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Slovak and Czech grape growers say this year's wine harvest is the toughest for decades

Czech and Slovak winemakers say they are seeing a reduction in the grape harvest after some of the worst weather conditions in decades.
Many winemakers in Slovakia and the Czech Republic are counting the cost of extreme weather conditions this year, as they face harvests well-down on their usual yields.
Cold and wet weather during spring and summer, interchanged with very hot days and hailstorms has seen many struggling with rot and other disease.

Alojz Masaryk has been involved in the wine industry for 40 years. He says the weather has been extreme.
"I don't remember such a bad year in the last 40 years that I have worked in vineyards. Terrible conditions - very wet one minute and then immediately very hot weather - terrible changes," he said.
In 1996 Masaryk founded his own company, Vino-Masaryk, with the goal of producing wine of the highest quality from indigenous grapes.
He said only through careful management of disease through spraying was he able to hold on to most of his harvest.
"We did very well with spraying even though at one stage we had hail-stones falling, which took 10 per cent of the harvest. But all in all we managed to maintain 80 percent of the harvest," he said, before proudly showing the bottles of wine he has stacked for sale and the awards he has on display.
In his shop in the town of Skalica near the Czech border, Masaryk sells around 30 varieties of white, red and rose wines. His wines are also sold to specialist shops, restaurants and bars in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. His winery produces around 100,000 bottles a year.
He says the wine industry is strictly controlled to protect the Slovak brand, and he never uses imported grapes.
"Our selected Slovak wines have to be signed with a state control mark. This means, when I produce a thousand bottles, each bottle has its own number," he said.
In southern parts of Slovakia near the capital Bratislava, many of the vineyards have suffered from rot and disease.
Peter Chowaniec says that despite careful spraying, his harvest is much lower than previous years.
"There is a large reduction in grapes. We are usually harvesting seven tons of grapes per hectare and this year it won't be even three tons - the white varieties are the worst. Red wines are about five to six tons, so the harvest is about 40 per cent less this year than usual. The health condition of vines depends very much on the care of the grower, how he protects the vines from disease by his choice and timing of spraying," he said.
Throughout his vineyard it is possible to see the rotting vines and unhealthy grapes which cannot be harvested.
Some winemakers will have to consider buying grapes from other countries to make up the shortfall, but Chowaniec says this is not a path he will go down.
"Of course, wine grapes and grape musts are also imported from Hungary or southern countries, but these are usually used for making table wines which are than sold in street markets. Maybe someone is bottling them, but this is not something I would ever do," he said.
There are concerns that buying grapes of unknown origin damages the whole region's brand.
Around 100 kilometres north, winemakers in the Czech Republic's Moravia region have similar problems.
Frantisek Zapletal from Velke Bilovice has grown up with wine, working alongside his father in a vineyard as a child.
He said conditions have been difficult, but those with knowledge and experience will survive.
"I produce wines only from my own grapes and I have enough. This year showed exactly who understands wine and who doesn't, because those who understand the wine well treated the vineyard the right way and in time, and they have enough grapes this year. Unfortunately those who underestimated the situation and did not work properly have a very low harvest with wines affected by rot and other illnesses," he said.
Moravian wine expert and writer Branko Cerny is the organiser of the "King of Wines" competition, which pits high quality wines from the region and country against each other.
He is a champion of local wine and says it is important to protect the industry from imported grapes.
"Thanks to our EU membership, we are not allowed to establish even one new hectare of vines. The consumption of wine increases, but we cannot produce more wine and we are still lacking some 50 per cent of wine for our consumption. That's why we must protect our Czech or Moravian wine trademark even more than we do," he said.
He said it is important that winemakers and wine authorities are vigilant.
"The worst thing that can happen to our small Czech and Moravian winery is when someone fakes the product," he said.
The Czech Republic had a record harvest in 2008 of 98,000 tons of grapes. This produced 840 hectolitres of wine. In 2009, yields fell to 68,000 tons and around 570 thousand hectolitres. The 2010 harvest is estimated to bring in just 45,000 tons of grapes and 370,000 hectolitres of wine.


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