Tasting: Hokus Pokus Wine Fest, Ostrava

https://notdrinkingpoison.substack.com/p/tasting-hokus-pokus-wine-fest-ostrava

The dancefloor, early evening.

Say what you will about the ever-expanding natural wine salon circuit. I leap at opportunities to visit like-minded friends in places I would never otherwise have ever had the occasion to set foot. Ostrava – the northwestern Moravian industrial city where the natural wine bar and import company Hokus Pokus organized its first natural wine salon early this spring – is off-the-radar even for those who visit the Czech Republic regularly.

This is partly because the city suffers from a reputation as toxic hotspot, a legacy of its history as a coal-mining center from the mid-18th century until 1994. The air quality is still an issue of national outrage. I myself only learned all this during the tram ride to my hotel, when I stumbled upon upon the following description of a local attraction on the city’s Wikipedia page:

Another [geological] feature is the Ema slag heap, an artificial hill made of mining waste (slag) that offers panoramic views. The waste is still burning deep beneath the surface, which gives the slap heap its own microclimate.

Moravian neo-vigneron Michal Lacina and Hokus Pokus’ Robert Schwan, subbing in for Jean-Pierre Robinot, who had to cancel at the last minute.

Robert Schwan and Miloš Nalevajka of Hokus Hokus assembled a sterling line-up of vigneron friends, including Tom Lubbe, Christian Tschida, Sepp Muster, Martin Vajčner, Aleš Kovář, Claus Preisinger, and more. The piquant irony of celebrating natural wine in the context of an overt municipal pollution crisis was an unexpected bonus.

Anyway, I applaud the Hokus Pokus team for bringing a message of serious, connoisseur-level radical natural wine to an unexpected place where it deserves to be heard.

That message rings with uncommon clarity on the shelves of the Hokus Pokus wine bar, where the salon’s pre-party was held. Theirs is a vin du Jura selection pretty much unparalleled even in Paris. I admit to a sense of satisfaction in noting that, like me, the Hokus Pokus gang appear to rank the wines of relative newcomer Martin Vajčner among the greats.

Christian Tschida and Hokus Pokus manager Stepanka Senova.

Hokus Pokus, I should note, is not its owners’ only business venture. Schwan also maintains a chain of forthrightly conventional wine shops called Víno & Destiláty, which has over eighty locations throughout the Czech Republic, and which distributes, for example, Moet-Hennessey. Hokus Pokus, by contrast, is a manifestly a labor of love.

Some might argue that the two businesses work at cross purposes, but personally I find the decision not to present natural wine beside conventional mass-market wine refreshingly honest. On some level, it permits the discussion about natural wine to take place, since wine retailers and distributors specializing in both natural and conventional wine under the same business structure always have a strong incentive to downplay the differences between the two.

Gleaming crudo by Jana Schwan.

The Hokus Pokus Wine Fest was held at Brick House, an events space situated inside the Dolni Oblast Vítkovice, a deeply imposing “industrial heritage site” that includes a museum and tours of the coal furnaces. I quickly sold through the ten copies of The World of Natural Wine that I was able to bring to the event; during downtime afterwards I wandered the grounds.

The symbolic contrast with the excellent natural wine tasting happening inside couldn’t be starker.

Miloš Nalevajka, unknown, Michal Lacina, Lucie Zikmundovà, and Robert Schwan pre-gaming before the doors opened.
Martin Vajčner’s 2022 welschriesling from Hnanice shows a staggering saline intensity.
It was strange to learn of the existence of a Jura natural wine estate in Ostrava. Domaine La Grapp’a are Ganevat acolytes who have only recently begun selling wine, rather than grapes.
Matassa’s Tom Lubbe doing some free promotion for arguably the greatest restaurant in Perpignan.
Hungarian vigneron Horst Hummel’s lovely petnats, from untreated vineyards as I recall.
A rare unsulfited magnum of slender and vivid cross-vintage chardonnay from Jaroslav and Luboš Osička. I wish they would make more cuvées like this!
Inspired Brno chocolate maker (and future Znojmo vigneron) Filip Teply of Ajala (right) and his employee Emma Barickmanova.

Depending on the system of measurement, the most polluted city in the Czech Republic is either Ostrava or Prague. (But Ostrava has just over a fifth of Prague’s population.) These are not, however, the most polluted cities in Europe, most of which appear to be located in the Balkans. As far as Europe goes, unless one is in Iceland, Finland, or certain parts of Norway or Sweden, one is always celebrating natural wine in the context of some degree of environmental catastrophe. All major cities are, to some degree, industrial heritage sites.

I still felt I’d be remiss if, during my stay, I neglected visit Ostrava’s iconic still-burning slag heap. It was only a fifteen minute run from the hotel. The view, as promised, was extraordinary.

I should have bought a t-shirt.

Hokus Pokus
Škroupova 1114/4
70200 OSTRAVA

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FURTHER READING

TASTING: Natural Wine Fest, Brno 2023
TASTING: Bottled Alive, Tabor 2022

Znojmo’s Zero-Zero Virtuoso: Martin Vajčner
On Znojmo Time: Aleš Kovář
Not All Who Wander: L’Homme Perdu aka Pavel Tomànek

Dining on the Wine Trail: justWINE, Brno

Issue 10: Beyond the Mental Iron Curtain