Grape lovers await harvest celebrations
Out & About :
Traditional wine festivals in Serbia and Macedonia have much to offer their visitors in terms of wine, music and tempting food.
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 that King Pentheus was horribly punished for not wishing to recognise Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, as a god.
According to the Greek tragedy “The Bacchae”, by Athenian playwright Euripides, Pentheus was torn apart by wild female worshippers known as Bacchants who ripped his body apart 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.
Vršac, Smederevo and Aleksandrovac in Serbia, as well as Tikveš 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.
Macedonians are known for their passion for rich fruity wines and grape brandy, or “rakija”, named “žolta” after its yellow colour, which often comes from black mulberry wood.
Some of the finest Macedonian wines come from the Tikveš wine district in Kavadarci, about 100 kilometres south of Skopje.
Here the Mediterranean sun meets the continental winds from the north, creating excellent conditions for the production of fruity, lively and complex wines.
Tikveš 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 6th to 9th Kavadarci hosts the “Tikveški 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 also makes up part of the opening festivities.
Over the following four days there is a biker parade, an exhibition of oldtimers and a performance by a Brazilian carnival troupe.
Audiences are also entertained by international and local music and dance artists. This year’s stars are two bands from Serbia, Van Gogh and Galija, as well as 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 Vršac, ending with events in the town of Aleksandrovac at the end of September.
“Smederevska jesen” (Smederevo Autumn) is one of the oldest and biggest wine events in the region, running from September 2nd to 9th 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 Lazarević and Đurađ Branković back in the 15th century, to Miloš Obrenović in the 19th 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 with 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 attempt to 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.
Vršac in northeast Serbia also organises a wine festival from September 13th to 16th, 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 Vršac area has been known for winemaking since Roman times and in the 19th 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 up to 3,400 wagons of wine and built in 1967 in the shape of the letter “J” for Jugoslavia.
Today it is remains one of the largest wine cellars in Europe, comparable to those in Listel in France and Logrania in Spain.
To mark the completion of work in the vineyards and orchards of Palić, in the far north of Serbia, the event “Berbanskidani” (“Vintage Days”) takes place on September 17th and includes a parade and a wine festival where visitors can taste wine and cheese.
Alongside the fermentation of grapes, exhibitions of fruits and vegetables will also be organised. Along the walkway there will be street stalls offering handicraft items, honey products, herbs and fruits.
Another festival that no wine lover should miss takes place in Aleksandrovac from September 22nd to 25th, 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 the mountains of Kopaonik, Goč, and Željina, 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.
Wines from Aleksandrovac have been popular throughout history 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 is usually the case, since 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.