You’ve spent the afternoon sipping wine in a valley in between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. An Istrian Malvasia and a Zelen that matured in stainless-steel tanks. A 100 percent Pinot Noir. Plus a blend of Schioppettino, Blaufränkisch, and Refosco—grapes you’ve never heard of, much less tasted. They certainly sound like they belong in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy’s northeasternmost, autonomous region. But you’re actually across the border in Slovenia.
Like its neighbor to the west, the Vipava Valley, in the Slovenian Littoral region, has overcome a difficult past. The area was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Italy before being occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was liberated in 1945, but only after far too many deaths; mass grave sites dot the valley. The fighting continued through Slovenia’s Ten-Day War for independence.
Today, the Vipava Valley is finally peaceful. Castles—or at least their ruins—stand on steep hillsides. Fruit orchards—full of apricots, figs, and persimmons—line the Vipava river. Strong sea breezes cool the vineyards. White wines flourish in the marlstone and sandstone soil. While tourists are just starting to explore the beautiful valley.
You started at the Burja Estate in Vipava. The 60-year-old vineyard focuses on local varietals. After learning about and tasting the traditional grapes, it’s time to pair the wine with food to really understand the area. For that, you head to Majerija, an estate built by a count more than 300 years ago. Gardens, filled with vegetables and herbs, surround the property’s stone buildings. Flowers line the terraces. A room, long used for wine processing, has a vaulted stone cellar and a granary for grapes and produce. Plus the food, if not made at the estate, comes from nearby farms.
Amazing smells, including baking bread, are already wafting from the main house when you arrive. The restaurant serves traditional cuisine with modern touches at a rustic oak table. Rich flavors lean toward the north and Central Europe during the autumn and the winter. The Mediterranean and the south take over in the spring and the summer. You practically start drooling when duck pâté, served with quickly roasted figs and summer herbs, is placed on the table. It’s paired with a Burja white blend, which tastes a bit like a Riesling. The second course is homemade ravioli filled with pork. It’s served with tomatoes, fried peppermint, and the Burja Reddo blend that you tried earlier. The red wine now tastes complex without being too heavy.
After eating and drinking way too much, the last thing you’ll want to do is drive to a distant hotel. Luckily, Majerija has 10 guest rooms. The rustic, light-filled rooms have herb themes, like citronella and rosemary, with color palettes to match. You decide to spend the night in the green-accented basil room. Not that you’re going to bed quite yet. There is still dessert, plus a few more new varietals you haven’t tasted, still to come.