The Association of Winemakers of Šumadija gathers together a large number of producers and participates very actively, be that in legislative amendments, the training of its members or control. How would you explain the work of your association?
– Šumadija was among the first, but other regions also launched initiatives, so now there are several regional associations active. As a coincidence of the fact that we planted vineyards before the actual regionalisation, the Despotika Winery has part of its plantation in the Belgrade region, so on that basis we are also a member of that association. We try to give our maximum contribution and to advance the work as much as we can, because the problems that hamper us are identical in Šumadija and Belgrade and Župa and on Fruška Gora etc. Good experiences should be used and copied in similar situations, because that accelerates the process, and the ultimate goal is for most registered producers to be within the system of protected geographical designation.
As an association, you were the first to launch the story of protecting geographical origin. How important is that for producers?
– Protecting geographical origin is very important for every producer, and the state rightly pays great attention to this issue. Designated geographical origin is a guarantee that the wine in question was produced in our country, in a specific region and from a specific variety of grapes, and according to technology, as defined in the study, adopted by the competent ministerial service. This principle is also important for many other products, such as rakia brandy, honey, slatko fruit preserve, ajvar pepper chutney etc. Furthermore, it is also a guarantee that consumers are buying an original and recognisable product. Winemakers are certainly the drivers of this process and we care a lot about it coming to life as soon as possible in practise. As things stand, the current vintage will be in line with this principle and we are very pleased that 2017 wines will have designated geographical indications. This is an established system in developed wine countries and with it we become compatible and visible on the broader wine scene.
The state, or the Ministry of Agriculture, provides a large number of subsidies that relate specifically to wine production. Are you satisfied with that cooperation?
– It’s true that a lot has been done and that the Ministry has established subsidies on the basis of several factors. Many people decided to enter into raising vineyards or purchasing equipment, relying on the aforementioned subsidies. Of course, we mustn’t be satisfied with what has already been achieved, because there is always room for improvement. In the years ahead we expect an increase in the agriculture budget and an increase in the amount made available to producers, because in this respect we are still a long way behind our counterparts in the region, and especially in Europe. We also rely on various European funds, which are constantly being announced but never start. For now, associations can use part of these funds, mainly for marketing purposes, introducing quality standards and increasing visibility, but the real effects can be expected when it becomes possible to use those funds for investments and the procurement of equipment, raising and expanding production capacities, or equipping areas to cater for wine tourism.
What are the main assets of the Serbian wine industry when it comes to appearing on foreign markets? Is it local varieties?
– Local varieties are important, as something unique and characteristic of each country or region, and as such should be preserved, developed and promoted. Unfortunately, we don’t have many of them, so we can dedicate more time to them than was previously the case. In this sense, they can be a lure that will compel potential consumers to pay attention to us and will place us on the world’s wine map. With the quality of our wines, we certainly deserve to find ourselves in such company, because all other factors are in our favour. We have a beautiful country, hospitable people and a rich history. We only need to clean up and mark the natural and historical sights and we’ll be much more interesting to foreign guests. Wineries are the leaders of these processes, but they can’t do it by themselves. Wine production brings with it many other services, such as restaurants and hotels that follow modern tourism. Each has to do their own part of the job, from production, via tourist organisations, local communities and the competent ministries. And, of course, associations, without which it is impossible to appear on the international scene.
Local varieties are important, as something unique and characteristic of each country or region, and as such should be preserved, developed and promoted
In addition to being a major export opportunity for our country, the wine sector also enables higher employment of young people, especially in rural areas. Do you think interest exists among them?
– The labour force issue is becoming increasingly important and I fear that it will eventually be a limiting factor in the further development of winemaking. Viticulture is a labour-intensive branch with the great participation of manual labour. If we manage to keep young people in the villages and offer them the chance to have a normal life, then we have succeeded. Winemakers contribute because we are interested in ourselves, but many other factors need to be included. Otherwise, there is a growing trend among people from urban areas in investing money in agriculture and agri-based production, so we are now experiencing a mini boom in establishing vineyards, distilleries, breweries, dairies etc. That needs to be welcomed and supported, because I think that our future is in agriculture and associated processing and service activities. I hope all this will contribute to the revival of rural communities and the return and sustaining of the young.
We, as a country, have an additional argument, and that is that we’re pretty “exotic” for large tourism markets, and that should be exploited in the best way
The Vineyard-Growers and Wine Producers’ Association of Serbia, VIVIS, was founded back in 2008. How important is a joint approach and associating in this area?
– The Vineyard-Growers and Wine Producers’ Association, headed by Gvozden Radenković, was the precursor to modern associations in our region, and everything started from there. Another thing is that the new law on wine placed an emphasis on regional organisations, as they are smaller and more operative. This is logical, of course, and that’s also how it is in the EU’s wine countries, though some level of national organisation is still required, and I think there is a need to satisfy that through the transformation and modernisation of VIVIS. This is especially important for smaller countries like Serbia, where regional associations often include only a few producers and cannot independently attend international fairs and festivals as regions. For example, at the world’s largest wine fair in Dusseldorf, national organisations are responsible for appearances, naturally with the support and help of the state. In this sense, I consider a national association as being necessary.
Serbian wines win numerous significant awards internationally. How much effort needs to be invested to achieve this?
– When it comes to recognition, the truth is that Serbian wines are becoming increasingly recognised by almost all evaluators worldwide, and I must admit that everyone mentions that to us. However, as usual, behind every success there is a great deal of work, sacrifice, investments of time, energy and money in order to reach a final product that will draw attention to some variety, region or specific producer. The problem is that this is a process requiring time, and producing under open skies is very risky. Given weather conditions, it is increasingly difficult to achieve continuous quality, and preventative measures are essential to ensure, as much as possible, a more or less successful harvest each year. Here we again reach the State and its role in supporting subsidies to build irrigation or hail protection systems. Not to mention the role of colleges and institutes in selecting and developing new varieties, clones or substrates better adapted to weather conditions that we cannot influence. All in all, this is beautiful and creative work that requires a lot of effort and sacrifice, but when you receive significant recognition everything comes into place.
Wine tourism in Serbia has prospects. What do you feel needs to be done in order for this type of tourism to operate at full capacity?
– Wine tourism is a rapid growth branch and, together with rural tourism, represents a driver of development in many regions. However, although wine production is perhaps the most important, it is only one tile in a mosaic that needs to be fully formed in order to complete the picture. There are parts requiring investment, such as repairing broken roads or building hotels and parking areas etc. But there are also jobs that we can launch with a lot of resources. Not much is required to pick up plastic bags or bottles or get rid of some wild dumps. That’s more down to the consciousness of people at the local level. When all of this is assembled, then a bit of marketing and promotion is needed, and in a few years the results will not be lacking.
We, as a country, have an additional argument, and that is that we’re pretty “exotic” for large tourism markets, and that should be exploited in the best way. This is also true of the world of wine, but also in many other areas. According to our experience, the vast majority of foreign guests are delighted with their stay in Serbia, and they are the best advertisement for us as a destination. We also shouldn’t forget domestic guests, because as living standards and opportunities grow, so our people will increasingly be guests of wineries and other tourist attractions. Despotika Winery and most of our colleagues are generally ready to welcome this wave. That’s why I can freely invite all those wondering where to go for the weekend – to come to nature, fresh air, natural food and good wine.