Macedonia on the Threshold of a New Wine Era
by stasa cafuta (text and photos)
Longing for the South
Macedonia on the threshold of a new wine era
The golden age of wine production in Macedonia was back in the nineteen eighties, when this former Yugoslav republic accounted for 2/3 of the wine produced over the entire territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. To this day, the vast majority of people believe that Macedonian wines are of bad quality, but lately wine connoisseurs have paid much attention to the developments of wine-growing in Macedonia. On an international level, the most widely acknowledged wine-promoting association is Makvino.
Aleksander Ristovski, president of the VITIS viticulturalists’ union cooperating with the SIDA Swedish development organisation, also engages in the promotion of Macedonian wines. “Tell me when you would like to come and visit us in the Povardarie region, so we can prepare an agenda for you”, Mr. Ristovski asked me when I told him I would be visiting Macedonia. After some schedules were harmonized and an introductory meeting had taken place in Skopje, I was able to visit several wine-growers in this Balkan region.
The old new world
Macedonia's wine cellaring tradition goes back to the time when the Romans ruled the country. The arriving Slavs continued this tradition up to the 14th century. However, under the Ottoman Empire reigning from the 2nd half of the 14th century until the beginning of the 20th century, viticulture remained alive only in abandoned orthodox monasteries. After the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 90s, wine-growing in Macedonia experienced a period of crisis: The common Yugoslav market – dominated by Macedonian wines - had disappeared overnight. At the end of the nineties, some entrepreneurs who had succeeded in completely different sectors came to realize the potential of Macedonian wine. They founded the first private wine cellars together with recognised oenologists who had made their careers at the time of ex-Yugoslavia or with the young generation of oenologists who have been trained abroad, e.g. in Bulgaria, France or Italy. Over the last three years, more than three million dollars have been invested into the modernization of various cellars. Among the smaller private wine-growers, the largest investment went into the Fonko winery. “Already at the time of Alexander the Great, the royal family were known for being fond of good wine, and the largest vineyards were cultivated in Macedonia even by the Romans. This tradition must be continued and refined”, Kiril Bogevski, owner of the first private cellar Bovin, explained with sparkling enthusiasm.
Flavour of fruit
The Macedonian vineyards in the Povardarie region, where as much as 85% of Macedonia’s entire wine is produced, are embedded in a wonderful valley with meandering rolling hills: Here, the feeling is right for the vines: In places, the green vines are embraced by golden wheat and other crops. White clouds chased by the wind contrast with clear blue skies. All colours are extremely intense and give a sense of completeness. When I ask about the characteristics of the climate, Ristovski tells me that it compares with the climate of California: “The summers are hot, dry and long. The grapes have enough time to mature. A soft wind is constantly blowing, and chases away illness, so the wine-growers spray pesticides three times on average”. In Bovin I was told that the Yellow Muscato does not need to be sprayed at all, which makes me believe that this is the ideal climate for a variety of wine types, both autochthonous and foreign. A young oenologist, fair-haired Georgieva of Bulgarian origin teaching viticulture in Popova Kula, is convinced that the hot climate has a positive impact on the intensity of the wines’ colour, taste and alcohol contents. Another oenologist, Milica Pletvarska from Tikveš – Macedonia’s largest wine producing region and ranking eighth on a worldwide scale – says that fresh and fruity tastes are typical of the Povardarie region.
Vranac – the king of wines
»If you want the be recognised on the world’s wine map, you must produce wines from both autochthonous and “foreign” varieties. Lately we have been paying much attention to our autochthonous varieties – in line with worldwide trends”, Ristovski says. Vranac actually originates from Montengro, but is still the most important wine produced in Macedonia. Vranac’ sun-matured black grapes are the bottom basis for oenologists. I must say that, in all cellars I could taste wine, I was offered extremely good Vranac – with all the characteristics of this wine. The Vranac variety from the vine Bovinov Dissan, growing on special soil, is considered the best of its kind, and only one grape in two is selected for the production. The vintage 2003 has laid some time in barrique. Its strong violet colour is best shown in a long-stem glass. The taste and colour are reminiscent of ripe berries and other fresh fruit. Mention must be made of the most praised produce from Tikveš named Longing for the South. This wine was named after the title of a song by Konstantin Miladinov, who was longing for his home country in a Muscovite prison, and is a true delicacy for everybody swearing by medium dry wine. An autochthonous variety is Stanušina – a rose wine that according to the Popova Kula vinery, is not very promising, but captures our attention due to its fruity freshness. The second home of the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pivka vinery – well remembered by the palate thanks to its fruity cherry aroma - is the United States. Anyway, Macedonia’s wine-producers sell more than eighty percent of their wine abroad. In my home country Slovenia, this proportion is vice-versa. An interesting autochthonous variety produced in the Popov vinery is definitely Žilavka – it tastes of Muscato. The other varieties dominating and enriching the varied offer of red wines are Merlot and Blue Pinot, whereas it is Smederevka, Riesling, Chardonnay as well as Sauvignon with the white wines.
Despite the fact that a relatively high percentage of sales goes abroad, wine growing in Macedonia is not limited to a focus on exportation. “In addition to top-quality wines, our customers also buy the history of the origin and art of wine creation”, says Divan Jordanovska, whose father Kiril Cekorov is regarded as one of the old hands of wine-growing in Macedonia. A number of organisations – from Sweden, Finland, the USA and other countries – show a keen interest in helping set the development policies for stimulating tourism and preserving the cultural heritage, which Macedonia undoubtedly has. The contemporary guest wishes to experience Macedonia in a traditional way. Therefore, the renovation of buildings and the revitalisation of customs have become paramount. Using the locally adapted Swedish model, the farmers will be assisted in developing rural vitucultural tourism.
Info (for 2006):
Production: 38 % red wine, 62% white wine
Annual production: 1.2 million hectolitres
Exportation: more than 35 million litres to 26 countries