at Bordon is done by hand, and all winemaking happens with native yeasts. This means the wines remain connected to their family of microorganisms all throughout the winemaking process. With few sprays (and then, only organic) and minimal sulfites added in the winery, the Bordon wines have an ease of accessibility without sacrificing the artisanal stamp of craftsmanship. These are terroir driven wines. Through wine we travel.

 

 

WINE 1

Bordon Refosk

Grape: Refosk

 

Aged in stainless steel, this is an example of the dynamic range of the Refosk varietal. There is a certain wildness to the aromas and flavors of Refosk, but it can be tamed a bit and aged well in oak. Here we can experience a balanced expression that shows both the wild & slightly animal side of the grape, alongside something more subtle and nuanced. The strong, tannic flavor still gives room for black pepper and forest fruits on the nose. A still very under the radar varietal (in most places outside of Slovenia), Refosk blends in well with more international Varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Finding a single varietal expression like this is somewhat rare, and an excellent way to transport yourself to the Istrian coastline.

 

WINE 2

Bordon Amber Muskat,

Grape: Muskat

 

This is a very lively wine, both on the nose and palate. Muskat is one of those grapes that really wants to get to know you and is not shy about it. Sometimes wines from this grape hold onto some residual sugar to create a delicate sweetness to go with all the fireworks on the palate. Not this wine. Fermented to total dryness, the Bordon Amber Muskat is a mouthwatering sip of lemon/lime, party/time right in the mouth. With 14 days of skin contact, one can not only see the mesmerizing amber color, but the zing of acid and tannin on the palate is energizing, to say the least. And the hint of yeast and biscuit gives an assist to its versatility when it comes to food pairing. Why aren't more people making dry muskat?! Give this wine a chill.



MIKLAVŽ
St. Nicholas Day

Celebrated on December 6


Miklavž or St. Nicholas is the first of the three white bearded men to bring gifts and he kicks off the season with the message of generosity, reminding all that material wealth is far less important than bravery, sincerity, hard work, and respect.  This day is primarily a gift giving day for children, preceded by Miklavž fairs on December 5, where homemade goods are displayed and sold as small gifts for when children awake in the morning.  There are a few different customs that come with this fellow.  One is to put out five bowls on a table on St. Nicholas Day Eve.  If you have been “good” (or followed the tenets mentioned above) then in the morning the bowls would be filled with dried fruit, candy, honey cake, and small toys.  Breakfast would be made from the sweet treats and family activities would fill the day.  There is another custom of putting your shoes outside to be filled with treats in the morning.  Both versions seem to use the most basic items a person might have to equalize the economic differences between families and allow for the small pleasures to be enjoyed by all.  On Miklavž, there is also the chance to celebrate the “bad” through a devilish Krampus like figure named Parkelj who accompanies St. Nicholas in a parade preceding his feast.  During the parade, St. Nicholas slowly walks with his curled staff covered in flowers and a book of all the good children’s names while Parkelj scares children out of being bad and angels soothe them into being good.  Parkelj may also leave you coal, or switches, or hazel rods if you have been naughty.  It is a way of keeping St. Nicholas’s hands clean as an all loving figure.  He does not promote punishment for being bad, but he does not deny that bad things may happen to those who do not do good.  A Slovenian tourism site sums up the great gift giver this way:

“The greatest gift that Saint Nicholas brings to us is generosity. And generosity is the seed from which confidence and trust grow in children's hearts.”


As his name suggests, St. Nicholas is based on an actual bishop who existed in the third century of the Common Era.  He is known for many good deeds that helped those in poverty avoid the depths of humiliation and danger, mainly in order to save the lives of children.  His saint day is celebrated on December 6th.  Due to his affiliation with the Christian religion, his holiday was banished under the socialist leadership of Yugoslavia.  A new secular character was created in order to still allow gift giving to children during the darkest month of the year, and his name was Dedek Mraz.



DEDEK MRAZ
Grandpa Frost

Celebrated on New Year’s Eve, December 31


The earliest versions of all pagan myths are the darkest ones, revealing insight into the dangers that humans faced trying to survive on this planet.  Dedek Mraz is pictured as an old slender man with a long white beard dressed in a long blue, white, or red coat made out of sheepskin or fur.  He travels on a troika pulled by three white horses and carrying an evergreen tree.  His power is to turn water into ice and bring a deathly chill in a moment's notice.  Slovenians consider him to be a demon, but this does not necessarily mean he is evil, in fact his power can be very helpful.  In Slovenian mythology, the term demon denotes a figure’s magical ability and does not carry the same negative connotation that we see in the Greek word “daimon” or its use in Christianity.  Therefore, Dedek Mraz could potentially help you get across a river by freezing it for you, or by devastating someone who has been disrespectful.  And he gives gifts!  For a character that exists in a cold part of the world, and has spread throughout the much colder Russia and Siberia, it is important to develop a friendly and respectful relationship to the one who brings cold.  


While rooted in Slovenian pagan mythology, Dedek Mraz or Dyado Mraz (or Ded Moroz in Russian) was more recently reintroduced by Russian culture preceding the Bolshevik revolution.  Like Santa Claus, he became connected to Orthodox Russian Christian faith, and managed to survive the Russian Revolution from 1917- 1923 when the Bolsheviks denounced all religious figures and instated atheism.  The Bolsheviks were then left with no choice but to turn Ded Moroz into a revolutionary hero, as he was difficult to remove from family traditions.  A figure of winter celebration, and also a symbol of political change, Dedek Mraz’s political history is told through his coat and hat.  When the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia was still allied with the USSR in the late 1940s- early 1950s, Dedek Mraz was a shared figure between the two federations, depicted in a long white fur coat wearing the Russian Ushanka, a gray or black fur hat with ear flaps that can be tied on the top of the head.  However, after the Soviet-Yugoslav split, Dedek Mraz received a Yugoslavian make-over and started wearing a sheepskin coat adorned with Slovenian folk art and a traditional Slovenian hat, the dormouse hat, a smaller round hat with a pom pom on top, made out of the fur of small, very cute, nocturnal mice, that had been eaten and trapped since the middle ages.  The Bolsheviks also gave Dedek Mraz a new celebration date, moving his feast day from December 22, when it was told that he arrived in the Russian town of Veliky Ustyug, from bringing cold around the world, to December 31, a secular celebration of New Year.  His evergreen was now called a New Year tree, and each home would receive their Dedek Mraz gifts beneath one.

The modern era has lost the fear and the political discord that Dedek Mraz once carried on his troika with his tree, and aims to look ahead at happier more prosperous days.  And these days are represented by the carefree placing of gifts under a New Year tree in hopes that we all are a bit more entertained this winter.

Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history.  All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring.  We are only here to pop the cork.

Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop

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