Few countries have a wine heritage as rich and ancient as North Macedonia.
The cultivation and consumption of wine is an essential part of the region’s history, with roots dating back to the 13th century BCE. The wines grown in North Macedonia’s ancient wine region, the Tikves Valley, were the same as those consumed by the armies of Alexander the Great and by successive civilizations such as the Roman and Byzantine empires. But if ancient Macedonian wine enjoyed a reputation for quality, it was as much marked by pragmatism as artisanal production.
The ancients mixed their wine with honey and added olive oil to the top of their amphorae to prevent the wine from oxidizing. Relying on such innovative solutions marks a point of continuity between ancient and modern Macedonian wine production, but while today’s producers embrace natural solutions, they no longer do so at the expense of taste.
The untapped potential of Macedonian wine
Today, North Macedonia has over 139 officially registered wineries growing 38 different grape varieties, starting from the indigenous red grape variety. Stanouchina, to regional reds like VranecProkupec and the white grape variety Zilavka.
We can clearly see how the landscape lends itself to cultivating such a variety. North Macedonia enjoys a warm climate typical of the central Balkan Peninsula of Southeast Europe, with an annual average of 283 days of sunshine, rich soils, abundant water supplies and varied altitudes combining to form ideal conditions.
The market reflects it, with wine contributing enormously for the economy of North Macedonia. The vineyards occupy more than 28,213 hectares and produce 91 million liters of wine each year (of which only about 15% is consumed locally; the rest is exported). And yet, with only nine industrial wineries producing the lion’s share, the country’s sustainable wine sector remains unexplored and underappreciated, particularly indigenous varieties grown using traditional, chemical-free methods.
This is partly due to the reputation of small vineyards in neighboring competitors, particularly Greece and Italy, but also due to the lack of a sustainable wine guide in North Macedonia. This gap in guidebooks, books, magazines and other media does not do justice to the diversity and richness of North Macedonia’s vineyards.
But change is on the horizon.
The Slow Wine Guide: putting Macedonian wine on the map
Slow Food Macedonia received a grant from Slow Food Negroni Week Fund raise awareness of Macedonian wine through the creation of a national wine guide.
The “Slow Wine Guide for Sustainable Local Wine” exploits a rich potential for promoting the region’s wine. By showcasing 15 emerging small-scale wineries along with the native varieties they grow and the traditional techniques they use, the project will deepen the connections between wine lovers and small, local producers.
The guide will be complemented by a catalog of photographs and videos, which will further contribute to communication efforts both nationally and abroad. Indeed, in addition to serving as a roadmap to help wine lovers discover the rich wine landscape of North Macedonia, the guide will address other audiences, from tourist operators to the general public, raising awareness to the intrinsic value of local gastronomy and the cultural heritage of the region. .
The ultimate goal is to nurture a thriving wine and food tourism sector, highlighting small wineries that adhere to the principles of biodiversity and just and regenerative agriculture, and the promotion Slow Food Trip as a sustainable model of the future.
The Slow Wine Guide: a project roadmap
The project will span a period of eleven months, starting in July 2023 with a series of field visits and photo/video shoots, which capture the essence of the small vineyard of North Macedonia, and ending in time for the successive summer season.
To carry out this project through engaging multimedia content, Slow Food Macedonia partnered with a local digital media company, Realization of concepts. Through the creation of multimedia content and the implementation of a social media campaign, this collaboration will combine creativity and expertise to redefine the representation of North Macedonian viticulture on the global and digital stage.
The project will culminate with a grand celebration at Slow Wine Salon in Bitola in May 2024, where the guide will be revealed to the world. But rather than marking the end, this event will be a platform for an ongoing national campaign, which promotes small wineries, celebrates indigenous varieties and serves as a beacon of recognition for North Macedonia’s wine culture.
When we tell the history of the wine of a certain country, we must also tell the story of the wine tradition, of viticulture, of the terroir and above all, the history of the winegrowers of this country. And when you connect all these concepts into one, you will understand that the goal of the Slow Wine Guide for North Macedonia is to serve as a herald of the work of these winemakers, of their dedication to preserving the tradition of winemaking, the grape varieties indigenous people and the environment where their vines are grown – and beyond.
Ivana Simjanovska, sommelier and coordinator of the project financed by the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund
Fostering local and global connections
The project promises a ripple effect with vast potential to illuminate the global wine landscape. At the local level, it serves as a catalyst for economic growth, fostering a sustainable ecosystem that respects its roots while ambitiously aiming for a prosperous future. But it also creates opportunities for local winemakers to showcase their expertise on a global platform, cultivating pride and economic growth within the community.
“The beauty of this project lies in its potential,” says Nikolce Nikolovski, project coordinator for Slow Wine Macedonia. “Many people are deeply passionate about wine and North Macedonia has everything and more to accommodate them. The hardest part is getting the message across, but thanks to our network, our partnership with Concept Productions and the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund, I am convinced that we will be able to meet the challenge.
Beyond North Macedonia, the project brings the capacity to foster an international dialogue, heralding a movement that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness in the world of wine. It is a testament to the power of community, inviting individuals from around the world to join this journey and contribute to a narrative that emphasizes sustainability and cultural preservation.
The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund: supporting sustainable innovation
The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund, a collaboration between Slow Food and Negroni, which supports entrepreneurial projects in the world of food, drink and hospitality, is paving the way for North Macedonia’s evolution on the global sustainable wine scene.
Through its incubator grants, the fund acts as a catalyst, channeling support towards projects that aim to preserve traditions while paving the way for a future where gastronomy reflects a harmonious blend of tradition, innovation and sustainability.
The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund embodies the spirit of community initiatives, fostering a culture where food and drink serve as vehicles for change, nourishing a movement that embraces tradition while envisioning a sustainable future.