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Feature 18 Sep 17

Wine Lovers’ Paradise in Vibrant Zupa Region

Wine fountains, grape-stomping and open air concerts bring Serbia’s main wine-producing region to life every September. 

Srdjan Garcevic

The town fountain, which is made to sprout endless light "ruzica" wine, which is made from Prokupac grapes. Photo: Zupska Berba

The central Serbian town of Aleksandrovac and its surrounding region of Zupa have been synonymous with wine for a very long time. Indeed, the town’s first mention in 1196 in a proclamation by the founder of the Serbian Nemanjic royal dynasty, Stefan Nemanja, bequeathed the region and its wine to Studenica Monastery.

Throughout medieval times Zupa produced wines for the Serbian aristocracy and clergy, however its winemaking history probably stretches back for at least another millennium, and possibly all the way to the time when the region was inhabited by the Celts in the 6th century BC.

Located about four hours drive south of Belgrade, on hills marking the beginning of the Kopaonik mountain range, Aleksandrovac’s more gentle peaks and troughs are covered with around 3,000 hectares of vineyards, making it the largest wine region in the country.

The most famous autochthonous grape variety grown in Zupa is prokupac, which hails from nearby Prokuplje, and is made into a light, fruity red wine or combined with more robust merlot and cabernet. Another local specialty is tamjanika grape, which is normally made into a popular dry white.

After WWII, Vino Zupa, a state-owned winery, took over Aleksandrovac’s vineyards. Independent wineries were closed and wine producers could only sell their produce to family and neighbours. Most of the grape production went into mediocre mass market wine which led to Aleksandrovac boasting with the world’s largest wine cistern (5,600,000 litres of good stuff).  Once the wine market liberalised, many family wineries resurfaced and started producing great, innovative wines.

Although few winemaker and drinkers fondly remember the socialist days, Vino Zupa still started one of the most famous wine festivals in Serbia – Zupska Berba, which will have its 54th iteration from September 21-24.

If you are put off by the snobbery attached to wine festivals, worry not. Besides showcasing the best of local wine production, Berba (“the harvest”) is essentially still a run-of-the-mill Aleksandrovac town fair. Of course, you can still discuss the terroir and bouquets with throngs of small producers lining the streets, but you will probably be distracted by the multitude of youths in national dress dancing kolo around you to the blaring trumpets.

Much of the merriment at Berba is fuelled by the festival’s centrepiece: the town fountain which is made to sprout endless light “ruzica” wine made from prokupac grapes.  Besides the fountain, highlights also include grape stomping and Serbian pop and ethno music concerts.

The most famous autochthonous grape variety grown in Zupa is prokupac, which hails from nearby Prokuplje. Photo: Zupska Berba 

While in Aleksandrovac, wine enthusiasts should also try to visit some of Zupa’s many independent wineries for tastings in a more peaceful atmosphere. Vino Budimir has become very popular for its robust reds and tamjanika-based whites. Radenkovic has both a vineyard in Zupa and another in Biserno Ostrvo, Vojvodina (north of Novi Sad), which are both worth a visit.

Do note that if you are planning a tour, you should contact the wineries beforehand to arrange a visit.

Between wine tastings, you can visit the wine museum located in the old agricultural school or take a peek inside the history museum, which has valuable prehistoric collection, including female terracotta idols.

History enthusiasts should also pay a visit to the Koznik fortress. Built in 15th century to stop the Ottoman invasion, the fortress is one of the best-preserved in Serbia and offers dramatic views over central Serbia.

Finally, if you feel your liver needs a rest after the visit to the Berba, Aleksandrovac is also conveniently close to Kopaonik, Serbia’s most popular mountain resort, where you can go for bracing walks and fresh mountain air to recover.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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