Customary and Proprietary Relations

The rapid expansion of the vineyard area in the first half of the 13th century led to new organisational and legal measures. Associations of vintners came into being which were similar to the city guilds. They were groupings of equal members who were mainly concerned with the safety of the vineyards and the correct implementation of work in the vineyard.

These viticultural organisations did not only pursue the best interests of the vintners, but also those of the feudal lord, on whose land the vineyards had been established. In this way the feudal lord was even willing to recognise the vintners’ requirements, mainly the principle of free possession of the vineyard and the consequences arising therefrom. It was certainly for this reason that most of the vineyards had been planted on steep, infertile land.

These viticultural organisations did not only pursue the best interests of the vintners, but also those of the feudal lord, on whose land the vineyards had been established.

Originally the vintners’ organisations had very close relations with the municipal government. At the end of the 14th century they were pressing for the self-goverment of the vineyards with the burgomaster at the head acting as the vineyard supervisor together with his sworn assistants. This was also aided by a gradual incorporation of the habitual practices and customs drawn up in the vineyard regulations for the estates of Falkenstein, which had once pertained to Moravia, and it is likely that these administrative measures were approved by King Přemysl Otakar II so that the council of that commune became the venue of appeal for all Moravian vintners.

Normally future vineyard owners prepared their newly acquired land together before setting up to plant their own vineyards individually. The positioning of the individual parcels was often decided by a drawing of lots, which is also evident from the naming of some of the individual vineyard tracks. For the owners vineyards were the source of relatively large benefits and for the feudal lord the income from the ground rents and tithes from the vineyards were often higher than the returns from the agricultural farming estates.

Normally future vineyard owners prepared their newly acquired land together before setting up to plant their own vineyards individually.

The price of a vineyard having the surface area equivalent to today’s 1 to 2.5 hectares was at the end of the 14th century higher than the cost of a large agricultural plot measuring 18.6 hectares (= 1 selský lán, ancient measurement unit in Medieval Bohemia and Moravia – translator’s note). Benefits in kind from the vineyards often served as endowments to religious and social institutions while at the same time being a welcome source of income for the feudal lord.

Even landless peasants, farm workers and hired hands were trying to establish vineyards, so these became the links between people of different social classes and a means of ironing out property differences. The feudal lords were also setting up their own vineyards which were then kept under their own management. But it was not only local people who were interested in planting vineyards in the cadasters of local communes.

A multitude of non-locals, coming from far afield, from areas not suitable for viticulture, were also interested in land on which to establish a vineyard. Most active amongst these were the townsfolk of Brno. But there were also burghers from Olomouc and Opava who, even from these great distances, were enabled by the vineyard organisations’ supervision of the viticultural work to invest their money into the planting and safe cultivation of vines. These outsiders hired a local vintner who looked after the running of the vineyard work and hired day labourers for specific jobs.

Payments in kind were originally imposed on the vineyard owners.

Payments in kind were originally imposed on the vineyard owners. The recognised fee for the senior suverain landowner was the land duty also known as the bergrecht. Its extent was firmly fixed and amounted to 1 tub (56.6 litres) of wine from one single vineyard of 28.5 ares surface area in Moravia, while in Bohemia under the reign of Charles IV it totalled 30.5 litres of wine, and under the reign of Rudolf II it came to 15.5 litres of wine.

Furthermore there were also the tithes and these became more burdensome on the vine grower. They accounted for one tenth of the crop on top of paying the land or the bergrecht duty. Both these levies were collected directly from the vineyard and were dependent on the amount of residue left from the crushed grapes. Should the vineyard have been established on land originally cultivated as an agricultural field, then it was still necessary to pay tithes to the local parish. For this reason vine growers preferred to seek out land that had not been previously farmed, which was not subject to parish tithes.

The size of the tithes was variable and in good vintages they could be substantial. This was why the viticulturists sought at least to have the parish tithes kept to a minimum fixed sum. With the upsurge in the area under vine so the duties from the collected tithes rose, while in the estate press houses there were problems with processing all the pulp and also with placing the wine in the estate cellars. Therefore from the mid-14th century a change from payments in kind to payments in cash can be observed. Depending on the vineyard position the pecuniary benefits came to around 3–16 Groschen for one vineyard quarter.

During the reigns of George of Poděbrady and the Jagiellon kings it is possible to notice the increase in the vineyard plantings at the expense of other agricultural plots even on less sloping land. Rotation farming, which was typical for Moravia, was necessary on the vineyard lands. The land, exhausted from the cultivation of vines and the high yields extracted from the intensively cultivated areas with a planting density of as much as 15–20 thousand vines per one hectare of vineyard, was not capable of nourishing the vines for longer than around twenty years. After this it became necessary to grub up the vines and either grow grain on the land or let it go to pasture. Only after a further twenty years could the plot be planted with vines once again. In Bohemia vineyards remained in one place for 100–200 years. The vines were renewed with continuous propagation, i.e. by burying part or all the vines in soil and bringing the most tender parts of the vine above the surface of the soil. This had the result of regenerating the plant. At the same time caring farmers brought in manure and spread it around the buried vines.

In the 16th century the expansion of the vineyard area reached its peak and the nobility was no longer keen to accept payment in kind directly from the vineyard in the form of grape pulp. They took more interest in the quality of the wine and so requested payment in wine instead. Regular checks as to the amount of wine produced were undertaken in the vintners’ houses and the collection of levies directly from them had begun to be carried out. This suited the vintners because, in this way, the previous, annually announced date of the harvest, which was binding on all the vine growers cultivating a given vineyard, was thus no longer applicable. The exception to this were only those vineyards enjoying special freedoms (frejunk) through the particular merits of their owners. The condition was that the financial dues were settled in advance.

They took more interest in the quality of the wine and so requested payment in wine instead.

From the outset mainly the varieties used for the production of white wine were cultivated. Red wine began to grow in popularity from the mid-15th century. Vineyards planted with black varieties were so few and far between that they attracted no tithes whatsoever. Gradually in some places (mainly around Hustopeče) the growers tried to lower their tithe obligations by increasing the plantings of grape varieties for the production of red wine.

This resulted in the local introduction of tithes for black varieties. The village of Přítluky was priveleged by being exempt from the obligation of tithe payments on black grapes right up till 1533, but only under the condition that such plantings would not be unduly excessive. Generally though there had always been less red wine in Moravia, and for this reason it always commanded higher prices. Interest in quality wine in the 16th century is shown by the fact that wealthier classes had their own vineyards planted with grape varieties of the highest grade, particularly around villages with the greatest renown for the good quality of their wines. Planting the vineyards was often entrusted to newly arrived Anabaptists, who introduced new working methods to Moravia and brought in varieties from abroad that were little known locally, among others very probably Sauvignon Blanc, then named Fié or Feigentraube.

Anabaptists also proved to be fine builders of wine cellars. The previously smaller and more primitive cellars of the nobility were reconstructed into large underground cellar areas. Estate wine production gradually took on a more commercial nature and wines began being exported to Bohemia and in particular to Silesia. Transporting the barrels to and from the cellars was in the hands of cask-pullers (postihaři, in German Fasszieher). Their guild also fulfilled the function of commissioners and oversaw the negotiations in the wine trade between producers and merchants. The guild remained in existence until the beginning of the twentieth century.

The guild remained in existence until the beginning of the twentieth century.

The commercial character of wine production developed in large towns and in certain parishes. Profits gained by the nobility from their subject vineyards were substantial and this also contributed to the fact that the gentry sold most of their wines when mature, which meant that they underwent several years of development in barrels. The price of such wine was markedly higher, reaching up to twice the price of young wine. The expansion of the cellar storehouses owned by the nobility and the wine trade in general forced the gentry into making better use of their cellar areas, and henceforth the chateau cellars began to be fitted out with huge barrels of great volume in the middle of the 16th, and thereafter mainly in the 17th centuries.

Concurrently there was an increasing interest among the nobility for a return to payments made in kind rather than cash dues. Attempts were made to appropriate the right to decide in disputes over vineyards issues and a set of new vineyard laws were published (1572 in Valtice, 1586 in Mikulov, 1652 in Dolní Dunajovice). As against the corporal punishments for transgressors set out in the old vineyard regulations, the punishments cited in the new laws are all pecuniary. The last death sentence for repeatedly stealing grapes was carried out on a Hustopeče soap maker in 1610.

The economic and social consequences of the Thirty Years’ War meant not only the decline in the wine trade but also a gradual change in the prevailing overall situation as well. The renewal of abandoned vineyards and the establishment of entirely new ones was very much dependent on the situation in individual parts of Moravia. In Bohemia a very clear retreat by the townsfolk from their wine-producing activities along with a relatively rapid reduction in the urban vineyard area could be detected, above all in northern Bohemia. To a large extent the newly planted vineyards in the countryside were able to replace the decline in Bohemian wine production.

The slow pace of renewal of subject vineyards served to force the nobility into increasing the vineyard areas held in their own hands. For their cultivation they resorted to using either serf labour or recruiting from among the rural poor. For the increased area of the dominical vineyards it was also necessary to construct new cellars. Vast underground cellars with monumental visual aspects were therefore being created and these were furnished with large-scale barrels in which the wine maturation process took place much more slowly, thus allowing the wine to undergo a more propitious evolution and reach a perfect balance despite the lengthy ageing period.

Wines were left longer on their lees in order to trigger off a natural malolactic fermentation which resulted in the pleasing harmonisation of all the quality elements. The slow development of the servile vineyards is explained by the fact that the price of young wines of average quality remained the same even after a long period of time. Sales of wine, however, were good and the nobility was interested in the wines of their subjects, which can be observed in the fact that the serfs were allowed to pay their levies in wine to the landlords, while in turn the nobility would also purchase wine from them.

By the end of the 17th century even rural vintners had begun to prepare themselves to sell mature wine and thus they started to build their own cellars either directly in the specified part of the village or beneath their vineyards, where buildings with their own press houses started to appear in small cellar settlements. This is an indication as to the future of quality winemaking in the Moravian countryside. This development intensified with the issue of the statute on labour regulations of 1775, which meant the reduction of labour obligations for serfs and thus led to the decrease in profitability of the estates’ wine business.

By the end of the 17th century even rural vintners had begun to prepare themselves to sell mature wine

This resulted in a gradual reduction of estate vineyards and wineries and the sales thereof, and also to the abolition of the vineyard associations and the replacement of the old vineyard rules and regulations by a new general law covering the whole of Moravia, which was issued on 22nd October 1784. This also brought an end to judicial autonomy concerning viticulture, the enforced establihment of vineyards in clusters, as well as supervision of vineyard cultivation by the landlord, and paved the way for increased plantings of grape varieties of lesser quality, such as Elbling, Heunisch and later Portugais Gris.

Henceforth vineyards could be set up anywhere where suitable conditions were to be found. Vintners were given the right to run their own wine taverns or sell their wines freely in their homes on which they hung a bundle of straw meaning that where there was a “hung-out” sign it was possible to buy, consume and enjoy local wine (this custom has survived to this day in neighbouring Austria where the numerous taverns known as Heurigen or Buschenschenke hang out fresh greenery on their doors meaning Ausg’stekt or “hung out” when open – translator’s note). Chateau cellars bought most of their raw material from private vine growers and were also filling up their cellars with wine coming from tithes or land tax. Locally vintners focused more on planting black grape varieties and on the production of red wine, which was in ever greater demand.

The end of the 18th century and the early 19th century saw a sharp fall in the profitability of urban wineries even in Moravia. Brno townsfolk rid themselves of their country vineyards because labour had become highly expensive and manufactory production along with the greater development of trade and the craft professions had turned their activities in an entirely different direction.

At the same time interest in wine was waning, it had ceased to be the daily drink, and beer and cheap spirits continued to make inroads. Rural wine production still hung on, but its very existence began to be threatened by changes in farming methods on the land. The three-field system was gradually being substituted by alternating crop rotation, which gained ground in the second half of the 19th century. Interest in field crops was increasing and yields from cultivated beet, plants for animal fodder and industrial crops far outweighed the benefits derived from vineyards, which saw a rapid decline both among the large estates and the peasants farmers, who could no longer afford the time for them.

The largest number of vineyards remained in the Mikulov area. Local wine production continued to prevail around Hustopeče, too, where wine had always been plentiful. The “golden age” for the easy production of wine drew to a close at the end of the 19th century. Fungal diseases that had been brought to Europe from America were spreading throughout the vineyards. First it was oidium or powdery mildew (Uncinula necator). In 1900 peronospera or downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola) made its first appearance and at the same time came the even greater threat in the form of the insect Phylloxera vastatrix. Immediately protective measures against fungal diseases were implemented, but sulphurous and cuprous preparations disrupted the biological balance in the vineyards and in 1913 an even greater threat arrived, caused by a disease known as leaf curl.

The largest number of vineyards remained in the Mikulov area.

Great social changes and the occurence of phylloxera on top of the fungal diseases meant a complete revolution not only in contemplating the meaning of growing grapes, but also required a fundamental rethink on the spreading expert knowledge among the wider echelons of grape growers. Educational activity among the rural winemakers was not only the major concern of the excellent wine schools, but also for other provincial facilities set up to support vineyard renewal through the means of grafting vines onto rootstocks resistant to the phylloxera beetle.

These were nurseries, exemplary vineyards, stratified greenhouses, the establishment of advisory services by wine inspectors and, so as to improve marketability, wine cooperatives began to appear on the scene. Among the first was the one established in 1903 in Brod nad Dyjí. Viti-viniculture was slowly being transformed into a highly specialised agricultural discipline with great demands on expertise as well as on the manual work performed in the vineyards. More adverse effects along with a decline in areas under vine were suffered over the duration of the First World War and then during the initial period of the First Republic. No sooner was the basis of vineyard reconstruction successully under way than the next downturn came along with the outbreak of World War II.

After this all the old forms of farming the vineyards were to prove prohibitive due to the lack of labour. Only a radical change in the way of training vines in medium and high training with wider rows and the mechanisation of the majority of vineyard work paved the way for new development, not only for large enterprises with collective farming, but also for the small freeholders. Cultivating grapes has now become a hobby for many people from both town and country, who with great zeal work tirelessly to acquire more and greater knowledge about the production of wine.

Thousands of new wine cellars have sprung up, often incurring very high expenditure on new equipment.

Thousands of new wine cellars have sprung up, often incurring very high expenditure on new equipment. New winemakers present themselves at numerous local, district and regional wine shows with their high-quality wines and continually make comparisons between their production and that of the wines of the other winemakers, all concientiously trying to aim at greater perfection. Growing grapes and making wine has returned and given a wide spectrum of the population of Southern Moravia an ardent inner relationship with this field of activity and come to the rescue of the typical picture of the landscape decorated after millennia with regular rows of grape vines.

Source: Réva a víno v Čechách a na Moravě / Vines and Wine in Bohemia and Moravia
© V. Kraus and collective
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