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An inspiring vinous talk with the great vigneron Mr. Radovan Vukoje from Vukoje Winery

Written on 11-12-2015 by Dusan Jelic, Trebinje, Belgrade

Mr. Radovan Vukoje (Photo © Željko Garmaz)

About Vukoje winery

30 hectares of vineyards at 2 different positions under their control. From their freshly planted olive trees they will be producing 10,000 bottles of olive oil soon. They produce some 200,000 liters of wines and have no plans for expansion as this is the maximum quantity Mr. Radovan Vukoje can personally supervise. A noble goal is to have a personal touch and full control of all wines bottled under the Vukoje label! 


Podrumi Vukoje marketing strategies include following new trends. Radovan states that 'Our desire is to be recognized in various market segments. I am responsible for all wines!'


The core Podrum Vukoje team includes Julijana, Jagoda, Mladen and Njego and they are all educated as sommeliers and are genuine wine lovers. They cover various aspects of wine marketing, contacts with clients as well as managing hospitality part of our business.


Vukoje flagship wines

Fresh line (wine from Inox) includes: Primavera red, white and rose. Wines matured up to 12 months are in Tribunia and Classic range. Classic range includes traditional and international varieties. Tribunia line includes reserve wines and selection (with the author’s signature). Premium line has 5 wines plus our sparkling wine, including Pinot Noir and Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir. Family reserves include: Cabernet Sauvignon plus Magnum (Merlot 90% and Cabernet Sauvignon 10%) - which are only available in our Vinska Galerija. Our distillates are: Grappa (Lozova rakija), Travarica and Liqueur.

Radovan Vukoje created about 20 wines under the label of Vukoje winery. Among them Carsko Vino (The Emperor’s Wine) - a selected harvest of Žilavka, the indigenous variety from Herzegovina to show the world what we can do here with her! Vranac 2011 is a very special Vranac for me. Creating such wine required enormous work in the vineyard in order to have desired vinification. They produce also selected Žilavka wines as well as a great red blend consisting of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (to add some spices) and Vranac. Podrum Vukoje also produced in 2010 the very first sparkling wine in Herzegovina done by traditional method composed of 70% of Chardonnay and 30% of Žilavka. That wine spent 16 months on lees. They also created a liqueur from Žilavka!  

As opposed to 2015, harvest 2014 was one of the most difficult in my career. Perhaps 2002 were equally bad. We decided to focus on our base line wines, and also a lot of distillates were created from 2014 fruits. We will be able to craft brandies from Chardonnay, Vranac, Muscat, Merlot and Žilavka. We also did a base for cognac so our double-distilled liquid gold is sleeping in oak barrels. So, in 8 years time we shall see the results. We are determined to produce top quality distillate.


Our philosophy

The Vukoje winery keeps at least 3 harvests’ wines in bottles and Inox tanks. We want to be honest towards our consumers. All wines are exclusively made from our 30 hectares of vineyards and there are no other sources of grapes! Our future plans include making wines from Syrah, Pinot Noir, with a few categories of wine, as well as Dubrovačka Malvasija. Our first harvest of that variety happened this year.

We opened our Wine Gallery (Vinska Galerija) in Trebinje - and this is above all an urban concept. Just under one roof, we have our winery, barrel room, restaurant, tapas bar… The building has 7 levels and it is a unique concept in the region. We have a serious chefs involved with Mr. Vladan Simić, a famous chef from Serbia heading the culinary operations. We produce organic vegetables (getting our certificate soon) and all products are exclusively made for our restaurants. Every year we can expect tens of thousands of visitors so we should be ready!


A short story and tasting notes of Podrumi Vukoje Carsko Vino 2012

It is a blend of 93% of Žilavka and 7% of Bena. This is an indigenous variety which exclusively brings freshness. It is very crisp and savoury, yet it doesn’t have any distinct aromatics. Bena deepens minerality of our flagship white wine. Carsko Vino is kept in new Slavonian oak for 12 months and sur lie method was used. Our vineyard is 9 years old, and Bena is incorporated within. Among each 100 vines there are 7 vines of Bena. Both varieties are harvested together, between third and fourth epochs. Our 2012 vintage has 12,9% of alcohol.


Tasting notes

Notes of honey are felt, with acacia, fresh floral notes, all immersed in profound minerality. Dry flowers felt, as vines grew on stones, namely calcareous tufa, with no irrigation and with small yields. A nice freshness, feeling like a wet stone from Herzegovina. The ageing potential is huge; this wine will develop further for at least 10 years, as this belongs to the Riesling part of Žilavka’s character. The value of wine grows with the passage of time. Finally there is a lingering aftertaste of local herbs.

The ‘Carski Vinogradi’ (The Emperor’s Vineyards) micro-location have been cultivated since 120 years ago. The vines were maintained until phylloxera attacked between the world wars. It was re-planted occasionally even during the socialist era. The local HEPOK Company used to be in charge. We became owners in 2000 after buying 5 hectares from 11 families. Currently half of that area is vineyard and the rest is used for other cultures and for tourism. We also planted some quince trees. This is the very best position for Žilavka - it is definitely Herzegovina Grand Crus, yet the vineyard is still young and the true potential of it will be only discovers in the years to come!


Markets for Podrumi Vukoje wines

Vukoje wines are present in the USA, Asia, Europe and we are the biggest winery in Bosnia-Herzegovina which dictates trends in the local wine industry! Our brand expanded and solidified its position as it is the leader in Bosnia for many years in the premium segment (both in terms of number of bottles sold and financial parameters).

We just released Blanc de Noir made from Pinot Noir which will be available at 12th Salon Vina in Belgrade for tasting. We also released our 2008 red blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Vranac) - Bordeaux blend with some spices, after 7 years of maturation!


Planting olive trees

That plan was created after visiting Italy sometimes in 2013. I knew very well the Italian style of wine tourism that included production of various Mediterranean cultures. Olives and olive oil were always valuable. As we didn’t have olive trees, I thought that we should do it!

I first started thinking about planting olive trees and producing olive oil in 2006. For some two years we were closely and carefully examining our soils. The soils’ pH is a bit higher, almost 8. I cooperated with Mr. Luigi Gozzi, who has more than 30 years experience in olives and olive oil production. We then picked the following varieties: Leccino, Pedolino, Frantoio, Bjelica (Binachera) and Buža (Buga). On our location ‘Zasad Polje’, close to our vineyards we planted some 1,000 olive trees (Leccino 250, Pedolino 150 and others 200 each). First fruits are expected in 2016. Olive trees are less demanding than vines. We shall analyze leaves, the entire plant, providing enough nutrition. We use natural fertilizer. Our goal is to be market-oriented, primarily in agro-tourism as well as cooperation with selected restaurants and hotels.

We hope that this will grow and our Herzegovina will also be recognized as a great olive oil producer. The future will tell us and after two or three olive harvests we shall have a better picture. We decided to proceed with olive tree planting due to an excellent soil and other practical reasons.


Wine culture in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region

Wine culture is growing, more wine producers and more restaurants paying greater attention to their wine lists. Wine becomes a part of one’s lifestyle. It was only a trend before now it is more serious. I firmly believe that in the future wines from the Balkan region will be much better positioned both on local and international wine lists. Numerous awards, both for our wines and others testify in this regard.

Regional red favorites are: Plavac Mali and Vranac (as dominant varieties from Dalmatia, Herzegovina and Macedonia). Of course indigenous varieties are very important, but I would search for the best positions for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, perhaps Merlot, yet it is not easy to do so.

Regional white favorites are: Žilavka - a true symbol of Herzegovina, also Tamjanika from Serbia. Also a good Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia or northern Croatia, good Chardonnay (from Macedonia and elsewhere), Malvasija Dubrovačka, Pošip from Dalmatia, Rebula from Slovenia is very interesting and so on.


A message for the Balkan wineries

It is essential to engage in direct marketing. It is never enough of it. The cellars should be open 365 days year if possible. Relevant people from the wine industry should be consulted and brought in, such as oenologists, wine journalists, wine critics, colleagues and winelovers from all walks of life. This is a way to find how your wines can reach the consumer.

The message for a consumer: try as many wines as possible and you will always be at the beginning as love towards wine is very special and always starts afresh!