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A lovely view of Adriatic Sea from the Rizman winery & the vineyards in Komarna, Dalmatia, Croatia
Press trip to Dalmatian Wineries organized by DWE 2014 Wine Festival

Immediately after the DWE 2014 festival we spent two days, April 26 and 27, 2014 visiting some of the top Dalmatian wineries. Here are my short impressions of that gorgeous visit.

6th annual wine event ‘Putevima Vina’ (Wine Roads) has taken place in Terbotz Castle (Štrigova) on June 20, 2014
6th annual wine event ‘Putevima Vina’ (Wine Roads) in Medjimurje, Croatia

The sixth annual wine event ‘Putevima Vina’ (Wine Roads) has taken place in Terbotz Castle (Štrigova) on June 20, 2014

Silvija and Tomislav from G.E.T. Report who organized the Wine Tourism Conference
1. G.E.T. Wine Tourism Conference

The 1. G.E.T. wine tourism conference has taken place in Golfer Hotel at Sveti Martin na Muri, Croatia, on June 16, 2014.

As the wine tourism is a pretty new phenomenon which is growing strongly, it is absolutely necessary to further educate all the interested parties in this regard. G.E.T. Wine Tourism Conference is undoubtedly a right step in that direction! 

 

This conference should ideally serve two important needs:

 

• Providing some relevant information about the growing industry of wine tourism 

• Creating a more permanent forum for meeting competent and influential individuals from the Balkan and global regional wine tourism industry

 

The following players participated and showed strong interest for the development of this concept:


• Wineries of various size interested in attracting tourists and ultimately selling directly more wine from their tasting rooms

• Tourist organization from the region interested in coordinating and improving local wine routes as well as other aspects of wine tourism

• Travel agencies or tour operators offering various wine tourism related packages

• National or regional Chambers of Commerce leading or assisting in the development of tourism in general and wine tourism in particular

• Small or big hotels, motels and restaurants that recognized the importance of synergy among the various entities enaged in a promotion of wine tourism

• Classic or digital media and blooging community interested in the wine tourism and wine and food in general

• Students from the relevant academic fields (oenology, tourism, hospitality idnustry etc.)

• Any professionals involved in the marketing of wine tourism (either public relations or social media related)

 

Now, what is reasonable to expect to get out of the conference? The organizers rightfully hoped for the following results:

 

1. Screening of the current situation from the respected professionals in the field

2. Developing a brand new and useful strategies in the field of wine tourism

3. A great opportunity to network with the captains of the wine tourism industry

4. Sharing of very valuable ideas, concepts and information to be used in all types of social media or classic marketing, public relations and generally branding of various wine tourism products at all levels

5. Establishment of the tradition to meet a few times a year, together with the top local and global wine  and tourism related professionals, share knowledge and experience in order to improve the wine tourism offerings at all levels.

 

After the success of the first wine tourism conference, we are eagerly waiting for the second one, that is planned for November 2014.

 

Cliff Rames and other guests enjoying Dalmatia Wine Expo 2014 in Split, Croatia
Dalmacija Wine Expo 2014 - the Most Charming Wine Festival in the Region

The DWE 2014 took place in Split, Croatia on April 24 & 25, while the follow-up event entitled 'Wine Party' took place in Makarska, Croatia on May 1 & 2, 2014.

The 3rd BIWC2014 takes place in Sofia, Bulgaria
3rd Balkans International Wine Competition & Festival (BIWC 2014) is taking place in Sofia from June 5-8, 2014

Dear lovers of Balkan wines,

We are delighted to announce that our third BIWC 2014 Competition is scheduled for June 5 (Thursday) & June 6 (Friday) (not open for public) while the BIWC 2014 Festival follows through on June 7 (Saturday) from 12:00 to 19:00 & June 8 (Sunday) from 12:00 to 18:00 (open for public) at Grand Hotel Sofia, Bulgaria.

 

Specialized Trade & Media Tasting for the BIWC 2014 panel of judges, distinguished importers, distributors, wine buyers, wine critics, journalists and bloggers is scheduled for June 7, 2014 (Saturday) from 11:00 to 13:00 also at Grand Hotel Sofia, Bulgaria.

BIWC 2014 Competition is dedicated to wines from the Balkan region in order to attract attention of the global wine community. The organizing committee has invited wine producers from each country of the South-East Europe and other countries to participate both at the BIWC 2014 Competition by sending samples of their best wines and at the BIWC 2014 Festival to showcase at Grand Hotel Sofia their great wines to the local and international public.

Last year, from May 16-19, 2013, we had more than 400 wines, coming from close to 100 wineries originating from 10 countries, submitted for BIWC 2013 Competition. More than 50 wineries were presenting their wines to the public at Grand Hotel Sofia during the BIWC 2013 Festival. Our first and second Competition and Festival in 2012 and 2013 created truly a great awareness among the global wine fraternity. We have successfully communicated the results of our competitions and created relevant Catalogues with valuable information for wine importers, buyers and distributors and also had extensive media coverage of these events.

This year our Panel of Judges will be composed from the top global wine personalities. They shall taste the best wines of the Balkans and re-discover their unique character, richness, nuances and regional complexities. With the entire infrastructure perfectly in place, encouraged with the great response to our project throughout last two years, we are absolutely dedicated to further promotion and branding of Balkan wines. We have secured a great media coverage of the BIWC 2014 Competition and Festival through various TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, web, local and global social networks and our message will definitely be carried through.

We endeavor hard to continue our campaign of promotion and branding of Balkan wines helping them find their way to the tables of the world’s wine-loving communities and earn their appropriate share of the global wine market!

Please follow all these exciting developments via our official website:

www.balkanswine.eu

For more information please contact Dusan Jelic, BIWC 2014 Social Media Manager, at: dusanbalkanswineeu

 

Ivan Dropuljić - Director of VINOcom festival and Dušan Jelić - founder of Wines of Balkans agency
8th VINOcom Festival of Wine & Gastronomy in Zagreb, Croatia

8th VINOcom festival took place in Zagreb on November 29 and 30, 2013 in the renowned Esplanade hotel. The key goal of this festival was to further promote wine and food culture as well as wine tourism as a new big thing in Croatia and the region.

Around 300 exhibitors displayed their best products, wines, spirits, cheese, prosciutto, olive oil and other delicacies. It is estimated that 8,000 people visited the festival in two days which is a remarkable achievement indeed. The whole concept was centered around 5 halls where wineries displayed their wines plus a superb spacious tent in the Esplanade hotel’s yard which housed food producers and two other premises within the hotel, where master-classes, presentations and lectures took place.

Visiting members of public could learn about Cabernets from Anselmann family from Pfalz region of Germany; great wines made by Fulvio Bressan from Friuli; Frankovka wines made by Feravino; wines made by Grand Cro association from Istria, Northern and Southern Dalmatia and Zagorje. Gran Teran presentation was done by Moreno Coronica, while an interesting Dalmatian red blend Kontra 2010 (50% of Plavac mali from Pelješac and 50% of Babić from Šibenik) made by Vedran Kiridžija and Leo Gracin was presented. We had a vertical tasting of wines made by Stojan Ščurek as well as tasting Tribidrag and 4 vintages of Plavac mali made by the Rizman family from the new, exciting and up-and-coming region of Komarna in Dalmatia.

As a part of the VINOcom press trip, an international group of wine journalists visited Konavle region, Pelješac peninsula, island of Korčula, Komarna and Šibenik and tasted more than 120 wines married with the local food. Our highlights included visiting a sandy soil vineyards of Grk, a white indigenous variety from Korčula island, a superb tasting of top Pošip wines from Smokvica on Korčula island (another indigenous white variety from Dalmatia), visiting a beautiful region of Komarna in the area of confluence of Neretva river and Adriatic Sea and a great evening of food and wine pairing in Šibenik where two indigenous varieties rule: Debit (white) and Babić (red).

As a part of the 8th VINOcom festival on Friday November 29, 2013 Association G.E.T. have staged the presentation and announcement of the annual ‘Bijeli grozd’ awards for 2013.

The full list of this year recipients is as follows:

* In category of smaller cellars (with annual production below 50,000 bottles)

1. Agroturizam Bire; Lumbarda, island of Korčula, Dalmatia
2. Wine House Hažić; Sveti Martin na Muri, Međimurje
3. Wine House Dvanajščak Kozol; Lopatinec, Međimurje

** In category of bigger cellars (with annual production above 50,000 bottles)

1. Matuško vina; Potomje, Pelješac peninsula, Dalmatia
2. Korta Katarina; Orebić, Pelješac peninsula, Dalmatia
3. Podrum Vina Belje; Kneževi Vinogradi, Baranja

*** The award given by the journalists

1. Trapan Cellar; Šišan, Istria

Association G.E.T. has also conferred special awards for promotion and development of wine tourism as follows:

* Dušan Jelić - awarded for a special contribution in wine tourism, for his work on the Wines of Balkans project where he writes about the regional winemakers and wines with the extraordinary love.

** WOW Association (Women on Wine) - awarded for a special contribution in wine tourism and for their entire activities. 

*** Restaurant ‘Karlo’, Plešivica - awarded for the exceptional contribution of development of wine tourism, furthering of wine culture and local food and wine pairing. 

**** Tomislav Radić - awarded for his lifetime achievements and the special contribution in promotion of wine tourism; for his long-term commitment from the ‘Sunčani Sat’ project until present, where he continues with his activities.

In order to feel the atmosphere at the 8th VINOcom, you can have a look at the photos that we made throughout the two festival dates. Please find the relevant links below.

 

8th VINOcom Festival: Images from Day 1

8th VINOcom Festival: The Best Regional Wine and Food Festival 

 

The following wine journalists participated at the 4-day press trip organized by VINOcom festival:

 

1. Gerhard Eichelmann - Mondo Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany

2. Cristina Alcalá - OpusWine, MiVino, Vinum, Primer, Enoforum, Guia del vino cotidiano, Madrid, Spain

3. Wojciech Bonkowski - Polish Wine Guide, Warszawa, Poland

4. Dejan Vranić - Caffe Bar Network, Vino i Fino & BeHa Caffe, Belgrade, Serbia

5. Dušan Jelić - Wines of Balkans, Belgrade, Serbia 

6. Agnes Nemeth - Vince Magazine, Budapest, Hungary 

7. Thomas Vaterlaus - Vinum, Switzerland 

8. Vladimir Tsapelik - The Indipendent Wine club, Moscow, Russia 

9. Wilfried Moselt, Germany 

10. Liliane Turmes, Luxembourg

11. Romain Batya, Luxembourg

12. Lubos Barta - Sommelier Magazine, Czech Republic

13. Ivana Kovarikova - Sommelier Magazine, Czech Republic

14. Drago Bulc - RTV Slovenija, Ljubljana, Slovenia

15. Morten Bundgaard - MorgenAvisen Jyllands-Posten, Denmark 

16. Oksana Krapivko - Sankt Peterburg, Russia

17. Tomislav Radić - Hrvatski Radio, Zagreb, Croatia 

18. Silvija Munda -TV emisija G.E.T. Report , Zagreb, Croatia 

19. Tomislav Stiplošek - TV emisija G.E.T. Report, Zagreb, Croatia 

20. Ana Alkhamis - Nova zemlja, Osijek, Croatia 

21. Željko Suhadolnik - Svijet u čaši, Zagreb, Croatia 

22. Marko Čolić - photographer, Zagreb, Croatia 

 

 

Tomislav Stiplošek and Silvija Munda from G.E.T. Report from Zagreb, Croatia
Let’s Brand Croatia As A Wine Destination!

Let’s brand Croatia as a wine destination!

Croatia as a very few other wine-producing countries has an extremely versatile climate types on the relatively small area. It simply guarantees a huge offering - from excellent Dalmatia red wines to the very fresh Rieslings in the North. As a matter of facts, it should yet to be converted into the competitive advantage.

The existence of a wine scene is not a contemporary thing. Even before the modern technological wonders appeared, people did drink wine and it was know the better the more expensive it is. The more expensive wines was consumed be people form higher classes, such as priests, landowners and rich traders, so the circle of people appeared that was always in a search for a genie in the bottle. They were always looking for better and more exciting wines. We may describe these people as the original wine scene. Thus, the existence of the wine scene is not questionable - it does exist from the time immemorial and throughout the history it just got expanded.

The contemporary wine scene it is not exclusively connected with money, as a part of this includes wine professionals who do not necessarily belong to the financial elite. They simply pick wine as the medium through which they structure their careers. In Croatia, for instance, anyone connected with wine knows who is Željko Bročilović Carlos and his favourable assessment of a particular wine indeed influences the status of the wine thereof among the consumers. A problem starts when there are people with a huge space in the media sphere who write about wine without actually possessing adequate knowledge about the subject. There are few such examples in Croatia and these people indeed influence the wine scene.

 

Wine Scene

Whoever writes about the wine in terms of assessment and giving points to it, and consequently influences the sales of the wine thereof, must have a certificate of an independent wine school, such as WSET, what is available in Croatia as of recently. The author of this article passed the first degree exam at this institution and currently prepares for the second. What this is necessary? Because you do influence the wine scene with your work, and consequently the income of the wine producers, so the least you can do in this regard is to acquire a diploma certifying your knowledge. At this point we somehow resolved the issue of influential wine personalities. Of course the wine scene is a mixture of wine producers, traders and consumers. All these three segments are significantly depended upon the people creating the media scene. Unfortunately, today’s fast rhythm of life leaves us virtually without free time, so it is pretty logical to search for wine descriptions from the people we deem to be wine authorities.

We should not undermine a fact that we are not always ready to pay 40 EUR or more for a bottle of wine we are about to taste for the first time. Thus, the wine scene must contain wine events that proved to be very popular in Croatia in the recent times, namely: wine festivals, workshops, presentation of wine brands and similar happenings. You have to create conditions in which a consumer can taste your wine. You should let the people fall in love with your wine, as thereafter they will also buy that wine! During such events consumers learn - which is particularly important, especially for the young vinous countries as ours. Yes, we do produce wine since the time immemorial, yet the true Croatian winemaking only started in the late eighties of the past century. So, you have to present your wine to the consumers! Perhaps you were not thinking about it, yet the mentioned workshops are ideal for co-branding. Why? First of all, you present your product. Furthermore, the workshop is managed by leading wine tasters who in turn gives you dignity and the taster acquires authority. You do confirm, via this type of cooperation, that he or she is a wine personality, and as everything happens in a good vinotheque, so all the participants send the powerful message: ‘If you need a good wine with the recommendation, buy ours and buy it here!’

 

Medium that connects people!

The wine scene is being created by expanding a circle of people who are becoming winelovers, and you do give them an opportunity to socialize - which is another great thing in the wine world. Wine - more than any other product - simply needs socializing. You got to talk about wine, and you cannot do it on your own. Whether we like it or not, wine is also becoming a status symbol. Hence, the quite a few businessmen bought the vineyards, and winemaking is not their prime business activity.  Some of the less powerful ones do have their own private wine archives. In addition to expressing your love for wine, it enhances you image. Of course, all of these require socializing. Wine is the medium that connects people! If there are any doubts as to the existence of the wine scene in Croatia, it is possible to prove that very quickly. Today and tomorrow there is a traditional wine festival VINOcom, which 8th edition is taking place as I am writing in the Zagreb’s Esplanade hotel. That’s the place where many from the wine world gather and it is hard to find a place where so many wines could be tasted and wine knowledge expanded at one place! VINOcom is the essence of the Croatian wine scene, and if you have any doubts whatsoever how to start your wine education, you can start from VINOcom!

 

Wine regions and the variety of wine offerings

Croatia, as indeed a very few other wine-producing countries has an extremely versatile climate types on the relatively small area, which guarantees a huge offering of wine. You may, perhaps, taste Prošek in Dalmatia (that we are not allowed to call like that due to the EU rules and regulations), however just a few hours later, you are in Hrvatsko Zagorje where you may taste some of the top ice wines of the world produced by Boris Drenški. In the pretty small area we have a huge variety and this gives as a significant competitive advantage: we may offer everything: from the high quality Dalmatian reds to the very fresh Rieslings in the North. It should yet be converted into our advantage, but the big players already understood that, so for instance, Agrokor has wineries in Slavonia, Dalmatia, Istria and Plešivica. Perhaps this is not the very best example due to the size of Agrokor, yet, Saints Hills winery has cellars in Dalmatia and Istria. Davor Zdjelarević works in Dalmatia, although he is connected with Slavonia. This versatility of our regions gives us a wide offering, and their proximity eases managing and distribution.

Of course, as a tourist country we do sell a huge quantity of wine literally at our doorsteps, so this should be exploited further. We have to pay more attention to our indigenous varieties, because tourist would like to taste something new from the area they visit. If they like what they taste they will be searching for such wine when back home and that brings about wine export! The huge regional differences give us an opportunity to offer various wines, yet, we have to set clear standards for the particular autochthonous variety! The consumers should be able to recognize the variety in question, which is a kind of a guarantee that they will bye a bottle. We have various offerings, we have knowledge, and we have a tourist season which should be utilized as a big wine workshop which in turn brings about a wine export. Our task is to understand that simple truth and start producing top quality wines which is essential if we would like to become a top wine destination where consumers always seek an extra bottle irrespective of its price.

 

Wine world and us

We would like to compare ourselves with France, Italy and so on, and at the same time we  do forget that certain chateaus from France produce wine for a couple of centuries. This is experience that cannot be measured in financial terms. The wine world in these countries is structured differently. I can mention appellations that our institutions still resist, while in the above mentioned countries they represent a core of the wine industry. Let’s go step by step. We cannot produce quantities comparable with Chile or Argentina, as we simply do not have enough vineyards for that. Consequently our prices cannot be competitive with theirs, and we should not even attempt to achieve that. We are unable to produce cheap wine of a good quality; we have to produce the top quality wines! It is in order to compare ourselves with France, but only in terms of learning something from them, and not planting Merlot in the heart of Dalmatia and state that it is better than their Merlot. Wine public treats a French Merlot as the standard. Perhaps your Merlot is better, yet it will definitely be different, so the question is whether the wine public will recognize that wine the way we wanted. If we, on the other hand, produce Plavac mali which is gentler, more elegant and closer to the world standards, everyone will recognize this as the top wine! If you thing that it is not possible to achieve that, well you did not taste Plavac from Korta Katarina winery where the winemaker is Nika Silić created a fantastic Plavac Mali. This is the way to go! We shout just sort out these things in our head. We need to follow the world’s standards and adapt our domestic varieties within and we shall have no competition. If such wine is, at the same time, of the top quality the success is guaranteed.

Therefore, the New World wines are not our competition and we should not waste our time with their prices. We cannot be France (although, for instance, a sparkling wine made by Zdenko Šember is of better quality than many champagnes made in France). We have to create our own wine strategy! Winelovers always seek something new - this is our biggest chance. It is in order to compare with the world, but we should not copy them, we should be on our own! We have to understand our value and primarily learn how to present that value to the world. We are not Chile or France and we do not seek to become that. We are Croatia! Bring a few global vinous authorities and take them to Pitve village on Hvar island, give them the best wines we have and they will never forget such an experience and will talk to everyone about that, since Pitve is a pure Zen (in this particular case it is a Wine Zen) and not a congress hall in a hotel. We have to create our own way and create our stories on the realistic foundation, but indeed the good story. In wine world the half of everything is an excellent story and the other half is an excellent wine!

 

Education

Permanent education is a foundation of success in each job, so it is applicable in wine world too. We have three levels of education in the wine industry which are intertwined. Let’s start with the producers. They have to follow a development of technology, both in viticulture and winemaking, as everything changes fast. If you would like to go back to the past and produce wine in amphorae, you still need the education thereof. Education is a true foundation of the success. Winemakers can never say that they learn everything. They study all their life and must be open minded for all ideas including some that they may not like at the first place but still would like to try. An experiment is the important part of education. You cannot pass on knowledge you did not acquire. Somehow the tradition and new technology should be blended in, which is at times very difficult.

You probably tasted a wine and realized it is technically fine, but it misses ‘that something’, a bit of tradition and a bit of soul. It is like love: a person could be very good looking, but if there is no ‘that something’ it’s not what we wanted. What’s the connection with education? There is! The education is not a wholly grail and all we learn we should adapt to ourselves and this is possible only for open minded personalities. Thus, every vintage is a marriage of the new knowledge and experiences from the past vintages. This part of education is essential perhaps only for winemakers, yet a winemaker must be educated as a trader in order to be able to sell his or her wine. Furthermore, he has to educate sellers in the wine-selling establishments, and traders and restaurateurs must pay much more attention to education. The staff selling wines should at least pass a basic wine course as the trader influences significantly a consumer when buying a wine. It is completely another story how to educate the staff due to financial and other considerations. The employers should favour candidates with a certain level of wine education. That’s often not the case, and also people are simply not prone to further education.

Employers must do the same, as the more they learn, the more they may require and demand from their staff. The ultimate benefit of that process will be delivered to a consumer, as a satisfied consumer will return to the wine establishment. Also, our employers very rarely organize the special thematic tastings for their staff members. As a matter of fact many employees are not interested in this type of education. The simplest way to improve things is to get a few bottles from your producers, which will be gladly donated for that purpose, and a wine lover with some knowledge which will not overcharge you! So, when we educated sellers we should also educate our consumers. In that process we should include the winemakers themselves! Very often a first contact with wine happens at a presentation or wine festival, so the winemaker should be able to present his or her wine adequately.

Let me go back to the sentence delineating that there are three levels of education which are intertwined. Now, all is clear! Education of the public is the most difficult. People often start doing something while heavily influenced with their prejudices and it is hard to change their opinions. You have to know a lot about wine, but you should also know something about the psychology of a buyer - so when you educate public - you got to know everything! 

 

Marketing and Clusters

We should also touch an issue of marketing. We should work much more in this field. A few centuries ago, a French priest Dom Pérignon understood that ordinary people love to compare themselves with the elite, which in turn enjoys comparing themselves with the royalty. Therefore, he was sending Champagne to the rulers and all others, willing to do the same were also drinking Champagne. It created sales of Champagne and its price was rising. The rest is history. We all know today what Dom Pérignon is! From this story it is seen that for all things we need time.

Wine business, at least the top end of it, rests to a great extent on the tradition. You cannot buy tradition! Croatia is not yet branded as the wine country, therefore the wine regions are not yet branded as such. And we would like to brand our winemakers too. It does not work this way, we should follow certain order - and we have to understand that! We have to make a plan of branding Croatia as the wine destination. This will in turn result in branding the winemakers. The establishment of clusters is the future! We have to connect winemakers from the certain regions and explain to them that this connection does not undermine them as winemakers - instead it gives them the power of joint presentation, marketing, utilization of funds.

Therefore from the strong wine region we shall get strong winemakers. For instance, when you say ‘Bordeaux blend’, you instantly think about Bordeaux, and only then about a particular winemaker from that well-known region - and this is the power of the wine region!

If we would like to be a big global wine region we have to work much harder and change a lot, starting from the mentality itself. Yet, we are on the right way!

 

Paul Caputo - a genuine #winelover
Paul Caputo Muses About A Wine Renaissance In Macedonia

I am presenting here just a few building blocks of the Macedonia Wine Report 2013! So, vinously speaking, what’s going on in Macedonia (Македонија) at the moment?

Ivana Simjanovska recently stated: 'A wine renaissance! During the socialist period the wineries in the country were focused on the production of bulk wine, a trend which continued even after the separation of the Republic of Macedonia from the former Yugoslavia and wineries started to become privatized. There were large quantities being produced, at a low quality with even lower prices. But the potential was so much greater. As grape quality is dependent on climatic conditions and terroir, and as the latter conditions are just right in Macedonia, therefore growers produce high-quality grapes. Today, the leading Macedonian wineries no longer produce bulk wine. More than 90 percent of the wine is bottled, exported throughout the World, wine tourism is flourishing, Macedonian wines have won almost all prestigious wine awards on each and every wine competition there is…’

 

Macedonian Temjanika (Темјаника)

Muscat is not exactly the height of fashion in the UK, if anything it’s one to avoid; the British tendency to drink without food can over emphasise the floral, fragrantly invasive nature of the variety and send one reeling for the Sauvignon Blanc instead.

In Macedonia however, where the grape is known as Temjanika, a subtle perfumed character is matched with full-bodied, textured mid palates, bursting with stone fruit and livened with a refreshing streak of acidity. It could well be one to watch. Named after the Macedonian word for Frankincense (‘Temjan’), it comes as no surprise that Temjanika is held in such high regard for its aromatic quality.

The aromas are almost Gewürztraminer like; rose petal, orange blossom and elderflower all feature heavily. The palates are dominated by stone fruit, particularly peach and apricot, although some examples, particularly Chateau Kamnik’s 2012 (Камник), demonstrate more citrus and pear flavours.

Tasting various examples from different producers, I was shocked at the quality the grape had to offer. The 2012 from Dudin (Дудин), labelled Anja, was pretty good, lots of scented flowers and pear, as was the Tikveš Special Selection, whose complex nose of violets and orange peel complimented very expressive grapefruit in the mouth.

Popova Kula’s 2010 (Попова Кула) displayed a complex nose and lots of lychee and melon flavours, while tasting the 2013 tank sample, still to be stabilised, was like a shot of perfume to the senses. It will calm down of course, but the structure was there.

These wines are unlikely to develop beyond a year or two from the vintage and are arguably not particularly suited to the Macedonian cuisine of meat and salad; however, as an aperitif or a post dinner palate cleanser, they work tremulously.

 

The potential of Stanushina (Станушина)

It is no doubt that the future of Macedonia’s red wine production belongs to the robust and boisterous Vranec variety; yet amongst the noise there is another little grape waiting to be given a place in the wine world. Stanushina, barely known in Macedonia, never mind anywhere else, gives a pale, red wine with soft red berry fruit, low tannin and fresh acidity. Considering the national fashion, it is fairly slim in alcohol, but seems to work as a rose, a steel fermented red and a more serious wine with time spent in barrique.

Sadly though, plantings of Stanushina have declined rapidly in recent years, international varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah are favoured instead. Although village growers in the Tikves region cultivate the grape for home consumption, only the Popova Kula winery based in Demir Kapija produce the wine commercially. One of the reasons for a lack of faith in this late ripening variety is that it can be difficult to fully ripen and thus achieve the juicy flavours needed in the modern fruit driven world. Neither is it particularly resistant to draught or disease, in fact, it’s particularly prone to botrytis. Stanushina though, affectionately known as ‘Makedonsko devojče’, or Macedonian girl, may well offer more potential than people think. The 2012 rose charmed us with a lovely blush, salmon colour, and aromas of crushed strawberry and raspberry on the nose. It had lively acidity and finished brilliantly with refreshing and delicate notes of summer fruits.

Over dinner the 2009 barrique provoked positive discussion with its light red colour, crunchy red fruit, raspberries and cherry, rounded tannin and vibrant acidity. The fruit forward, 2011 interpretation, which saw no oak, was fairly similar but showed distinctive marzipan on the finish. It is difficult to discuss the potential of Stanushina when only one producer bottles the variety, but I would certainly be encouraging other producers to have a go.

 

Bel Kamen (Бел Камен): A mountain (and wine) retreat in the heart of eastern Macedonia

Arriving in the provincial town of Radoviš, I assumed we had reached our destination. I was expecting a countryside retreat, somewhere to relax, put your feet up and enjoy good food and drink. On the way out of Radoviš we started to climb; the road hair-pinned its way through forests and past the occasional solitary farmer, past a few isolated hamlets and gradually up the Pljachkovica Mountain. My ears popped, a bull sprung from the trees and considered charging our battered Citroen. Perhaps it saw three days of Macedonian brandy in my eyes and thought better of it; we kept on climbing as dusk fell.

At 1753 metres above sea level the road suddenly opened out and standing proudly, the White Stone Spar (Bel Kamen in Macedonian) captured essence of tranquility. The crisp mountain air fizzed on my cheeks, the soothing whiff of woodsmoke pranced past my nostrils and I was whisked inside for what can only be described as an obscene display of rustic hospitality. Hotel manager, Atanasov Sasko, a relaxed bastion of grace and manners led us on a tour of the facilities and then through several of Macedonia’s top wines.

Stobi Winery’s Rkatsitelli was served up first, an excellent introduction to the Georgian grape variety now showing promising results in Macedonia. It showed a gorgeous straw yellow colour, was invitingly floral with faint aromas of honey suckle and apricot. With moderate acidity and a slight almond finish we were set up quite nicely as a bottle of Dudin’s ‘Anja’ Temjanika appeared and was dispatched no sooner than it arrived; the pastries and Taratur dip continued to circulate well into the night.

As we moved on to the reds, sufficiently fierce enough to accompany the ‘tenderest’ of roasted lambs, the Vranec variety came into its own. Mojsoff’s ‘Life Vranec’ (Мојсов), brambly and spicy, fruity and chewy, met no dissent at table. This was followed by Bovin’s Dissan barrique interpretation of Vranec, which wowed us with thick layers of concentrated red and black fruits, supple velvety tannins and a smoky complexity that begged for a refill. A six month kiss of new oak rounded kept the palate engaged on the finish.

Festivities were still in full swing in the early hours but after a well earned lie in, the Bel Kamen experience was consolidated with a strapping breakfast and freshly squeezed orange juice. Top stuff! The facilities at Bel Kamen include an impressive Spa and fitness room as well as tennis courts and outside dining areas. Such was the experience and hospitality, Bel Kamen has been ear marked as the perfect destination for the writing of the Macedonian Wine Guide 2014 due for release next autumn. It is without doubt a luxurious refuge in the unlikeliest of places.

 

Pondering terroir over a gorgeous Lake Ohrid sunset

I should do this more often!!! What a week of fine Macedonian hospitality, charmingly rustic country wines and several bottles of aggressively monstrous Vranec; I was sucked in, spat out and deposited quite conveniently on a rocky edifice overlooking Lake Ohrid and the 13th century Monastery of Saint Kaneo. Seven days nicely consolidated I concluded. But as the sun cascaded down somewhere behind Albania, I pondered my time travelling through Macedonia’s wineries and vineyards. Something was bothering me, something distinctly missing in an otherwise very positive impression. Yes. The dreaded concept of terroir, that nasty French response to everything under the stars.

Why do we in the west of Europe crave terroir and its evidence so badly? Is it to complicate things? A subconscious way of excluding those of us less fortunate to taste, travel and study this increasingly massive world of wine? I don’t think so. We crave terroir because we want to connect ourselves to place, people and time through the contents of our glass. We crave authenticity. We crave truth.

Without terroir we are lost, drinking without understanding. There is of course a place for such care free wine consumption, and I do not scribble this condescendingly. I am no stranger to the generic juice of France’s village bistros or the anonymous vino sfuso of Italy’s family trattorias. But discerning drinking requires handles, something to hold on to. I want to know why this wine is from here of that wine from there. I want to know the climate and the soils, the natural characteristics of the grape and the production choices and styles of winery and winemaker.

So, what to make then of a country in which 83% of the grapes are grown in one region and then bussed to various parts of the country for vinification? What to make of a country where the appellation system (in place for the last two years) is ignored by producers and is not considered a particularly interesting concept by the domestic population? The answer must be to encourage it as quickly as possible. Terroir is more than just intellectual snobbery; it is the key to both sustainable business and sustainable identity.

The Tikves region of central Macedonia is responsible for the bulk of the fruit produced in the country. Not without cause; it’s warm and dry and the potential for premium fruit is obvious here. I accept the counter argument. Macedonia’s wine industry is young and delicate. Production of any sorts is to be encouraged; restrictive regulation avoided. In order to position Macedonia as a premium wine producing country though, the unique terroirs of the various regions must be shown off. To do this you need appellations.

The Tikves winery (Тиквеш) are not alone in setting precedent; they produce two red and two white single vineyard wines labelled Bela Voda and Barovo respectively. Chateau Kamnik, located almost a stone’s throw from Skopje city centre also produce exciting wines from their own vineyards and are keen to point emphasise Skopje as a worthy origin; they are a boutique winery, experimenting with various Italian varietals but more importantly, crafting single vineyard wines that display character and identity. Further south, in Demir Kapija, the Popova Kula winery are producing various interpretations of Vranec that, with time will undoubtedly evolve into a single vineyard depiction of Macedonia’s rising star variety.

Macedonia should start as it means to go on. Beginning to define and articulate the various (and there are many) terroirs that characterise this exciting new frontier in Balkan wine production will go a long way to ensuring a healthy and sustainable wine industry!

 

An image from the biggest Macedonian winery - Tikveš
Macedonian wines: Impressions and Expressions

I did not expect either to be asked or to even be able to express my impressions from the recent Macedonian wine trip. Nevertheless, I do have some interesting thoughts to share...

 

Impressions...

Having in mind my unconscious Macedonian roots, my curiosity and the size of the country I was expecting to find a new family. And I was not wrong. I felt in Macedonia - only for three days - as I have never felt with my family for long time. It’s difficult to explain, but Macedonia, its people and wines gave me the feeling of freedom, belonging and safety without feeling obsessed and overprotected. They were just there for me, sharing love, mysticism and genuine emotions. They were just there, without pretending to be something that they were not. Macedonian wine impressed me with its authenticity. No gimmicks or tricks. Just the lovely nature and me! I was the master who tasted and sensed the wine. I felt the power to feel. There were no benchmarks. Just the Macedonian wines as they were. In my mind it was a unique blend of mystery, combined with a high level of complexity, rusticity, pheromones, plum & raspberry jams, red apples and above all - love! A special taste that only could be felt, but hardly ever properly described. 

Perhaps, the notion of ‘not being able to describe the Macedonian wines because of its mystic nature’ can be used as its USP (Unique Selling Point)?

As a part of the brand called ‘Wines of Balkans’, Macedonia can definitely be presented as the undiscovered, unpolished and spiritual pearl of the Balkans...

Macedonia with its tremendously large amount of terroirs and microclimates, mountains, hills and lakes, few boutique wineries, young, passionate and ambitious wine makers, unique and in a sense rustic local varieties such as Žilavka, Stanushina, Vranec and others has an enormous potential for experiments with wine styles. It can also be positioned as a wine country for an organic wine and food gastronomic treats as well as bike trips. The wine tourism is there already. It only has to be improved and developed further…

Macedonia is undoubtedly one of the hidden treasures of the ‘Old World wines’ and can be attractive for people who look for forgotten rustic and genuine tastes, warm wines and awesome spiritual vibes.

 

Expressions... and Recommendations

Firstly the winemakers should gain more self-confidence and become proud of the uniqueness of their wines in order to present them successfully on the international wine scene.

Second, since Macedonians are hesitating to act internationally, because they perhaps somehow suffer under the ‘small country syndrome’, they can chose to appear as part of the larger concept of Balkan wines, representing their interesting USP of complexity, spirituality and mysticism... combined with the wine tourism!

Last, but not least, Macedonian wineries need to consciously improve the winemaking process, to establish good logistics and expand their premises. Then it is necessary to waken up the wine culture, presenting vigorously the existing vinous ‘state of affairs’ to the local public. Only within a healthy and comprehensive national wine culture Macedonia can unfold its potential. And indeed there is a lot of it out there that has to be revealed...

 

Mostar is a heart of Herzegovina
Herzegovina - A Home Of Extraordinary Wines

Introduction to Herzegovina Wine Report 2013: Winemaking has had its ups and downs in Herzegovina region, yet it never ceased to be a major agricultural activity, and to a great extent a building block of the Herzegovina residents’ lifestyle. New winemakers arrived on the scene, while the existing one improved their trade immensely while at the same time bettering the overall conditions in their wineries. From Ljubuški to Trebinje, there are so many various wines on offer. Officially speaking the entire geographical region is still a single winegrowing region of Herzegovina, the only one in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This region is protected by mountains range from the salty winds from the Adriatic Sea. About 98% of all vineyards in Bosnia-Herzegovina are planted within the western Herzegovina and municipality of Trebinje in the eastern Herzegovina.

A unique stone-peppered soil and a great number of hot days with irregular rainfalls conditioned Herzegovina to give a birth to two autochthones grape varieties: Blatina (red) and Žilavka (white). These varieties have a very rich history, but also a very prosperous future! Along these indigenous varieties other international top quality varieties were planted as well: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus regional varieties Vranac and Plavac Mali. At the south-eastern edges of Trebinje municipality apart from Žilavka, Vranac is also very popular, however that terroir is not suitable for Blatina, so she is virtually non-existent in that part of eastern Herzegovina. 

Žilavka is an autochthonous variety of Herzegovina. She flourishes in dry conditions and when planted on rocky and shallow terrains. Wine made from Žilavka grapes is a harmonious top quality wine with a characteristic scent. It is assumed that name derives from fine and small veins visible through the transparent grape skins at the time of full ripeness of the grapes (note: ‘žila’ means vein). Žilavka carries with her a seal of Herzegovina! For the first time the story about her broke out when the rewards started coming in, namely medals at the tasting competitions and festivals in Budapest (1896), Brussels (1897), London, Marseille, Paris and Vienna (1898). Wine made from Žilavka usually has greenish-yellow colour, it is medium-bodied with harmonious acidity coupled with exceptionally pleasurable fullness and varietal bouquet. 

Blatina is also an autochthonous variety of Herzegovina. It is one of the very few varieties with the gametophyte flower - unisexual flowering plant giving rise to female flowers - so it has to be fertilized - pollinated by another compatible flowering plant (variety). Blatina is a dioecious or more precisely a gynoecious plant - namely having only female flowers producing only seeds and not pollen. Blatina gives powerful and fresh dry wines which usually should mature a few years in wooden barrels. Although the flower is feminine, it is often said that wine is masculine. It follows up from the old folk proverb: ‘Žilavka je puna smijeha, a Blatina puna grijeha’ (literally: ‘Žilavka is full of laughter, yet Blatina is a full of sin!’). Therefore the most respected red variety in Herzegovina is Blatina!

Trnjak is also an autochthonous red variety giving full-bodied savoury wine with the pronounced varietal aromas.

There are 46 registered wineries in Bosnia-Herzegovina at present, cultivating some 3,500 hectares of vineyards. Around 55% of all wine produced here is white and the rest is red with a tiny proportion of rose wines. Wine production is primarily focused to the top quality wines made from indigenous Žilavka and Blatina varieties. It is evident that the ancient wine producing tradition is harmoniously blended with the latest technological advances. 

The most important export market for Herzegovina wines are Croatia and Serbia, while the other regional markets are gaining in importance. Export to EU countries is still very symbolic. Bosnia-Herzegovina also imports wines from Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia. The import from the mentioned five countries represents 96% of all imported wines in Bosnia.

Today the wine region of western Herzegovina is famous for the breathtaking Blizanci (‘Twins’) vineyard between cities of Čitluk and Mostar, where almost 100 hectares of Žilavka is cultivated. As more than 70% of initial layers of the soil are composed from limestone, Žilavka flourishes and defies logic. It is like a stone desert. Thanks to science and technology and very good drip irrigation system the vineyard yields some 10 tons of grapes per hectare. The vineyard was established in the beginning of eighties of the past century and it is a rarity today. Žilavka unambiguously demonstrated that she tuned in perfectly with the Herzegovina’s terroir, so that her name is indeed commensurable with her character. Grapes from Blizanci vineyard are processed in the Čitluk winery and after the monitored fermentation the end result is the top quality dry wine. If we assume that characteristics of a wine are to a great extents predetermined by the ambiance or terroir - or more precisely stones on which the grapes are cultivated - the producer decided to call this wine ‘Kameno Vino’ (Stone Wine) and the first vintage was made from the fruits harvested in 1990.

In Herzegovina a traveler feels at ease and various earthly pleasures are all over the place. Locals are very hospitable and they try very hard to make sure that the guests are comfortable and happy. 

We were lucky to visit 12 wineries - 8 from western Herzegovina, in Čitluk, Ljubuški and Međugorje and 4 from eastern Herzegovina, all within the municipality of Trebinje. We have tasted around 70 wines, mostly made from Žilavka and Blatina, plus others: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Trnjak and a few extraordinary reds made from Vranac in Trebinje.

If travelling is a part of your lifestyle, we hereby suggest that you visit Herzegovina Wine Route (‘Vinska cesta Hercegovine’) in order to experience something new and exciting. Beautifully preserved wine region, numerous amenities and natural beauty of wild yet gorgeous Herzegovina plus extraordinary gastronomic offerings are all part of the emerging wine tourism and the image of the destination - and it will create in turn for you an authentic impression of Herzegovina!

We followed two wine routes: Ljubuški-Čitluk, where we visited 8 wineries of which six are involved in wine tourism, namely: Vinarija Brkić (capacity 30 persons), Vinarija Čitluk (capacity 100 persons), Podrum Andrija (capacity 250 persons plus 20 beds), Podrum Marijanović (capacity 50 persons), Vinogradi Nuić (capacity 50 persons), Grga Vasilj Međugorje (capacity 120 persons plus 100 beds in wine hotel Cesarica), Vinarija Keža and Vinarija Škegro. The second wine route is in Trebinje and all four wineries we visited are involved with wine tourism, namely: Podrum Vukoje (capacity 300 persons plus 40 beds), Podrum Tvrdoš (capacity 170 persons plus 20 beds), Podrum Anđelić (capacity 120 persons plus 20 beds) and Podrum Petijević (capacity 50 persons plus 15 beds).

In order to reach these wineries a very good traffic signage was erected throughout Herzegovina. It is true that wine is the key item of the wine tourism but not the only one. We should include here visits to the amenities, beautiful natural spots and culturally relevant sites. There are many outstanding sites on these two wine routes, such as: Stari Most (Old Bridge) - a symbol of Mostar built in 1566. It is a single arch stone bridge connecting left and right banks of Neretva River. Old city in Mostar is interesting for its narrow streets full of life. 

Međugorje is one of the most significant sites of religious pilgrimage due to reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six local Catholics at the end of June 1981. From that time Međugorje became Europe’s third most important apparition site, where each year more than 1 million people visit. It is estimated that more than 30 million people have come to Međugorje since 1981.

Hutovo Blato is one of the richest reserves of swamp birds in Europe. It is situated 8 km from Čapljina and it is spread over 7,000 hectares. Within this oasis of unspoiled nature some 200 bird species spend winter. Hutovo Blato is also famous for fish, namely eel and carp.

Žitomislići Monastery, one of the most important orthodox monasteries in Herzegovina, belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church and was built in 1566. Herceg Stjepan Tower (‘Kula Hercega Stjepana’) was built in the Middle Age above Ljubuški, on top of Buturovica. City of Trebinje has Tvrdoš Monastery and a lookout on which the Herzegovina’s Gračanica Church was built. Beautiful Kravica waterfalls are situated in the Herzegovina karst within the Ljubuški municipality.

When you marry a good wine with a local gastronomy such as Herzegovinian prosciutto, cheese, lamb or brudet/brodeto (a stew made from frogs and eels) then the pleasure is ultimate. The best place for wine to show its power is in a winery or a cellar, where you enjoy immensely and learn a lot.

The closing argument of this article could be a sentence uttered by Ms. Josipa Andrijanić, a winemaker from Vinarija Nuić: ‘Da nema vina u njezinu imenu bila bi okrnjena i nedorečena. S vinom ona je potpuno svoja. Hercegovina!’ (If there is no ‚vina’ (wine) in her name, she would be rump or unfinished. With that ‘vina’ (wine) she is absolutely completed and her own. Herzegovina!)
 

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