Showing posts with label indigenous wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label indigenous wine. Show all posts

Sunday, January 3, 2021

North Macedonia | Tikves Wine District | Demir Kapiya | Popova Kula Winery | Prokupec








It is my fourth day at the Popova Kula Winery, a Thursday, and I am still the only guest here. I checked on the internet and discovered, however, that this coming Saturday night the place is full-up with no rooms available. Luckily I am checking out Saturday morning. Incorrigible misanthrope that I am, I have been enjoying the solitude. Meanwhile I am continuing my investigations of the local vintages. The winery produces eleven different kinds of wine:








—Stanushina




—Vranec




—Prokupec




—Cabernet Sauvignon




—Merlot




—Sauvignon Blanc




—Temjanika,




—Chardonnay




—Zilavka




— Muscat Ottonel




—Muscat Hamburg




Stanushina, Prokupec, Vranec, Temjanika, and Zilavka are made from grapes indigenous to the Balkan Peninsula; these are the only varieties I am interested in. God forbid that I should come to Macedonia just to drink Cabernet Sauvignon or—horrors!— Merlot! 









According to archeological findings, grapes has been grown and wine produced in the area of Demir Kapiya for at least the last 3600 years. The modern history of viniculture in the Demir Kapiya area began in 1927 when King Alexander Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia (1888–1934) built a winery here to produce wine for the exclusive use of his royal family. Experts assured the king that of all possible locations in his kingdom, which covered a good part of the Balkan Peninsula, including modern-day Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia, this area was the most fertile and best suited for growing grapes and producing wine. He named the property the Winery of The Queen Maria in honor of his wife, Maria Karadjordjevic. The king hired the best vintners available and the winery was soon producing wine of extraordinary quality. Unfortunately King Alexander Karadjordjevic was unable to enjoy the fruits of his vineyards for long. On October 9, 1934, during a state visit to Marseille, France, he was assassinated by Bulgarian revolutionary Vlado Chernozemski.





King Alexander Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia (click on photos for enlargements)




The subsequent history of the winery is a bit hazy, but apparently it continued producing wine in the decades thereafter, except during the world wars and various local upheavals.  After the Second World the Royal Winery, along with other wineries in what was then Yugoslavia, were nationalized. Over 30,000 families who owned small private vineyards continued, however, to supply grapes to these wine making facilities. It was these people who are credited with  maintaining the high quality of local viniculture during the following decades. After the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the emergence of the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia as an independent country most if not all wineries were privatized. The royal winery in Demir Kapiya was privatized in 1994 and is now known as the Royal Winery Queen Maria. The current winery has an on-site restaurant and rents out rooms, apartments, and for high-rollers the former villa of Queen Maria Karadjordjevic.




King Alexander and Queen Maria

The Popova Kula Winery is built on lands that once belonged to the Royal Winery. Construction of the winery itself started in October of 2004 and was completed in August of 2005. Construction of the winery restaurant and hotel was not completed until 2009. The name of the winery, “Popova Kula”, means “Priest’s Tower”. Apparently during the time of the Roman Empire an important road ran through the grounds of the current winery. A large tower served as a checkpoint on the road, and this eventually became known at the Priest’s Tower. This original tower was eventually torn down, but the winery has erected a new 55-foot high tower its honor. This tower has become the easily recognizable symbol of the winery. 




Popova Kula Winery






The “Priest’s Tower” of Popova Kula



Curious about this Roman road, I went down to the lobby and questioned the receptionist, a charming woman in her thirties. She in turn questioned one the local workmen who happened to be handy, and this guy said the Roman road in question was the famous Via Egnatia dating to the time of the Roman Empire, which ran from Durrës in what is now Albania east 696 miles to Constantinople, right across the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. This was certainly intriguing. I had already visited numerous cities and towns on the old Via Egnatia, including Thessaloniki, Kavala, and Kastoria in Greece and Orhid in Macedonia but I was under the impression that the old Roman road passed through the Balkans a good bit south of Demir Kapiya. The receptionist called the local wine museum and the woman at the museum suggested I stop by for more information. So I hiked a mile into town and found the museum, a modest two-room establishment in downtown Demir Kapiya. The woman in charge informed me that the Roman road through Demir Kapiya was not the Via Egnatia itself but a side branch of the main highway. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to discover that Demir Kapiya was in fact linked to the hallowed Via Egnatia. I harbor the sneaking suspicion I have traveled this road in a previous lifetime. 





The Via Egnatia in red. The northern extension in green may be the one that passed through Demir Kapiya.








Via Egnatia near Kavala. Photo by Philipp Pilhofer



After trekking a mile back from the museum to the winery I retire to my balcony to sample the wine of the day; in this case Prokupec, a wine apparently indigenous to what is now Serbia but also grown in Macedonia. 





Prokupec








From my balcony can be seen the Iron Gate, a gap in the mountains through which the Vardar River flows. The Iron Gate marks the southern boundary of the Tikves Wine Region. It also gives its name to the town just to the north—Demir Kapiya, which in Turkish means “Iron Gate”.




View from my balcony. The Iron Gate is the gap in the mountains in the
middle of the photo. The town of Demir Kapiya (Iron Gate) is in the
foreground.








A view of the Iron Gate from Popova Kula vineyards




Another view from my balcony








Halfway through my first glass of Prokupec my thoughts drifted, perhaps inevitably, to the Persian Poet Rudaki (858 a.d – 941 a.d.), the favorite poet of the Samanids of Bukhara, in what is now Uzbekistan. The Elton John of his Age, at one point Rudaki owned two hundred slaves who attended to his every need, and a hundred camels were necessary to carry his baggage when he traveled. His verses, it was said, filled a hundred volumes; he reportedly wrote 1,300,000 couplets. Almost all of his work has been lost. Unfortunately, the poet came to a bad end. He may have fell under the sway of the Ismaili Sect, considered heretical in the domains of the Samanids, and he eventually fell out of favor with the court. His lament:








Who had greatness? Who had favour, of all people in the land? 


I it was had favour, greatness, from the Saman scions' hand; 


Khurasan's own Amir, Nasr, forty thousand dirhams gave, 


And a fifth to this was added by Prince of Pure and Brave; 


From his nobles, widely scattered, came a sixty thousand more; 


Those the times when mine was fortune, fortune good in plenteous store. 


Now the times have changed--and I, too, changed and altered must succumb, 


Bring the beggar's staff here to me; time for staff and script has come!





He reportedly died in abject poverty. Perhaps in his final days he repeated one of his couplets:





Were there no wine all hearts would be a desert waste, forlorn and black, 


But were our last life-breath extinct, the sight of wine would bring it back.




Rudaki





A white wine, Zilavka, that I tried earlier. It is also indigenous to the Balkan Peninsula. I am not a big fan of white wine,  but this one was not bad at all.  It was flirtatious but not presumptuous; sassy, without being impertinent. 




Another view of the winery

North Macedonia | Tikves Wine District | Demir Kapiya | Popova Kula Winery | Prokupec


It is my fourth day at the Popova Kula Winery, a Thursday, and I am still the only guest here. I checked on the internet and discovered, however, that this coming Saturday night the place is full-up with no rooms available. Luckily I am checking out Saturday morning. Incorrigible misanthrope that I am, I have been enjoying the solitude. Meanwhile I am continuing my investigations of the local vintages. The winery produces eleven different kinds of wine:
—Stanushina
—Vranec
—Prokupec
—Cabernet Sauvignon
—Merlot
—Sauvignon Blanc
—Temjanika,
—Chardonnay
—Zilavka
— Muscat Ottonel
—Muscat Hamburg
Stanushina, Prokupec, Vranec, Temjanika, and Zilavka are made from grapes indigenous to the Balkan Peninsula; these are the only varieties I am interested in. God forbid that I should come to Macedonia just to drink Cabernet Sauvignon or—horrors!— Merlot! 

According to archeological findings, grapes has been grown and wine produced in the area of Demir Kapiya for at least the last 3600 years. The modern history of viniculture in the Demir Kapiya area began in 1927 when King Alexander Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia (1888–1934) built a winery here to produce wine for the exclusive use of his royal family. Experts assured the king that of all possible locations in his kingdom, which covered a good part of the Balkan Peninsula, including modern-day Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia, this area was the most fertile and best suited for growing grapes and producing wine. He named the property the Winery of The Queen Maria in honor of his wife, Maria Karadjordjevic. The king hired the best vintners available and the winery was soon producing wine of extraordinary quality. Unfortunately King Alexander Karadjordjevic was unable to enjoy the fruits of his vineyards for long. On October 9, 1934, during a state visit to Marseille, France, he was assassinated by Bulgarian revolutionary Vlado Chernozemski.
King Alexander Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia (click on photos for enlargements)
The subsequent history of the winery is a bit hazy, but apparently it continued producing wine in the decades thereafter, except during the world wars and various local upheavals.  After the Second World the Royal Winery, along with other wineries in what was then Yugoslavia, were nationalized. Over 30,000 families who owned small private vineyards continued, however, to supply grapes to these wine making facilities. It was these people who are credited with  maintaining the high quality of local viniculture during the following decades. After the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the emergence of the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia as an independent country most if not all wineries were privatized. The royal winery in Demir Kapiya was privatized in 1994 and is now known as the Royal Winery Queen Maria. The current winery has an on-site restaurant and rents out rooms, apartments, and for high-rollers the former villa of Queen Maria Karadjordjevic.
King Alexander and Queen Maria
The Popova Kula Winery is built on lands that once belonged to the Royal Winery. Construction of the winery itself started in October of 2004 and was completed in August of 2005. Construction of the winery restaurant and hotel was not completed until 2009. The name of the winery, “Popova Kula”, means “Priest’s Tower”. Apparently during the time of the Roman Empire an important road ran through the grounds of the current winery. A large tower served as a checkpoint on the road, and this eventually became known at the Priest’s Tower. This original tower was eventually torn down, but the winery has erected a new 55-foot high tower its honor. This tower has become the easily recognizable symbol of the winery. 
Popova Kula Winery

The “Priest’s Tower” of Popova Kula
Curious about this Roman road, I went down to the lobby and questioned the receptionist, a charming woman in her thirties. She in turn questioned one the local workmen who happened to be handy, and this guy said the Roman road in question was the famous Via Egnatia dating to the time of the Roman Empire, which ran from Durrës in what is now Albania east 696 miles to Constantinople, right across the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. This was certainly intriguing. I had already visited numerous cities and towns on the old Via Egnatia, including Thessaloniki, Kavala, and Kastoria in Greece and Orhid in Macedonia but I was under the impression that the old Roman road passed through the Balkans a good bit south of Demir Kapiya. The receptionist called the local wine museum and the woman at the museum suggested I stop by for more information. So I hiked a mile into town and found the museum, a modest two-room establishment in downtown Demir Kapiya. The woman in charge informed me that the Roman road through Demir Kapiya was not the Via Egnatia itself but a side branch of the main highway. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to discover that Demir Kapiya was in fact linked to the hallowed Via Egnatia. I harbor the sneaking suspicion I have traveled this road in a previous lifetime. 
The Via Egnatia in red. The northern extension in green may be the one that passed through Demir Kapiya.
Via Egnatia near Kavala. Photo by Philipp Pilhofer
After trekking a mile back from the museum to the winery I retire to my balcony to sample the wine of the day; in this case Prokupec, a wine apparently indigenous to what is now Serbia but also grown in Macedonia. 
Prokupec

From my balcony can be seen the Iron Gate, a gap in the mountains through which the Vardar River flows. The Iron Gate marks the southern boundary of the Tikves Wine Region. It also gives its name to the town just to the north—Demir Kapiya, which in Turkish means “Iron Gate”.
View from my balcony. The Iron Gate is the gap in the mountains in the middle of the photo. The town of Demir Kapiya (Iron Gate) is in the foreground.
A view of the Iron Gate from Popova Kula vineyards
Another view from my balcony

Halfway through my first glass of Prokupec my thoughts drifted, perhaps inevitably, to the Persian Poet Rudaki (858 a.d – 941 a.d.), the favorite poet of the Samanids of Bukhara, in what is now Uzbekistan. The Elton John of his Age, at one point Rudaki owned two hundred slaves who attended to his every need, and a hundred camels were necessary to carry his baggage when he traveled. His verses, it was said, filled a hundred volumes; he reportedly wrote 1,300,000 couplets. Almost all of his work has been lost. Unfortunately, the poet came to a bad end. He may have fell under the sway of the Ismaili Sect, considered heretical in the domains of the Samanids, and he eventually fell out of favor with the court. His lament:

Who had greatness? Who had favour, of all people in the land? 
I it was had favour, greatness, from the Saman scions' hand; 
Khurasan's own Amir, Nasr, forty thousand dirhams gave, 
And a fifth to this was added by Prince of Pure and Brave; 
From his nobles, widely scattered, came a sixty thousand more; 
Those the times when mine was fortune, fortune good in plenteous store. 
Now the times have changed--and I, too, changed and altered must succumb, 
Bring the beggar's staff here to me; time for staff and script has come!

He reportedly died in abject poverty. Perhaps in his final days he repeated one of his couplets:

Were there no wine all hearts would be a desert waste, forlorn and black, 
But were our last life-breath extinct, the sight of wine would bring it back.
Rudaki
A white wine, Zilavka, that I tried earlier. It is also indigenous to the Balkan Peninsula. I am not a big fan of white wine,  but this one was not bad at all.  It was flirtatious but not presumptuous; sassy, without being impertinent. 
Another view of the winery

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

North Macedonia | Tikves Wine District | Demir Kapiya | Popova Kula Winery | Stanushina









I Mentioned Earlier that I drink only wines indigenous to the place I happen to be at the time. At the moment I am staying at the Popova Kula Winery in the Tikves Wine District of Macedonia. In addition to making wine from the more famous varieties of grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, etc, all of which originated outside the Balkan Peninsula and have been replanted here—the winery also features several wines indigenous to the Balkans. It also features one wine indigenous to Macedonia itself. This wine, known as Stanushina, is made from a variety of grapes which originated in the Tikves Wine Region of Macedonia and to this day is grown nowhere else. The Popova Kula Winery claims to be the only winery in Macedonia—and thus the world—to make wine from this grape. This is a truly indigenous wine, and sampling it is the main reason I have come to Demir Kapiya. 





Stanushina (click on photos for enlargements)




A bottle of regular Stanushina (there is also an aged-in-oak-barrels version) cost $4.43 at the winery store. Although the weather is cool—in the 50ºF—and rainy, with surprisingly strong gusts of wind sweeping down the Vardar Valley, I retire to my balcony with the wine and an assortment of walnuts, figs, and dried apricots that I bought at the Old Bazaar in Skopje. I am perfectly comfortable in a Mongolian Cashmere sweater. The wine is light scarlet in color, fruity and flowery, with a mouthful of cherries and hints of strawberry and raspberry. As often happens when I drink wine—especially light, fruity wine, my thoughts turn to Omar Khayyam (1048 a.d. – 1131 a.d.). Most famous in the Occident as a poet—he is the “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou” guy—in Persia itself he is best known as a Mathematician and astronomer. 






As I started on my second glass of Stanushina I began to recall quotes and poetry by Omar Khayyam:







Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine and roses. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.


So much wine I will have drunk that its perfume

Shall stream from my tomb once I am laid to rest.

And when a true believer passes by

The aroma shall overwhelm him with drunkenness.


 A glass of wine is worth more than the entire kingdom of China.


Before death springs upon you unannounced 

Make sure to ask for the finest of vintages.



Something in my third glass of Stanushina triggered thoughts about the legend involving Omar Khayyam, Nizam al-Mulk, who was the vizier of the Seljuq Empire from 1064 a.d. to 1092 a.d., and Hassan-i Sabbah (1050 to 1124), the Nizari Ismaili who founded the notorious sect of the Assassins. According to the legend—admittedly the historicity of this tale has been questioned—the three men while still young swore a pact of eternal friendship, vowing that if one of them rose to prominence he would help the other two in whatever way he could.  Nizam al-Mulk achieved achieved power first by becoming vizier of the Seljuq Empire. He then offered both his friends important positions in the Seljuq government. Hassan-i Sabbah accepted a government post but Omar Khayyam declined, preferring instead to stick to his study of mathematics and astronomy and to his devotion to women, poetry, and wine. Nizam al-Mulk eventually decided that Hassan-i Sabbah had become too powerful and was threatening his own position in the Seljuk court. He then engineered a plot to have Hassan-i Sabbah removed from office and disgraced. Hassan-i Sabbah never forgave Nizam al-Mulk for this betrayal. Years later, after he had organized the Assassin sect at Alamut in Iran, Nizam al-Mulk was the very first victim of Hassan-i Sabbah’s trained assassins. When I was in Iran I visited Alamut and also the tomb of Nizam al-Mulk in Esfahan. Unfortunately I was unable to visit the tomb of Omar Khayyam in Nishapur. I was still ruing this omission when I finished the bottle of Stanushina.




Entrance to the tomb of Nizam al-Mulk in Esfahan, Iran






North Macedonia | Tikves Wine District | Demir Kapiya | Popova Kula Winery | Stanushina


I Mentioned Earlier that I drink only wines indigenous to the place I happen to be at the time. At the moment I am staying at the Popova Kula Winery in the Tikves Wine District of Macedonia. In addition to making wine from the more famous varieties of grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, etc, all of which originated outside the Balkan Peninsula and have been replanted here—the winery also features several wines indigenous to the Balkans. It also features one wine indigenous to Macedonia itself. This wine, known as Stanushina, is made from a variety of grapes which originated in the Tikves Wine Region of Macedonia and to this day is grown nowhere else. The Popova Kula Winery claims to be the only winery in Macedonia—and thus the world—to make wine from this grape. This is a truly indigenous wine, and sampling it is the main reason I have come to Demir Kapiya. 
Stanushina (click on photos for enlargements)
A bottle of regular Stanushina (there is also an aged-in-oak-barrels version) cost $4.43 at the winery store. Although the weather is cool—in the 50ºF—and rainy, with surprisingly strong gusts of wind sweeping down the Vardar Valley, I retire to my balcony with the wine and an assortment of walnuts, figs, and dried apricots that I bought at the Old Bazaar in Skopje. I am perfectly comfortable in a Mongolian Cashmere sweater. The wine is light scarlet in color, fruity and flowery, with a mouthful of cherries and hints of strawberry and raspberry. As often happens when I drink wine—especially light, fruity wine, my thoughts turn to Omar Khayyam (1048 a.d. – 1131 a.d.). Most famous in the Occident as a poet—he is the “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou” guy—in Persia itself he is best known as a Mathematician and astronomer. 

As I started on my second glass of Stanushina I began to recall quotes and poetry by Omar Khayyam:

Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine and roses. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.
So much wine I will have drunk that its perfume
Shall stream from my tomb once I am laid to rest.
And when a true believer passes by
The aroma shall overwhelm him with drunkenness.
 A glass of wine is worth more than the entire kingdom of China.
Before death springs upon you unannounced 
Make sure to ask for the finest of vintages.
Something in my third glass of Stanushina triggered thoughts about the legend involving Omar Khayyam, Nizam al-Mulk, who was the vizier of the Seljuq Empire from 1064 a.d. to 1092 a.d., and Hassan-i Sabbah (1050 to 1124), the Nizari Ismaili who founded the notorious sect of the Assassins. According to the legend—admittedly the historicity of this tale has been questioned—the three men while still young swore a pact of eternal friendship, vowing that if one of them rose to prominence he would help the other two in whatever way he could.  Nizam al-Mulk achieved achieved power first by becoming vizier of the Seljuq Empire. He then offered both his friends important positions in the Seljuq government. Hassan-i Sabbah accepted a government post but Omar Khayyam declined, preferring instead to stick to his study of mathematics and astronomy and to his devotion to women, poetry, and wine. Nizam al-Mulk eventually decided that Hassan-i Sabbah had become too powerful and was threatening his own position in the Seljuk court. He then engineered a plot to have Hassan-i Sabbah removed from office and disgraced. Hassan-i Sabbah never forgave Nizam al-Mulk for this betrayal. Years later, after he had organized the Assassin sect at Alamut in Iran, Nizam al-Mulk was the very first victim of Hassan-i Sabbah’s trained assassins. When I was in Iran I visited Alamut and also the tomb of Nizam al-Mulk in Esfahan. Unfortunately I was unable to visit the tomb of Omar Khayyam in Nishapur. I was still ruing this omission when I finished the bottle of Stanushina.
Entrance to the tomb of Nizam al-Mulk in Esfahan, Iran