Tikveš Win­ery

A bea­con of Balkan ex­cel­lence


Kra­tošija, Vranec and Re­pub­lic of Mace­do­nia are not names usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with world-class wines – un­til now. Tikveš Win­ery’s su­perb 2015 Barovo sin­gle-vine­yard red picked up a well-de­served plat­inum medal and 97 points at De­can­ter World Wine Awards 2018. Caro­line Gilby MW went to take a look at the fas­ci­nat­ing story be­hind this gor­geous wine.

The tale of Tikveš Barovo is of pas­sion­ate peo­ple and a stun­ning land­scape at the cross­roads of east and west. Grape-grow­ing has a long his­tory in this re­gion, with Ne­olithic ev­i­dence of grape re­mains, while both Philip of Mace­don and his son Alexan­der the Great were renowned drinkers of the lo­cal wine and Ro­mans traded wine from this re­gion. Tikveš it­self was the first win­ery of the mod­ern era, founded in 1885, but qual­ity wine largely dis­ap­peared in so­cial­ist times, when this area pro­duced up to two-thirds of Yu­goslavia’s wine.

Tikveš may be one of the big­gest wineries in the whole Balkan re­gion, but when the M6 In­vest­ment group in­vested fif­teen years ago, com­pany pres­i­dent Sve­tozar Janevski took the brave de­ci­sion to switch fo­cus to qual­ity wines only. “We have a pas­sion for per­fec­tion, we wanted to change market stan­dards and even our cheaper wines are the best they can be,” he says. In 2010, he brought in a French con­sul­tant named Philippe Cam­bie whose roots are in the south­ern warmth of the Rhone Val­ley – use­ful in un­der­stand­ing Mace­do­nia’s sunny vine­yards, where the sun shines 270 days each year. And back in 2005, Dr Kle­men Lis­jak from Slove­nia started his still on­go­ing re­search pro­grammes at Tikveš, look­ing at cli­mate and soils; how best to man­age the lo­cal grape va­ri­eties; and con­trol­ling ox­i­da­tion. To il­lus­trate how at­ti­tudes have changed, 20 years ago grow­ers won prizes for grow­ing the big­gest crop – even up to 35 tonnes/ha. To­day they earn a premium for smaller yields, hand­pick­ing into crates and us­ing drip ir­ri­ga­tion.

Head wine­maker Marko Sto­jaković

had been a key fig­ure at the win­ery. He is rooted in the re­gion, born in Ser­bia, but grew up and stud­ied in France at Bordeaux and Mont­pel­lier. A protégée of Cam­bie’s, he ar­rived at the win­ery aged just 27 in 2010, see­ing a real op­por­tu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence on a sig­nif­i­cant scale. He ex­plains that though this is a big com­pany, it feels like fam­ily and they are open and pro­gres­sive. He man­ages a team of 12 oe­nol­o­gists who travel reg­u­larly to New Zealand, South Africa and Aus­tralia to learn more, an un­usu­ally open at­ti­tude in this re­gion.

Barovo red is a unique vine­yard blend of two lo­cal grape va­ri­eties, picked and vini­fied to­gether. Kra­tošija is one the old­est va­ri­eties in the Balkans. Bet­ter­known as Prim­i­tivo or Zin­fan­del, it was a vol­ume work­horse in the past but has great qual­ity po­ten­tial and is also use­fully drought-tol­er­ant. Vranec, whose name means “black stal­lion”, is a pow­er­ful, inky dark grape richer in colour and tan­nin than even Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon. In the Barovo vine­yard, the vines are prop­erly old, aged up to 42 years and all the work in this beau­ti­ful and iso­lated spot is done by hand. The vine­yard lies on the bor­der be­tween Mediter­ranean and con­ti­nen­tal cli­mates but its al­ti­tude of 600 to 700 me­tres makes all the dif­fer­ence, giv­ing cool nights that pro­tect fresh­ness in the grapes. It’s ev­ery­one’s favourite lo­ca­tion for its stun­ning views and boun­ti­ful wildlife – but­ter­flies, birds, lizards and even tor­toises wan­der among the vines. It’s also one of the few spots in the coun­try where ir­ri­ga­tion is not re­quired and the grapes are re­ally healthy so there’s min­i­mal spray­ing. Marko ex­plains, “We don’t have to in­ter­fere, we just re­spect the fruit. On the other hand, our wine­mak­ing is very pre­cise and about pu­rity. We aim to show the ter­roir and not mask the wine with tan­nins, we want to show just what the vine­yard and na­ture give.” The grapes are cooled and then vini­fied in con­crete tanks be­fore fin­ish­ing in

French-coop­ered oak which Marko reck­ons gives him the best re­sults. “This is my wine,” says Marko says with pride, adding, “Barovo is our best red wine for sure, for real peo­ple not just for wine crit­ics and we are all re­ally proud of the 97 points and De­can­ter award for this wine.”

The win­ery takes its role in the com­mu­nity very se­ri­ously. CEO Radoš Vu­kice­vic ex­plains that Tikveš buys from more than 2,000 fam­i­lies so it’s im­por­tant to pay fairly and give them a sta­ble fu­ture. The win­ery is also com­mit­ted to sus­tain­abil­ity in this clean green land, re­duc­ing wa­ter use, in­vest­ing in so­lar pan­els and plan­ning to use win­ery waste for biomass.

An­other ini­tia­tive is the re­cent found­ing of a cook­ery school, with Nikola Sto­jaković bring­ing his French three­Miche­lin-starred cooking skills to Mace­do­nia. While the coun­try pro­duces one of the high­est vol­umes of wine per capita wine in Europe, wine drink­ing is among Europe’s low­est. At the same time, it is hard to de­velop fine wine with­out a food cul­ture to match. A wine school is also on the cards with train­ing for grow­ers, wine­mak­ers and som­me­liers. Wine is one of the most im­por­tant eco­nomic sec­tors here, with vines cov­er­ing 4% of all cul­ti­vated land, though as Janevski points out, “Al­though we stand at the cross­roads of wine mak­ing over many cen­turies, our coun­try is still not rec­og­nized as a world wine re­gion, par­tic­u­larly for fine wines. Our mis­sion is to change this aware­ness and move the re­gion far from its im­age as a bulk wine source.”

Asked what the De­can­ter award means Janevski says, “It’s like the sun­rise, see­ing the light, recog­nis­ing the re­gion and show­ing that we can be in the sky with any wine pro­ducer in Europe.”

Com­pany Pres­i­dent Sve­tozar Janevski

Head wine­maker Marko Sto­jaković

Pic­tured here: Tikves vine­yards in Barovo re­gion

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