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Feature 10 Sep 12

Grape Lovers Await Harvest Celebrations

Traditional wine festivals in Serbia and Macedonia have much to offer their visitors in terms of wine, music, and tempting food.

Nemanja Cabric
BIRN
Belgrade
Srbija and Macedonia are only some of the high spots on the regional wine trail. | Photo by smederevskajesen.com

Wine has always been linked to culture, poetry, music and dance. Drinking was a way of socialising, like a religion or a cult.

In Ancient Greek times, there was a myth about the King Pentheus who didn’t wish to recognise Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, as a god, and so was horribly punished.

According to the Greek tragedy “The Bacchae” by the Athenian playwright Euripides, Pentheus was torn apart by wild female worshipers known as Bacchants who ripped apart his body, piece by piece.

These days, devotees of the grape harvests are drawn to less bloodthirsty activities, such as concerts, and fairs with wine and food sampling.

Vrsac, Smederevo and Aleksandrovac in Srbija, as well as Tikves in Macedonia, are only some of the high spots on the regional wine trail, where locals as well as tourists come to celebrate life, have fun and spend some time in good spirits. 

Fruity Macedonia:

Macedonians are known for their passion for rich fruity wines and for the grape brandy named “zolta”. | Photo by smederevskajesen.com

Macedonians are known for their passion for rich fruity wines, and for the grape brandy, or “rakija”, named “zolta” after its yellow colour, which often comes from black mulberry wood.

Some of the finest Macedonian wines come from the Tikves wine district in Kavadarci, about 100 kilometres south from Skopje.

Here the Mediterranean sun meets the continental winds from the north, creating excellent conditions for the production of fruity, lively and complex wines.

Tikves winery processes about 30,000 tonnes of grapes a year and markets its wines in over 15 foreign countries, making it the largest such operation in Macedonia.

From September 6 to 9, Kavadarci hosts the “Tikveski grozdober”, one of the largest local events for wine lovers, which includes art exhibitions, sporting competitions, the coronation of a wine king and queen contest and much more.

The festival starts with an opening of the Mihajlovo art colony and the “Song of Nikola Badev” poetry festival. A donkey race will also be a part of the opening festivities.

Over the following four days there will be a biker’s parade, an exhibition of old-timers and a performance by a Brazilian carnival troupe.

Audiences will also be entertained by international and local music and dance artists. This year’s stars are two bands from Serbia, Van Gogh and Galija, and Dubioza kolektiv from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The winery includes a 50-seat restaurant, a souvenir shop and an additional space for group wine-tasting.

Guided tours include a visit to the production facilities, the underground cellar and a guided tasting of selected wines. Wines are combined with appetisers or a full lunch in the restaurant.

Wines fit for kings:

The first autumn wine festivities in Serbia will take place in Smederevo and Vrsac. | Photo by smederevskajesen.com

The first autumn wine festivities in Serbia will take place in Smederevo and Vrsac, ending with events in the town of Aleksandrovac at the end of September.

“Smederevska jesen” (Smederevo Autumn) is one of the oldest and the biggest wine events in the region, running from September 2 to 9 in the Smederevo fortress and on the town square.

The town and district are well known for wine making. Almost all of Serbia’s kings and rulers had vineyards here, from Despot Stefan Lazarevic and Djuradj Brankovic back in the 15 century to Milos Obrenovic in the 19 century.

“Smederevka“ wine, made from local grapes, is refreshing and tasty, and is even better spiced with Riesling, Semillon or White Burgundy. 

There are five large wineries in Smederevo, which have their own vineyards, covering anything from 50 acres to seven hectares.

The heart of the festival is an exhibition of grapes and wine where winemakers display their best grape specimens and have experts try and grade their wines.

On the town square visitors can also buy grapes and fruit products from farmers. In the park there is a Wine City: small shops that look like wine barrels, selling wines and grapes all year long.

Vrsac in northeast Serbia also organises a wine festival from September 13 to 16, which draws thousands of people to celebrate the grape harvest, sample wine, and enjoy traditional fireworks, concerts, tamburiza orchestras, and even have the chance to catch grapes dropped from a plane.

The Vrsac area was known for winemaking from Roman times and in the 19 century, when it was part of Austria-Hungary, 10,000 hectares were given over to vineyards.

Its wine cellar is an architectural wonder, capable of storing 3,400 wagons of wine and built in 1967 in the shape of the letter “Y” for Yugoslavia. Today it is still one of the largest wine cellars in Europe, comparable to those in Listel in France, and Logrania in Spain.

In Palic, in the far north of Serbia, to mark the completion of work in the vineyards and orchards, “Berbanski dani” (“Vintage Days”) takes place on September 17, including a parade and a wine festival where visitors can taste wine and cheese.

Alongside the fermentation of grapes, exhibitions of fruits and vegetables will be organised. Along the walkway there will be street of shops marketing handicrafts, honeys, herbs and fruits.

Another festival that no wine lover should miss takes place in Aleksandrovac from September 22 to 25, when a river of some 20,000 litres of wine will flow through the public fountain.

A century ago this area was called Serbia’s Champagne. Owing to its location in a valley between mountains Kopaonik, Goc, and Zeljina, experts claim it has a climate like that of France’s premier winegrowing region of Bordeaux.

Aleksandrovac winemakers grow “tamjanika” and “prokupac”, autochthonous grape varieties first planted in these parts centuries ago.

Throughout history, wines from Aleksandrovac have been popular with, among others, Celtic soldiers, Roman legionaries, Byzantine commanders, Serbian kings and archbishops and Ottoman beys.

This year’s harvests will take place somewhat earlier than usual because the August heat forced the grapes to ripen faster. It’s expected that they won’t yield as much fruit as in previous years either, owing to the harsh winter and the prolonged drought that followed.

However, experts claim that the grapes are still top quality, and that wines from 2012 will keep a delicate bouquet. There is, as ever, still something to celebrate.

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