It’s been about a week since local vintner William Carson returned from Maribor, Slovenia where he was able to experience what he’s deemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Maribor is home to the world’s oldest grape vine and Carson, who lived in Slovenia for over a decade, was the guest of honor at the annual Old Vine Festival, a harvesting ceremony celebrating the vine. As the guest of honor, Carson was able to cut the first cluster of grapes from the 450-year-old vine.
“I’ll never be treated as importantly in my life as I was that day,” Carson said noting that this was one of the biggest things he’ll ever do in his winemaking career. “How often do you get to harvest the oldest grape vine in the world?”
He received the invitation after an article ran in the Vecer, a Slovenian newspaper. The locals were so amazed that he named his winery after the Drava River, which flows through Maribor, and were appreciative of him promoting their city.
While in Maribor, Carson received VIP treatment, and was invited to drink wine with the director of the Maribor soccer team before the match. He was given gifts and was even able to watch the team during warm-ups. He received several dinner and drink invitations from people he didn’t even know. Some even offered to drive him places.
“This festival is kind of a big deal, and being the guest of honor, I was sort of like the toast of the town for the week,” Carson said. “It’s funny I lived there for so many years very anonymously, and then I leave there and now I’m like this minor celebrity.”
While he appreciated the invites, Carson said he preferred to have his own time to catch up with friends.
“I know a lot of people there, so this trip was a combination of doing official obligations that I had to do and also seeing friends,” he explained.
Two days after arriving in Maribor, Carson had the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session at the house of the old vine.
On the day of the festival, Carson gave a speech in Slovene in front of hundreds of people.
“I didn’t know what I was going to say. I had nothing planned, and they got me up there in front of the microphone, and I had to talk to people in Slovene,” he said. “I was a little bit nervous because I hadn’t lived there for two and a half years, so I wasn’t sure how well I spoke it, but it seemed like everybody was pleased.”
In his speech he expressed what a great honor it was to have the opportunity and thanked the people of Maribor, the people of the region and the people of Slovenia.
During the ceremony Carson climbed the ladder to cut the first cluster of grapes from the harvest as several photographers vigorously snapped pictures of the moment.
“I cut it, and I turned around and there were all these photographers there, so I held up the cluster. And then I handed it to the mayor, and then I came down. Then me and the mayor and the master of the vine, we stood there next to each other and we did this like ceremony where we each took one of the berries and ate it,” he said.
Carson was presented with several gifts including a bottle of wine from the 2012 harvest along with a certificate of authenticity. The vine produces a limited amount of wine, about three gallons each year. It cannot be purchased and usually is given to those of high esteem. Only 10 other bottles from the 2012 harvest have been given away. Carson believes he is the third American to receive a bottle from the vine. Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt have also received bottles.
“I’m never, ever going to open it. It’s like priceless,” Carson said.
Carson was interviewed at least 30 times throughout the course of the day and recalled one journalist who unknowingly interviewed him in English only to find out that he spoke Slovene after he gave his speech. She approached him after the speech, and they did the interview over in Slovene.
Carson said he is glad he has had this opportunity which has brought a lot of publicity to Drava Winery.
Several Slovenian tourists have made plans to visit the winery named after their river.
Carson and his brother Steve opened Drava Winery two years ago.