Lubuskie

On the Lubuskie Wine Trail

14 Sep 2021
For some, the term 'Polish Wine' may seem like a mismatch, as certain stereotypes about the national dependence on vodka still remain. In Europe, Italy, France and Spain may dominate the listings, but there are plenty of other contenders in Central Europe who are well-represented in terms of 'quality over quantity'. Believe it or not, Poland is indeed one of those places! Małopolskie and Podkarpackie in the southeast are the larger representatives, and Dolnośląskie (ENG: Lower Silesia) has a decent local industry too. However, it's in the voivodeship of Lubuskie (Lubusz) in Western Poland, which is the cradle of industrial grapevine cultivation, not to mention the longest-surviving in northern Europe.
Marcinowice Vineyard with idyllic sunset views of the Oder River, near Krosno Odrzański in Lubuskie.
In Lubuskie lands, the sun, river and sands are something of a holy trinity. The optimal climate and unique geography of the 'Middle Odra' region, specifically around the city of Zielona Góra, makes Lubuskie one of the few areas in Europe producing wine of such stunning quality. With rolling hills and the picturesque Oder River flowing through, this little slice of paradise is also visually stunning, and in the end it's yet another perque of having a glass of red or white to complement your experience of one of Poland's most underrated tourist areas. If you are considering a wine trip in Poland, there is no question - Lubuskie is a must-visit for enotourism. It may seem like a recent market explosion, but of history what are arguably the best wineries & vineyards in Poland stretches back much further than you'd imagine!  
Łukasz Vineyard near Świebodzin in Poland's Lubuskie voivodeship.


A quick history of Lubusz and Wine

The name Lubusz comes from Leubuzzi, one of the numerous Slavic tribes that inhabited the area, which also gave its name to the town of Lebus, on the other side of the Oder river in modern-day Germany. From the earliest days of the Polish state, christened in 996CE, the early rulers of the Piast Dynasty were keen to establish a stronghold in the area. However, they weren't budding viticultural entrepreneurs yet. The elevated geography was attractive from a defensive standpoint, though the views didn't hurt their decision either. The Christianisation of Poland and the introduction of certain liturgical requirements led to an increase in demand for wine regionally and undeniably wet the palate of many a layman over the centuries to come. Archaeologists have identified grape pips during garbage forensics in Gniezno, Poznań and Gdańsk from that period, and we know that there was early grapevine cultivation on Wawel Hill in Kraków, (or shall we say 'the original seeds of a now-flourishing Polish industry'). In the 1136 Papal Bull of Gniezno, the earliest written document in the Polish language, two vineyards are mentioned near Płock and Włocławek. As for Lubuskie, Germanic records tell us that grape seedlings were brought here first in 1150 century by settlers from Flanders (modern-day Belgium). Four years later, a vineyard was established on the slopes of Krosno Odrzańskie. Winery operations by the knowledgable Cistercian monastic order in Bledzew and Gościkowo probably gave locals a hint or two that the local climate, characterised by mild winters and favourable geography, was perfect for grapevine cultivation! However, it wasn't until the 13th and 14th centuries that Lubuskie's burgher class started producing and selling wine from their own vineyards and really kickstarted the regional market.
A 17th-century etching of Grünberg (now Zielona Góra), the geography of which is ideal for grapevine cultivation.
In the bottom right, you can see a small vineyard!

It wasn't all smooth sailing, however. Things seemed a little dire when the 'little ice age', a general drop in climactic temperature, hit Europe in the 16th century. Extreme frosts were recorded in the winter of 1513-1514 that are said to have destroyed all the vines in the region. War and the shifting of borders between Poland and numerous Germanic Powers also came and went, but generally, the momentum of the Lubuskie wine industry was yet to be halted. The German cultural tradition of Bürgerweinschank, literally translated as the 'Citizens wine bar', allowed locals to consume alcohol in the public houses outside of the city walls (as opposed to the restricted and heavily regulated beer cellars that operated under the town hall). These were more often located in winery buildings and were marked by a wreath on a pole. Inside, wine was served straight from the barrel. Vintners were doing so well for themselves, that the guild of breweries (ie. the guys who made the amber stuff) banded together to try and stop more vineyards from popping up around Grünberg (now Zielona Góra).
A panorama of Grünberg (now Zielona Góra) in the 18th-century, featuring a vineyard in the foreground.

But there was no stopping the wine flowing, and the early 18th century recorded the best yields that Lubuskie vineyards had ever experienced. In the early 19th century, the city's most recognised wine producer, Grempler & Co, . With other varieties produced and sold as far abroad as France and the UK, The earliest production of Sekts, a German sparkling white wine, was produced in ...... Grempler solidified sparking white wine as one of the most popular productions of the Lubuskie region. The grape phylloxera plague of 1860, also known as the 'Great French Wine Blight', wreaked havoc in most of Europe, though was remarkably unproblematic in Lubuskie. Experts have speculated that the region's loam-sand soil never appealed to grape phylloxera aphids, thus choosing to be destructive elsewhere! Tax breaks for wineries in the late 19th century helped spur the local wine industry into the 20th century, and all was looking well and good...
A 1901 postcard from Grünberg (now Zielona Gora) showing a wine efficianado sampling locally-made Sekt directly from the source! Photo: fotopolska.eu

The ebb and flow of different political powers over the centuries have contributed to the fascinating history and cultural mix of the area, which is, in many ways, how grape cultivation and wine found their place here in Poland. Wars too had come and gone, though no one would have predicted how much things would change in the mid-20th century. The Red Army captured Grünberg on February 14, 1945, and renamed Zielona Góra and Lubuskie was incorporated into the new borders of Poland. Before the war, Lubuskie had 150ha of viticultural land to speak of. By the time hostilities had ceased, that number had dropped to 66ha. In October 1945, Grempler & Co factory was formally taken over by the new political system and would be renamed numerous times with rather clunky-sounding 'state-owned' titles. They produced generic fruit wines, whilst other nationalised wineries in the region focused on juices and vinegar. The days of small enterprises passionately toiling away in their vineyards and pressing facilities had come to an end.
The vineyards of the state-owned Lubuska Winery Plant, formerly part of Grempler & Co, in the 1950s.
This area is now part of Zielona Góra's Wine Park ​​​​​. Photo: fotopolska.eu

So what would save the Lubuskie wine industry? The Communist system would eventually collapse, with Poland holding the torch of political change in Central and Eastern Europe. The first free elections in half a century were held in 1989 and the country opened up to the west once again. But things didn't change overnight, and even some of the high rollers in the area wouldn't live to see a wine renaissance. The final state-owned iteration of Grempler & Co, last called the Lubuska Wytwórnia Win (ENG: Lubuskie Winery Plant), eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1999. But the locals at ground level had not lost their spark. Grassroots community activities resumed, without restrictions from communist authorities, and the Lubuskie Wine Association was established in 1994. Their aim was clear: to revive the wine-growing traditions of the region and promote knowledge about grapevine and wine production. In 2003, the National Association of Wine Growers and Producers was established in Zielona Góra, and Poland's entry into the European Union in 2004 provided even more opportunities for local initiatives, including joint visits and training sessions with German, Czech and Slovakian winemakers. On June 30, 2006, the Zielona Góra Wine Association was established as a result of the merger of the Polish Association of Vine Growers and Wine Producers and the Lubuskie Wine Association. In 2009, the Association Cultural Community-Lubuskie Vineyards was established. Another organisation of Lubuskie winemakers is the Association for the Promotion of Vineyards and Regional Products, established in 2013.
The vineyard and rustic homestead of Miłosz Vineyard in the village of Łaz. 

The Lubuskie Wine & Honey Trail

From an enotouristic perspective, Lubuskie is an ideal combination of several factors. First and foremost, there is amazing quality wine there, made by dedicated local producers that are willing to share their passion with the world at large. Secondly, the history of Lubusz and its wonderful cities, towns, and the long-standing industrial cultivation of grapevines, have added extra meaning to the spiritual and material heritage of these lands. Thirdly, the backdrop of the Oder River and its company of rolling hills, stunning lakes and rich green forests, make up the serene landscape that tempts even the most demanding of outdoor adventurers. Regional specialists and museologists have worked tirelessly to safeguard the winemaking traditions, in addition to a smaller but no less significant beekeeping industry, by creating exhibition spaces and collecting artefacts that are connected with both. As part of this initiative, Lubuski Szlak Wina i Miodu (ENG: The Lubuskie Wine and Honey Trail) was created in 2006. The trail is designed to introduce tourism to the local producers of traditional products that are made in Lubuskie vineyards and apiaries, first premiering at the 7th Tourism Fair - ZATUR 2008. Visitors who take on this regional pilgrimage are introduced to 50 different landmarks, where winemaking and bee-keeping can be experienced and consumed, both literally and spiritually. Hotels and farmhouses co-operating with winemakers and beekeepers provide accommodation, and additional attractions for visitors include the picturesque forests and lake region with constantly developed tourist facilities around which the trail runs.
Lubuskie Wine Centre, opened in October 2015 with the intention of promoting the region's traditions of grapevine cultivation and wine production.
A visit here is an essential part of the 'The Lubuskie Wine and Honey Trail'. Photo by Lubuskie Wine Centre.
 

Wine in Zielona Góra, the City of Bacchus

There's a reason why Zielona Góra, literally translated as 'Green Mountain', is the largest city in the Lubuskie region. It's something of a sweet spot for viticulture, thanks to the soil, elevation and southward-facing slopes that give the vineyards an ample amount of sunlight throughout the day. The wine industry has, without a doubt, been a huge factor in its development, and it's a celebrated part of the city's culture. You'll not just find grapevine motifs on cast-iron and old signage dotted around the place, but also a vineyard just east of the historic centre. Wine Park is to Zielona Góra what Central Park is to New York - a leisure spot, unique in the fact that it is also a functioning vineyard.
New York has a central park, Zielona Góra has a central vineyard, better known as Wine Park!
There are also numerous sculptures to be found in a similar vein to the anti-authoritarian gnomes of WrocławRabbits of Gniezno and numerous other similar initiatives around Poland. In Zielona Góra, the symbolic Roman god of wine, Signore Bacchus, has inspired a small army of its own - The Little Bacchuses! However, these are not the hairy grape-swinging mascots that you may expect. These are much less uniform, with each sculpture possessing its own unique character, and more recent additions to the crew have taken on a female form! If you've dragged your children along on your enotourist excursion, this might be a good way of piquing their interest! 
'Beczkus'
Photo by visitzielonagora.pl.
'Pomnik Bachusa'
Photo by visitzielonagora.pl.
'Transportikus'
Photo by visitzielonagora.pl.
'Bachantka Zielbrusia'
Photo by visitzielonagora.pl.

You can of course expect to catch one of two wine festivals in Zielona GóraWinobranie (ENG: Wine Festival) in early September sees Bacchus getting the keys to the city and thus taking power over it. As part of his mischief, Zielona Góra transforms into a fairground of attractions, concerts, open-air games, sport, as well as cultural and numerous other events. For enotourists, the Wine Festival Fair organized in the pedestrian area is perhaps the most important district in the city. As part of this, the 'wine town' that springs up around the town hall where local winemakers present their products. However, Winobranie is not entirely focused in the city centre. The festival organises 'wine buses' to take visitors out to numerous wineries and vineyards in the local area, allowing you to get personal with Lubuskie winemakers, tour around the estate and sample a bit of their produce! For the more casual enotourist and those travelling with children, the Wine Festival Parade may be more to your liking. This tradition dates back to the early 20th century, taking place on the second Saturday of the Wine Festival at noon. With a different theme every year, residents from all walks of life in Zielona Góra strut their stuff in any manner of colourful costume down the main streets of the city. Music and other artistic floats accompany the whole fair, making it the craziest week of a year in Zielona Góra, not to mention the most joyful!
Femme-Bacchuses carrying the key to Zielona Góra,
during the Wine Festival Parade at Winobranie.
Free-flowing wine - Local winemakers sharing their produce
with enthusiastic festival-goers at Winobranie.

A newcomer to the whole wine festival affair is the Lubuski Festiwal Otwartych Piwnic i Winnic (ENG: Lubuski Festival of Open Cellars and Vineyards) giving more opportunities for enotourists to visit historic wine cellars and taste produce from numerous Lubuskie vineyards. Additional events are held at the Wine Museum, the regional museum of Lubuskie and the Wine Centre in Zabór, as well as tours between key monuments in the city of Zielona Góra.
Steps leading down to the old wine cellar under Zielona Góra's Town Hall, some of the amazing old wine infrastructure that can be experienced in the city!

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