The beating of hooves passing through the town with barrels on the cart, clinking in tens of cooper shops, squeaking of spindle presses in gateways of burgher houses. How significant was the wine in medieval Trnava? Take a look into the glorious history tangled with grapevine annual shoots...

Vineyards far and wide...

In addition to the ownership of vineyards in several regions such as Rača, Vajnory, Svätý Jur, Pezinok, Vinosady, Modra, Červený Kameň, Šintava, or Hlohovec, the townsmen of Trnava were also founding new vineyards in regions of their subject villages - Brestovany, Hrnčiarovce, Modranka, Parná and later in Ružindol. This raises a question - why did the townsmen of Trnava own vineyards in such a far area, stretching from Little Carpathians to the river Váh? The reason was very simple. It was worth it, because the wine trade was very profitable. There was a huge demand for wine. Water was often contaminated, so wine served as a safe, daily drink, often watered down or flavoured with various ingredients and spices. It is also very important to mention that the medieval climate was warmer than the climate of later era which meant that the grapevine thrived also on flatlands, not just along the hillsides of the Little Carpathians. There was no village near Trnava that wouldn't have any vineyards. Medieval Trnava (along with Bratislava) belonged to the biggest viticultural centres in Hungary.

Trnava, the centre of Hungarian wine trade...

Trnava was a significant meeting point for foreign traders as well as a centre of domestic trade. The first indirect reference to viticulture in Trnava comes from 1258 - a counterfeit in a town document describes the planting of grapevine somewhere in the vicinity of the town. By all accounts the region was settled in the 12th century  by first German and later also Walloon traders who quickly recognized the potential of the local wine. It is likely that the local townsmen were important elements in wine trade even before getting the royal town privileges in 1238. The significant business status that Trnava was gaining for more than decades was confirmed ruler's easy signing a town document. Therefore we presume that the developed wine trade was one of the most significant factors that led to the acquisition of these privileges and made Trnava the first free royal town in the area of present-day Slovakia.

After the Tatar invasion (1241- 1242) the town experienced the arrival of additional German guests who used their money to buy new vineyards. Their expansion into the hillsides of Little Carpathians and gaining of vineyards greatly grew to huge proportions in the second half of the 13th century. Since then we have documented evidence. This process even reached such an extent that it was necessary to regulate it. It is no surprise that the first written documents regarding the viticulture in Svätý Jur, Pezinok, or later in Modra, mention the townsmen of Trnava and solutions of various disputes concerning fees to local rulers.

What was the matter of these controversies? Simply said, the aristocratic owners wanted a bigger share of profits that were generated by the townsmen of Trnava. The aristocracy supported the development of viticulture within its own lands (it generated more profit than any other agricultural business), but soon they started to raise the fees, because they wanted a bigger participation in the lucrative wine trade.

In the 14th century the expansion continued and so did the aristocratic attempts to raise the fees. Simply said, there were documents which were preserved until the 16th century describing multiple attempts of various manor owners in Svätý Jur, Pezinok, Modra, Červený Kameň, who wanted to disrupt the viticultural acitivities of people in Trnava or to raise fees and tithes. The townsmen defended themselves against these attempts and approached rulers for help, who, for a certain fee, acknowledged their privileges. However, because of their frequent repetition and large quantity we won't quote them now. The most important thing is that Trnava usually won these disputes and kept its status of one of the biggest wine traders in Hungary.

In the 14th century the wine trade really thrived and Trnava reaped the rich rewards. One of the main factors that contributed to Trnava's prosperity was its position on the main trade route - so called Czech route between Prague and Buda, which were well connected with other foreign markets. Due to this fact, the wine from Trnava was mostly drunk in Morava, Bohemia, Silesia, or Poland and less in Hungary. This trend continued even in the 15th century. Town accounts show us that after Bratislava people of Trnava owned the most vineyards in the whole Little Carpathians' region. A preserved account dated 1422 states that the exports of wine from Trnava equalled 2 685 456 litres.

In addition to the vineyards located in close vicinity of the Little Carphatians, the townsmen also tried to plant new ones in their own region and also in the territory of their servile villages - Hrnčiarovce, Modranka, Brestovany and Ružindol. There are accounts from the 15th century that prove the existence of vineyards in the territory of the town itself, more specifically in its districts Kráľová, Syslová, Nemečanka and Peklo.

Reduction of vineyards due to the climate change, but also for other reasons...

In the second part of the 16th century the importance of the viticulture descended a bit. The vineyards surrounding the town were gradually removed and replaced with cereal production. This was a response to the decreasing profitability of the viticulture. However, the wine trade was still the most important source of town's income in the 16th century.

What was the reason for the decreasing profitability of the viticulture? There are more answers. The truth is that the fees for viticultural activities on other people's properties were rising much faster than prices of wine. Political instability before and after Turkish invasion into the central part of Hungary because of the battle at Mohács in 1526 resulted in the fact that even privileges which were already approved by the ruler were less respected. This fact discouraged investments into new vineyards. Flatlands were always targets of Turks or mercenaries and their pillaging. In addition, the local climate started changing - weather was colder than in the Middle Ages. Flatlands were not as fertile as they had used to be and as a result the vineyards were restricted only to the south-eastern flanks of the Little Carpathians, where the climate was much more hospitable - more intensive sunlight and relative protection against cold winds and frost. Low quality of grape equalled low quality of wine and therefore the prices were low as well.

The combination of these factors resulted in the fact that vineyards completely disappeared from this region before the start of the 18th century. Some of the local townsmen still owned quality vineyards in the region of the Little Carpathians, which became the centre of viticulture. In the 17th and 18th century the most important regions of viticulture were Suchá nad Parnou, Horné Orešany, Dolné Orešaný and partially Modra. The wine trade was controlled by several wholesalers and eventually lost its status as a number one trade in Trnava.

“The biggest barrel in the world” brushed up the faded glory of Trnava's wine...

The 19th century was the renaissance era of wine in Trnava. It was connected with the person of Anton Valc (Walz), a wine wholesaler who brought fame to the town thanks to the big barrels which became a tourist attraction. Many travellers passing through Trnava described it as the biggest barrel in the world that is filled with wine. The barrel became a local landmark and the town of Trnava was once again linked with wine. Cellars were located in the suburb - in the former Jesuit garden (a malthouse on the Sladovnícka street in recent history). Their construction began in 1810 and finished in 1813. In later years Anton Valc even ordered an expansion of these cellars. He focused on wholesale of wine which meant that most of his wine was bought and subsequently re-sold. Soon, Valc became a well-known figure in Hungary and most of his production was exported abroad. His customer network was so vast that one of his wine suppliers was archduke Joseph, palatine of Hungary himself. The most innkeepers in Trnava bought wine from him.

In 1821 he requested the title of nobility and the ruler obliged. From that day Valc adopted a new name - Szulíny. That is the reason why the big barrel of Trnava received its nicknames "The Barrel of Anton Valc" and "The Barrel of Anton Szulíny". The barrel was constructed in 1822 in Pest, in 1823 it was erected in its cellar in Trnava and in 1824, during the Easter, it was filled with wine. Szulíny utilised his business talent even during the transport of the barrel. In 1823, when the barrel construction was finished, he allowed it to be exposed in Buda and Pest. The admission fee covered the costs of exposition, transport and installation in Trnava. Its volume was 114 000 and cellar, where the barrel was placed, was accessible even by railway!
Although with a delay of several decades, the famous bond between Trnava and wine is once again upheld by local wineries, which, thanks to their global successes, prove that people in Trnava still preserve the tradition of wine, not just in their roots but also in their hearts.

Written in cooperation with PhDr. Martin Hrubala, Phd., headmaster of The Small Carpathian Museum of Viticulture in Pezinok.