Vinobraní is the name given to the traditional autumnal wine harvest festivals of the Czech lands, and the 2009 season is in full swing.
A traditional vinobraní in a small vineyard sees family members and friends travel from all ends of the country to help bring in the year's grapes and prepare the new wine. A small house or large weekend cottage near the vineyard is the focus of activity, and there seems to be as much or more eating, drinking, singing and laughing as there is fruitpicking or wine making, as well as catching up and sharing burčák with neighbours and friends not seen since the same time last year.
But there are also public vinobraní festivals that anyone can go along to and the biggest and best are held in South Moravia, the country's main wine growing region. Znojmo and Mikulov both had their festivals on the weekend of the 11th and 12th, Mělník and Bzenec were this weekend just gone and Velké Pavlovice's vinobraní was way back at the beginning of the month. But the season being in full swing means it's not over yet. On the 3rd of October the Valtice vinobraní will take place at the UNESCO-listed chateau and coming up on the 25th and 26th of September will be the Litoměřice vinobraní and the Valtice burčák festival.
Despite being little known abroad, burčák is a favourite and much anticipated drink in the Czech lands. A lightly alcoholic drink made from partially fermented white grape juice, burčák is only available for a short time each year and in South Moravia, they sometimes say there are four seasons; winter, spring, summer and burčák.
Good burčák should be golden and slightly cloudy and is best a few days after the beginning of the fermentation process. It's also possible to make burčák from red grapes, but because of the way red wine is left to steep and colour, it's difficult to find outside the wine growing regions themselves.
They say that burčák cleanses the blood and that to do its job properly, you need to consume as much burčák as you have blood. And at every vinobraní plenty of people gleefully set about doing just that, because it's sweet and easy to drink in great quantities. But take it easy the first time. Burčák contains living yeast cultures that continue to work in your body when consumed, and drinking too much too quickly might see you cleansing more than just your bloodstream.
That said, it's a natural product high in vitamin B, and when Mrs. Oddsocks was at the doctor last week, she was told “Burčák is healthy, drink as much as you like”.