History of wine in Poland – a thousand years of resilience

Monk tasting wine

Written by Nika Shevela


Poland has a deep-rooted affinity with the grape, but a fractured history as a wine producer. While grape growing in the country goes back over 10 centuries, the modern winemaking industry is just over 30 years old, with some dynamic developments in the past decades. Polish tumultuous past, including communist rule and numerous wars, has significantly shaped the way in which its winemaking has evolved.

How it all began: exploring the roots of Polish winemaking

There is evidence of Vitis vinifera in Poland already in the Miocene (22 million – 5 million years ago), well before the appearance of modern humans. We know that thanks to the botanist Władysław Szafer who discovered fossil vine seeds in the Wieliczka salt mine, a stone’s throw from the biodynamic pioneer Winnica Wieliczka. The first Polish wines were likely made in the 9th and the 10th centuries on the slopes of Wawel in Lesser Poland — which gives name to the majestic Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill in Krakow.

Middle Ages Winemaking

Middle Ages booming winemaking industry has its origins in the demand for wine in liturgical settings. At the time, exporting wine from the south of Europe proved problematic, and vineyards were established in Poland. Disciplined, studious monks from the Benedictine and Cistercian orders tended to the vines and laid the foundation for modern winemaking. One of the most important wine-producing centres was the impressive 11th-century Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, just outside Krakow. The divine drink was highly regarded by the first kings of the Piast Dynasty, the initial ruling family of Poland.

The 12th century saw vineyards sprawling across the country, a legacy that lives on today in numerous toponyms like Winiary, Winogrady, and Winne Góry (Polish for “Vineyards”). As an example of recorded winemaking history, in 1166, Prince Henryk of Sandomierz gifted a vineyard to the Order of St. John in Zagoście nad Nida, who were aided by three skilled winemakers. The wine history of the acclaimed Lubuskie region around Zielona Góra dates back to 1150 and the arrival of settlers from Flanders and Wallonia. Here, winemaking is older than the magnificent town itself, founded in 1222.

Secular sipping: wine breaks free from the church

Polish wine history continued in the 14th century, with townspeople establishing vineyards and leasing former church properties. Wine no longer served exclusively for religious ceremonies but competed in popularity with beer and mead. Unlike monastic and manor vineyards, plots planted by burghers were profit-oriented and located along major communication routes. 

Silesia became the wine-growing centre of the time; other vine plantings were concentrated around cities like Gubin, Zielona Góra and Krosno Odrzańskie in the Odra valley. Areas near Poznan, Zbąszyń, and Wolsztyn in Major Poland also played a significant role in promoting wine traditions, while Sandomierz served as the undisputed “wine capital” of Lesser Poland viticulture in the booming Vistula valley.

In the picture below: a patent from king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk allowing the city of Poznań to deal in foregin wine.

Patent Kazimierza Jagiellończyka wino Poznań

From flourishing to floundering: Polish winemaking in crisis 

The 15th and 16th centuries were marked by some serious setbacks for Polish wine. The rising popularity of beer and vodka and the import of wine from other countries like Hungary or Spain caused a decline in domestic wine production. Deteriorating weather conditions (a series of long frosty winters) added to the struggles of larger vineyards, resulting in low crop yields and sometimes, vineyard destruction.

International conflicts of the 17th century, such as the Swedish War of 1655 and the Thirty Years’ War in Silesia, dealt a further major blow to the wine industry. Entire towns were decimated, and with them, wine consumption. Poverty made wine traditions obsolete. In the mid-19th century, Phylloxera, a pest stowed away on ships from the US to France, ravaged vineyards across much of Europe.

Zielona Góra: a winemaking oasis amidst obstacles

Despite a sea of obstacles, the town of Zielona Góra in Silesia emerged as a winemaking oasis, experiencing a vinous renaissance in the 19th century. In 1800, as many as 700 hectares of vineyards were planted within the city limits. It was here that Karl Samuel Häuser produced one of the first German sparkling wines, with Friedrich Förster and August Grempler as his partners. Grempler & Co. AG soon became the largest wine producer in Zielona Góra, known under its original Germanic name of Grünberg back then. “Grünberger Sekt” went on to gain international recognition and prestige. However, the wine industry began to decline in the early 20th century due to a shortage of fertilisers and labour force.

Medieval wine conservation

Between the Wars: reviving Polish winemaking traditions

The post-World War I era saw a renewed interest in reviving Polish winemaking traditions. Vineyards were established in western Major Poland and Warka nad Pilicą, spanning several hundred hectares. The 1930s saw further expansion into warm Podole, now in Western Ukraine, where international vinifera varieties thrived in a real “wine-growing basin”. The orchard owners in Zaleszczyki were the largest association of its kind in Poland before 1939.

The Polish wine industry was dealt a death blow by World War II, which claimed the lives of approximately 6 million Poles. In 1945, Poland took control of the Zielona Góra vineyards, including the prestigious Grempler cellars, where noble grape varieties like Riesling, Traminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir were still grown. Unfortunately, the winemaking knowledge of the displaced German residents was left behind.

Wine under communism: from high hopes to slow decline

After the collapse of the Third Reich, Poland became a communist satellite state of the USSR, losing its sovereignty once again. In 1947, Boleslaw Bierut rose to power as a staunch Stalinist, leading Poland into a Communist People’s Republic. Winemakers were compelled to transfer their businesses to the government, which nationalised vineyards and transformed them into high-yield, low-quality farms.

Initially supportive of winegrowing traditions, the communist regime changed its tune after the brutal winter of 1956-57 ravaged most crops in Central Europe, dampening enthusiasm for winemaking. New plantings and research were abandoned, and the Vine Plant at the Orchard Institute in Skierniewice was shut down in 1962. By 1961, Poland had only 37 hectares of vineyards left, and the focus shifted rapidly to fruit wines, from cheap sulphurised apple wines to home-made versions with currants or strawberries.

In the picture below: Polish uhlans drinking wine. Mark the beautiful interwar uniforms. 

Uhlans drinking wine

A new renaissance: the rebirth of Polish winemaking

Following a long dormancy, Polish winemaking was revived in the early 1980s. In 1982, the pioneering vintner Roman Myśliwiec established Golesz vineyard in the Subcarpathian region. Kinga vineyard followed in 1985, with Stara Winna Góra opening a decade later in Lubuskie. This resurgence aligned with the decline of communism in Poland, resulting in Solidarity’s victory in the 1989 election and Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s appointment as Poland’s first non-Communist prime minister since 1946.

In the early 2000s, the wine revival in Poland continued to gain momentum with the foundation of several vineyards in Lower Silesia and beyond. The Jaworek vineyards were established in 2001, with Jakubów, Katarzyna and Wzgórza Trzebnickie following in the next decade. Płochocki vineyard in Sandomierz, founded in 2002, is another of Poland’s oldest producers. Hybrids proved to be the most successful in the chilly Polish climate, but further research and changing weather conditions led to the introduction of Vitis viniferas. Roman Mysliwiec’s nurseries near Jasło, and others in the Małopolska and Sandomierz regions supply winemakers across the country.

Poland’s entrance into the EU club in 2004 opened the door for significant changes in the country’s drinking culture. It paved the way for a shift in Polish drinking habits, with wine and beer taking the lead over vodka and other hard liquors. Today, there are over 400 vineyards across the country, according to the Enoportal.pl website —  a testament to the rising interest and awareness of wine among Poles. As the industry grows, so does the investment in domestic wine production, attracting both local and foreign investors. One notable example is the Adoria Vineyard founded by Mike Whitney, who recognized Poland’s potential as a winemaking destination.

From humble beginnings to a vibrant industry, the story of Polish winemaking is one of resilience, innovation, and passion. As the country’s vineyards continue to expand and mature, the best is yet to come.

Glass of wine in a modern event

I know the history. Now I want to touch it…

Many of the places mentioned in our literary journey through the history of Polish winemaking are still strongly connected to wine. Think of Zielona Góra, a thriving centre for new plantings or Sandomierz, where a Wine Trail has been established for the pleasure of wine tourists.

We can take you there. There should be no stopping you from a sip of Silesian Pinot Noir or Lesser Poland Solaris and we are there to make it all easy. VeloWino is the top Polish wine tourism operator, experience and enthusiasm counted in. Check our Cracovian tours or the famous Sandomierz weekend trip. We can tailor something just for you, if you wish.

See you on the route. History alive is waiting.


Images :

Narcyz Witczak-Witaczyński, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
State Archive in Poznań, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Header picture, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Read more…

Polish grapes from A to Z

Polish grapes from A to Z

Polish wine has something for every taste bud, from crisp whites to bold reds. With over 70 grape varieties grown in...