Welcome to Kosovo! In the heart of the former Yugoslavia, this country, as small as it is charming (1.8 million inhabitants), often unknown to tourists (wrongly!), has literally amazed us by the beauty of its landscapes and the welcoming nature of its inhabitants.
Surrounded by Montenegro and Albania to the west, Macedonia to the south and Serbia to the northwest, Kosovo was only recognized as an independent state in 2008. Still very rural, its economic system is based on an agricultural dominance, where wine has always had a place ; although in limited quantities. Bullied in the last century, like many neighboring countries under the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo is gradually getting its viticulture back on track. Story of a vineyard in search of identity.
A remarkable arrival in Rahovec
At its peak in 1989, Kosovo had 9,000 hectares of vineyards. It was largely destroyed in the 1990s(1), when the country was plunged into war. Today, with renewed peace and the arrival of new investors, the Kosovar vineyard is finding new life ; to our delight.
On the way to Rahovec – the country’s main wine region, with 3000 hectares of vines and around 20 wine estates – the Wine Explorers motorhome attracted curiosity! The people we met, surprised and intrigued, all turn in our direction, waving their hands. At each stop, people approached us, smiling. After shaking our hands, all made it clear that they would not be opposed to a short visit. We played the game with happiness. It was a nice and original way to get to know locals, after all.
Large panels proudly displayed the wine route. Welcome to Rahovec. What a beautiful surprise the landscape here offered to us! Leaving the agricultural plains of the south, we arrived on a hilly plateau, with a scattered topography, where vines were planted on hillsides, as far as the eye can see. Wonderful. It (almost) looked like Tuscany…
The rehabilitation of former state-owned companies
We visited Stone Castle and Bodrumi i Vjeter. Both date from 1953 and testify to the revival of the Kosovar viticulture. Belonging to the state under the regime of the former Yugoslavia, these wineries had at the time a dual objective: productivity and efficiency (quantity at the expense of quality). Privatized in 2006, they are today expanding well, equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and now focused on quality.
Stone Castle well deserves its name. We arrived in front of a huge stone facade, built in a “medieval” style. It was in 2006 that Rrustem and Hysen Gecaj embarked on the wine adventure, reactivating a modern winery on the foundations of a former state-owned company. On the property of 2,200 ha (of which 650 are planted with vines), the Gecaj family has invested several million euros to create Stone Castle. This wine giant (for the country) is currently the largest winery of Kosovo, with a production of 8 to 9 million liters per year (capacity of 30 million liters).
Located in the heart of the Rahovec Valley, its vineyards are composed of poor and sandy soils, laden with minerals. The vineyard is caressed by abundant sunlight and a gentle breeze. “It’s classic weather this spring season”, we were told. Result, well made red wines, fresh and fruit driven.
At the Bodrumi i Vjeter estate, which means “old cellar”, Vranac, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Merlot were planted in red, Chardonnay and Italian Riesling in white. We visited the vineyards at sunset.
The air was getting fresher but nice. An ideal time to admire the hectares of vines that extended on these hilly reliefs, between 340 and 600 meters above sea level, like big mushrooms just getting out of the ground. The place was idyllic. The moderate continental climate of Rahovec, combined with the Mediterranean currents from the west, offers the region a nice terroir, propitious to the cultivation of vines.
The emergence of small family estates
Sefa Wine is one of the few family estates in Kosovo. Dating back to 1917, it has seen 3 generations of wine growers passing on their precious know-how to produce quality wines.
Mr Labinot Shulina, owner and winemaker, has set up his estate in the heights of the city of Rahovec, next to the family house. We had the opportunity to taste some samples taken from stainless steel tanks and barrels. The red wines, made from Vranac grapes, were fresh, crunchy and full of black fruit. A limited production (60,000 bottles a year for the estate), but promising wines.
Active on social media, he brilliantly developed tourism in order to attract many travelers to his tasting table. A very sympathetic group of Dutch tourists came to join us for a nice moment of sharing and exchange.
We concluded our stay with a visit to the national association of the vineyards of Kosovo, “Enologjia”, created in October 2008 which includes some twenty estates. Initiated by a few producers in the Rahovec region, this multi-hat association is both a guarantor of the protection of common interests, a regulator of development on the internal and external market and also fights against unauthorized sales of wine and eau-de-vie. A qualitative springboard for the viticulture of the country.
Thank you to Bodrumi i Vjeter, Stone Castle and Sefa Wine, for their warm welcome. Thank you to the Enologjia team for kindly receiving us and for having provided us with very valuable information about the vineyards of Kosovo.
(1) The Kosovo war took place from March 6th, 1998 to June 10th, 1999 in the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, opposing the Yugoslav Army to the Liberation Army of Kosovo and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).