Hail pummelled the car so fiercely, it sounded as though it would almost crash through the windscreen. Luckily, we got through the hailstorm below the towering hill of Nanos unharmed, with zero damage to our car. Sacrificing a good half hour of our Ljubljana-Goriška Brda drive to take shelter under a bridge was a small price to pay for what awaited us in Šmartno.
Such sublime weather greeted us in the hilly wineland of Brda (aka ‘Slovenia’s Tuscany’), it seemed as though we entered a realm of dreams. The rolling hills and vines, accentuated by a crisp, sun-drenched aura pushing its way from among the dramatic clouds in the far background, provided an intriguing backdrop for the most important culinary and wine event in the region: BRDA & VINO, which took place last Sunday.
Perched on a hill in the geographical centre of Brda, the fortified, medieval village of Smartno smells of history with its five preserved towers, and streets rather like narrow passageways wide enough to allow for the movement of soldiers that once defended it. It’s a haven for the curious wanderer with its little nooks, and a photographer’s paradise with its stunning views.
Last Sunday, picturesque Šmartno took centre stage as she abandoned her calm and quiet composure for a contrasting cheerful demeanour, all in honour of good food and wine. The cobbled and stone-paved alleyways and squares made way for stalls graced by some of the region’s celebrated chefs, and others featuring equally renowned winemakers. The aroma of mouth-watering dishes and the scent of Brda wine replaced the smell of history in a most welcoming fashion.
Much of the action took place in the two squares that lie on either side of this compact village. As we entered Šmartno through the main archway, we stumbled onto the first square where the sound of content revellers, intermingled with rhythm and beats, hit us like a wave. The Chorinho & Samba Brasileiro troupe had brought everyone present to let their hair loose and move to the groove.
The only challenge we faced was to decide which dishes to try. The choice was endless. My first bite consisted of a fairly huge pasta pocket filled with a nettle and pine nut concoction, very similar to a basil pesto, but with nettle instead. Certainly one to remember, so much so that I vouched I would learn to prepare my own pasta dough so that I’ll be able to make these nettle pockets myself.
I decided to proceed with fish dishes so as not to get too full. Sea bass ravioli with fish ragu were next—very pleasantly marine (pictured below).
I then had a portion of sea bass by Ribogojnica Fonda with truffle polenta, truffle spuma and shavings of fresh black truffle served over a mayonnaise of red cabbage and green pea (pictured below).
As we roamed the festival, there was music being played around every corner: popular classics emanating from the saxophones of Kvartet Saxibille, traditional music by local bands, and energetic rhythms bouncing off from a seven-strong army of drummers under the name of Sherzer Brigade. What force! They had us all dancing like crazy.
By the end of the drumming session, my appetite was up and running again, so I headed for some pan-fried cornmeal-battered trout (pictured below) served over a bed of carrot, pumpkin, and celery spaghetti in a parsley sauce, and drizzled with a horseradish relish.
Trout down and digested, I pursued further culinary treats. I was in for an entertaining surprise. Miroslav from Bled’s Restavracija Špica was cooking his ‘ričet’ in a large stew pot hung over an open fire. Ričet is typically a pot barley stew comprising beans, a healthy helping of various vegetables, and a substantial amount of pork.
Miroslav wanted to stress the pork ingredient here by hanging a notice expressly stating that ‘A piglet has set foot in this soup’. What a character… showing off his comical smile and proclaiming “RIIICET!” so proudly for all to hear. You can see Miroslav and his “ričet” in my BRDA & VINO video.
It wasn’t just the food that was superb, every single wine that I tried at the BRDA & VINO festival was equally first-rate. What else would you expect from a Brda wine?
With the highest number of medals and awards per hectare in all of Slovenia, it’s no wonder that the Goriška Brda region reigns above all wine-producing areas in the country. The high-quality wines are the result of many favourable conditions in the vineyards:
- A mixture of sub-Mediterranean and temperate continental climates that have been turning sedimentary rocks into flysch for millions of years
- Flysch rock is a complex structure of alternating layers of sandstone, marl, carbonate turbidite, and limestone that enables the vines to drive their roots between these layers towards water and mineral supplies, which make their way into the grapes and wine
- Brda’s vineyard terraces are mainly southfacing, so they catch a lot of sun
Brda’s most abundant variety is Rebula. Together with Pikolit, Sauvignonasse and Verduc, it’s an old, local type. You’ll also find other known whites like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon and Pinot Bianco. Red wines typical of the area are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. You can also come across some Refošk, Barbera, Gamay and Syrah.
Many of these wines were being offered by the 37 Brda wineries present at the BRDA & VINO festival.
BRDA & VINO was meant to end at 7pm, but even after that, festival-goers were still dancing to the rhythms of the Sherzer Brigade’s drums. We had to force ourselves to leave. I must say, it was an extremely enjoyable event, very well-organised, and we never had to wait in a queue to get food or wine. Even though the venue took the form of a tiny village, it never felt too crowded due to the limited number of tickets to the event.
The sun was headed for the rim of the rolling hills as the birds were busy chirping their evening songs. It was time to say goodbye to Šmartno, but not for good. We’ll be back soon. Bye for now!
Scroll right or left below to view more of my photos from BRDA & VINO 2019.
List of food providers and wine makers at BRDA & VINO 2019
Gostilna in penzion Resje
Gostilna Repovž, Šentjanž
Gostilna Termika, Kamp Lijak
Hotel Kristal, Restavracija pri Lovu
Kruh in vino
Osteria – gostilna Koršič
Restavracija Grad Kromberk
Restavracija Hiša Marica
Restavracija Hotel Park
Restavracija Hotel San Martin
Vila Prešeren Bled
Na Bregu – Marinič
Simčič Karol & Igor & MarijanValentinčič
Vinarstvo Sirk Aljoša
Interview with Eva Mavrič, BRDA & VINO’s organiser
I had the pleasure of meeting Eva at the festival. We chatted about the development of the festival over the past few years and how she manages to select the food and wine exhibitors from among the successful plenty in the region.
How long have you been organising BRDA & VINO? How has it developed since its inception?
BRDA & VINO was originally set up for wine producers to promote their wines. Six years ago, our group (House of Marica and Hotel San Martin in Šmartno) took over as organisers and transformed it into a culinary and wine festival featuring restaurants from the Slovenia-Italy border and renowned Slovenian chefs, such as JRE chefs. All wine producers present at our event are from Brda. Apart from the food and wine, you can also find home-made products and local works of art.
Since its inception, the number of restaurants, winemakers and other providers interested in promoting their offers at the festival has increased with each year.
Due to Šmartno’s small size, we’ve put a limit on the number of tickets, which are sold in advance. This year, for the first time, the tickets were sold out way in advance. Most visitors decide to spend the weekend in Brda during the festival, and almost all rooms in Brda are booked weeks before the event.
For this year’s edition, we collaborated with KOLO, a cultural society from Brda.
How do you go about selecting the winemakers and chefs?
Slovenia is a small country where everyone knows each other well. Almost all restaurateurs, chefs, and winemakers who attend the festival are our good friends, or friends of friends. So we know their offer and products inside out. BRDA & VINO is based on friendships and connections among the providers.
What are the highlights of this year’s edition?
An ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY EVENT featuring seasonal and local ingredients, biodegradable waste, no plastic bottles. On a more social note, since April is Autism Awareness Month, we ran a Slovene documentary film throughout the event.
From which countries are your visitors from?
Mostly from Slovenia, Austria, Italy, but also from Croatia and Bosnia, and more recently from all over Europe.
What are your long-term plans for this festival?
To work on maintaining the high-quality level and use our event to promote Brda and Slovenia as a unique wine and culinary destination worth visiting. We don’t want it to become a mass event, but rather maintain its authenticity and exclusivity, in which visitors can get to know the providers. We want people to return and even bring their friends. We think we have what it takes to become one of the best such festivals in Europe.
Photos by Damijan Simčič