November 11th is a very special day in Slovenia. You see, for such a small country, we have a lot of wine. And we are proud of it. Historically, people in these parts were mostly hard-working peasants, living off the land and what they could produce by themselves. So autumn was always a time of harvests, and when those were all done, celebrations as well. It was also a time when young wine began turning proper, a fact that naturally had to be marked. Enter Saint Martin, a patron to wine makers, wine drinkers and all the happy people in between. And we remember him every year on november 11th.
Tradition dictates that on St. Martin’s day all harvested wine is to be christened – a rite jokingly performed in public by someone dressed as a bishop. Only then can young wine be properly called wine. By performing this ritual, the bishop also grants blessings good fortunes for the next wine growing season. People have celebrated this day since way back in the pagan times, and although some regions have their own way of doing things, the main reason is the same for all of them.
Nowadays, when the majority of people here are not agricultural workers any more, this holiday has become much more commercialized. Pretty much every town erects a stage and some stalls where wine makers from the vicinity come to offer their freshly gathered wine. The before mentioned ritual is usually performed at 11.11 am and the celebrations continue well into the afternoon, evening and then night.
Such was also the case in Maribor, a city that is famed for having many wine-loving inhabitants. It is also home to the oldest grape vine in the world – the Old Vine has been growing in Maribor’s old town for over 400 years, which got her into the Guinness book of world records.
Combine all this and you get a recipe for a great big party. After coming into a dispute with a number of wine glasses a few years ago, I have not been a fan of wine at all, but this year I just couldn’t escape the buzz. You could feel the hype around it days ago, plus my friend Nejc (who you now know from the similarly themed post about beer) had a birthday. Dušan, another good friend and cycling buddy just returned home after a month in Myanmar and Thailand, and there were also workbuddies from my stint at Kempinski Palace wanting to say cheers.
I finished working at about 2.30 pm right at that bank you see in the picture and went to check on the proceedings. A countless crowd had gathered even then, but our plan was for me to go home, meet the others later and then catch a bus back to town. So darkness fell, as it does quite quickly at this time of year and we headed back. I’ve never been to one of these things before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Turned out there were more people here than for new year’s eve – you couldn’t even walk around without getting lost and separated. Like it was all a big rock concert, just with folk music and A LOT of wine.
So we hit the stalls, ordered a “liter-liter” – a bottle of wine and a bottle of sparkling water. You can guess which one was empty first. Then another. And another. People came and went, had some great talks with some great people. And another. Probably one more. I didn’t really like wine that much before, but I found some nice, sweet Muscatel and enjoyed it a lot. Careful, don’t overdo it. Luckily I didn’t. It was close, but we managed to escape and catch a ride back home just in time, before it all started turning on it’s head.
Along the way me and the Kempinski pack separated and they called me later to get back together. Apparently they had an afterparty in mind, but I was already home by that time. Who knows how it would have ended had I stayed with them. I’m not sure I would have been able to write all this, but as it stands, it was a great night. If you happen to find yourself in Maribor on 11/11., I advise you not to worry too much. Go with the flow. And make sure you don’t work the day after. 🙂
*the pictures are not mine this time.