Macedonia – wine country
As a wine country, Macedonia is both very old and very young, and has a rich wine history.
Macedonia has 24,000 hectares of vineyards and Macedonian wineries produce about 236,000 tons of grapes annually, which is equal to 220 million liters, putting the country in 25th place in the world. The official domestic consumption is about 10 million gallons, that’s only 5% of Macedonian wine production that is used for domestic consumption.
Macedonia was known through centuries as a country that produces wine, but producing quality wine began over ten years ago.
The production of grapes and wine is around 17-20% of GDP, and wine is second most exported product after tobacco.
Old wine country
Macedonian wine story has its roots from the 13th century BC. Ancient Macedonians made wine from grapes grown and mixed with honey because sugar helped its preservation. The wine was kept in amphoras in which olive oil was poured on top to stop wine breathing. Then amphorae was buried in the ground and thus it remained cold and matured respectively.
During the Roman Empire, Romans were responsible for spreading vines throughout Europe. They believed that the wine is a source of wealth and luck. During this period, Macedonia was one of the most famous regions for growing grapes in the Empire.
In the Byzantine period (till VII century) the cultivation of vines continued.
With the spread of Christianity, the presence of wine also increased. Wine was part of orthodox church ceremonies (rites) because it was believed that it represents the blood of Jesus.
During the Ottoman Empire (from XIV to the XX century) viticulture and wine-production in Macedonia extinguished since wine was forbidden according to Islamic laws. Thanks to Christian churches, wine making continued.
At the beginning of the 20th century,grapevine was represented on 30 000 hectares and was completely destroyed by phylloxera (Phylloxera vastatrix) till 1914, small insect that attacks the roots and leaves of vine wine.
In 1928 King Alexander Karadjordjevic decided to plant vineyards and to build a winery in Demir Kapija (Iron Gate tour.). The winery was named Villa Maria by his wife Mary. The property was bought with the money she received as dowry from her parents. There were other noble families that produced grapes and wine at that time.
After World War II, with the beginning of socialism, barrels and equipment for the production of wine which were owned by different families and small producers of wine, were nationalized. 13 wineries producing mainly bulk wine were established in Republic of Macedonia. On the other hand, there were more than 30,000 families that owned small vineyards. They sold their grapes to the 13 large wineries.
Rebuilding viticulture and increasing the areas under vines reaches its maximum in 1981 when 38,759 hectares were registered.
Young wine country
After separating Macedonia from Yugoslavia in 1990, the process of privatization of the oldest wineries began. But apart from the change of ownership, many things remained the same. All wineries continued to produce bulk wine in large quantities, under low-quality and low prices. But the potential was much higher.
The quality of wine depends on: the quality of the grapes, the quality of the equipment and the wine-maker. While equipment can be bought and the process of producing can be learned, the quality of grapes depends on the climate and terroir. These conditions are fulfilled in Macedonia, so produced grapes are of high quality.
Macedonia has a transitional climate from Mediterranean to continental. Summers are hot and dry and winters moderately cold. Average annual rainfall is 1,700 mm in the mountainous western parts and up to 500 mm in the eastern parts. The country has three climatic zones: temperate Mediterranean, mountainous and mild continental. Tikves region, located in the valley of the rivers Vardar and Strumica, where most of the grapes are grown, is the driest area of Balkan Peninsula. Warmest regions are Demir Kapija and Gevgelija, where temperatures in July and August often exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Slight wind in this region helps not to develop cryptogram infections.
Macedonia has nearly 260 sunny days a year. This helps in the long process of maturation when sugars and acids concentrate in the grapes, enabling rich color and complex aromas in the wines. The intense aroma of the Macedonian wines is a result of combined influence of the Mediterranean and continental climate, with warm days and cooler nights, and terroir rich in carbonates and minerals.
Today, vines in Macedonia are cultivated on around 24 000 hectares of which 70% of the vineyards are planted with wine grapes, and 30% with table grapes. The two most important varieties grown in Macedonia Vranac (red) and Smeredevka (white). Besides these two species, mostly known are Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Vranec is best known and most cultivated grape variety in Macedonia and represents 80% of all red wine varieties that are grown in this country.