The Maribor area is on the western edge of the Podravje region, and this is the furthest that the climatic effect of the Pannonian plains reaches. In this coolest of Podravje areas, only the foothills are suitable for viticulture; its vineyards are mostly on eastern slopes. The area's soils are predominantly composed of quartz-rich marl and clay derived from eroded metamorphic (phyllites) and volcanic (tonalites) rock that constitutes the Pohorje and Kozjak mountains.
The shapes of vineyards vary depending on particular relief and microclimatic conditions. Older vineyards tend to be planted in horizontal rows, circularly around the tops of hills; larger weeds are removed, but grass is allowed to grow between the rows to prevent erosion, particularly in terraced vineyards and on steeper slopes. On less steep slopes (and in newer vineyards) the rows are vertical and weeded completely.
The recent viticultural history of this area, and indeed, of all the Podravje region, is indelibly tied to the name of Archduke Johann of Hapsburg, better known in Slovenia by his Slovenized name, Janez. Archduke Janez was the thirteenth child of Emperor Leopold II and Marie-Louise, and therefore the son of one Austrian emperor, the brother of another (Franz I), and uncle and Heir Presumptive to a third (Ferdinand I). The date March 10, 1822, is written with golden letters in the history of Podravje: on that day, Archduke Janez bought an estate near Pekre. Since his death, the estate has been known as Meranovo, named after the city of Meran in South Tyrol where the Archduke's worldly remains are entombed in the Schenna Castle.
The official history says that Archduke Janez fell in love with the country - the not-so-official history adds that there was also a local girl involved.
Archduke Janez devoted a large part of his life to the development of viticulture in the area and introduced many new vines from the Rhine and Mosel valleys to the region, including Renski Rizling, Traminec, Rulandec, and Modri Burgundec. Today, these are among the most prestigious wines of the Maribor area and all of Podravje. He also introduced new planting schemes and training techniques and experimented with vines brought from Hungary, Italy, and even the Crimea. He founded a school of viticulture in 1832 and established a fund that granted pensions to old impoverished vinicarji (hired vineyard workers, best described as viticultural proletariat) who had worked for at least ten years for one vineyard owner.
On the Meranovo estate, the wines that Archduke Janez introduced still dominate the vineyards and regularly win prizes at wine fairs in Slovenia and abroad. The pinnacle of the Meranovo offering is an outstanding Sauvignon with its overpowering "elder blossom" bouquet.
The Maribor area is famous for its noble, extremely aromatic white wines: its Laski Rizling ages particularly well, and its Renski Rizling, although not dominant in the area's vineyards, is the pinnacle of Maribor wines. Some 60% of all prize wines are produced by the vignerons of this area. Connoisseurs particularly treasure the late harvest Renski Rizling from Piramida, a site on the outskirts of the city of Maribor - the view of these beautiful vineyards is the most impressive sight greeting visitors who enter Maribor from the west.
Other successful white wines of the area include Sipon, rich in acids; the fragrant Chardonnay and Beli Pinot; a characteristic Sauvignon with its powerful "elder blossom" bouquet; Sivi Pinot - Rulandec, a full-bodied, balanced, and complex wine; Rumeni Muskat with its overpowering aroma; and of course, the, gentle, sweet, and aromatic Traminec that competes with the Traminec produced in the Radgona- Kapela area.
The proportion of red wines, never particularly large, has been steadily declining in the last few decades. Modri Pinot, first introduced by Archduke Janez, remains the pinnacle of the area's red wines. Modra Frankinja can also produce some outstanding vintages around Maribor, while Zametna Crnina has a long tradition in the area: The oldest living vine in Europe (and probably even world-wide) still growing and bearing grapes is a Zametna Crnina planted some 440 years ago in Lent, the old part of Maribor. Its harvest is a festive occasion: only some thirty-five liters (9.25 gallons) of wine are produced from this ancient vine annually and are sold in special small bottles with official certificates and the seal of the City of Maribor.
The most widely appreciated blended wine of the area is Mariborcan, a blend of Renski Rizling, Laski Rizling, Sauvignon, and Traminec. Traditionally, this white wine is always served during the victory celebrations after the annual World Ski Cup event on Pohorje. Ritoznojcan is a dry white blend of Laski Rizling, Renski Rizling, and Sipon. This blend has a very long tradition and improves with age since the young wine is extraordinarily rich in acids.
Most of the excellent wines of the area are produced and stored in the huge, almost 200-year-old Vinag cellar, also known as the Maribor Wine Tabernacle, which has an area of 20,000 square meters (about 4.9 acres) in three kilometers (1.86 miles) of underground tunnels beneath the center of Maribor. The cellar's capacity is seven million liters (1.85 million gallons) of wine. With 70% of the cellar devoted to classical storage in barrels made from Slavonian oak, the Maribor Wine Tabernacle is one of the largest classic cellars in Europe.
The archive of the Maribor Wine Tabernacle stores almost all of the post-1945 Slovene vintages - over 450,000 bottles in all - and some vintages can be found nowhere else. An interesting detail: perhaps learning from the Ptuj example, the keepers of the Maribor Wine Tabernacle have constructed a small "mini tabernacle" somewhere inside the large one. It stores only fifty of the most precious bottles, and only the Master Cellarer knows its location.