Home Politics Red and white: Bosnian wine shines on the world stage

Red and white: Bosnian wine shines on the world stage

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Photos by Elvis Barukcic. Video by Rusmir Smajilhodzic

Amid the karst soil and intense sun of southern Bosnia, two grape varieties are making waves outside this mountainous Balkan country, rarely associated with world-class wine.

The tough Zilavka and temperamental Blatina wines have even managed to win international awards thanks to their adherence to tradition and new techniques.

Wine has deep roots in Bosnia, with historians saying the mountainous country has been producing wine since the days of the Roman Empire. Its southern valleys offer a range of microclimates suitable for growing a wide variety of grapes.

At 77, Grgo Vasilj sees piles of dark blue Blatina grapes being crushed, after being picked from one of his vineyards on the outskirts of Medjugorje, a small village famous for its Catholic shrine.

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Here, his family has tended vineyards covering 22 hectares (54 acres) for generations.

In this region, Zilavka – a strong but refreshing white wine – and Blatina – a hearty red – remain the dominant grape varieties.

Vasilj and his son Andrija have also planted Cabernet Sauvignon, a black grape variety of French origin, which they hope to combine with traditional grape varieties from their region.

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In June, three of its wines won gold medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London, one of the world’s largest wine competitions.

“I’m the fifth generation, my son the sixth and his son the seventh,” Vasilj says, boasting of his family’s “unbroken lineage” of winemaking.

The winery that bears his name is modern, but the Vasilj family has been working the vines since the mid-19th century.

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Vasilj started in the vineyards at the age of three.

“We take from technology what we consider indispensable,” says Vasilj, whose annual production amounts to 80,000 to 100,000 bottles, of which about 90 percent of his stock is sold in restaurants throughout Bosnia.

“But we are careful not to waste what God has already given us with the grapes.”

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The ability to control the fermentation temperature when harvesting in very hot weather is useful, Vasilj admits.

In a nod to its historical roots, Vasilj’s wine bottles are stamped with the saying “Carska vina”, or “wines of the emperors”, in homage to Zilavka’s former popularity at the court of the Austro Empire. -Hungarian.

With an annual production of 18 million liters on less than 4,000 ha of vineyards, Bosnian production is tiny on a global scale, with production equivalent to only 0.4% of that of France.

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And almost all of the 70 registered producers are in Herzegovina, a geographic region located in the heart of the south of the country, along the border with Croatia.

Just five kilometers from Medjugorje, Jure Susac, 69, cultivates 2.5 hectares of vines in the village of Cerno.

He planted his first vineyard in the early 1980s and bought a 300 liter barrel.

“I thought this first wine would never go anywhere, but the barrel quickly emptied,” Susac tells AFP.

In recent years he has also purchased grapes from several neighboring winemakers, producing around 30,000 liters of white and 20,000 liters of red per year, with some rosé as well.

He sells a good part of his bottles to neighboring Croatia, the region’s leading wine producer. The rest he peddles “practically at my door” during visits to his cellar.

“But the demand is such that I plan to increase production,” adds Susac.

“Zilavka thrives in fairly dry conditions, in very poor, arid karst soils, while Blatina thrives in richer soils,” says Susac.

Both varieties need little water, allowing them to survive the scorching summers of the Balkans, where temperatures have reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent years.

Despite the blazing sun, the region’s deep wells are essential for maintaining crops during the hot season.

The rest depends on the grapes.

“Good wine is made from good grapes,” explains Vasilj. “That’s always been our motto.”


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