The Czech Republic, the western half of the former Czechoslovakia, is better known for its beer than its wine, but it produces both in respectable quantities.
Czech wine production blossomed in the first years of the 21st century, as the government offered substantial subsidies for planting new vineyards and upgrading outdated winery equipment. This was part of the nation's preparation for joining the European Union in 2004, and was administered under the purpose-designed Wine Fund of the Czech Republic. Since then Czech winemaking has made significant progress in terms of quality and quantity, and Czech wines now enter (and win at) wine shows around Europe and the USA. In 2011, for example, the nation's contingent at the San Francisco International Wine Competition won 80 medals, led by a category-winning Sauvignon Blanc from Moravia.
Wine production in the Czech Republic is divided into two distinct worlds: the prolific, densely planted winelands of Moravia in the south-east, and the smaller, more traditional family-run wineries of Bohemia in the north-west. Their key cities, Prague and Brno respectively, are approximately 100 miles (160km) apart, and account for the majority of national wine consumption.
Moravia is the engine room of Czech wine production, and is much younger as a wine region than Bohemia. Moravia has enjoyed the lion's share of investment over the past few decades, and bears the weight of the Czech Republic's wine future on its shoulders. Bohemia's vineyard heyday was back in the 16th century, under the guidance of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, King of Bohemia. Although the first vines are thought to have been planted two centuries earlier, during the reign of Charles IV (the second king of Bohemia and also Holy Roman Emperor), it wasn't until the turn of the 17th century that the region's winelands became particularly developed. They retain their original locations today: Bohemia's fragmented patches of vineyard are to the north of Prague, in the Litomerice and Melnik regions; Moravia's closely packed vineyard areas sit to the south and east of Brno, along the border with Austria and Slovakia.
The principal grape varieties grown in the Czech Republic are aromatic whites such as the Alsace trio of Gewurztraminer (Traminer Ceverny), Pinot Gris (Rulandske Sede) and Riesling (Ryzlink Rynsky) – a logical move, considering Alsace has a similar climate and latitude, and is located just a few hundred miles to the west. Sauvignon Blanc also does well here, and benefits from the same extended ripening period and high sunshine hours it enjoys in New Zealand's Marlborough region. The Gruner Veltliner grape of neighboring Austria may well emerge as one of the popular Czech wines of the near future, following in the wake of its success on international (particularly British) wine markets.
Although red wines are not as successful here, the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are planted in small quantities in Czech vineyards, as are German imports Dornfelder and Blaufrankisch/Lemberger (known as Frankovka here). Cabernet Moravia is a locally crossed red-wine variety (Cabernet Franc with Lubomir Glos) which, although it bears the name of the Moravia region, accounts for just 1% of its total vineyard area.