Few countries are blessed with such a rich, ancient wine-growing heritage as North Macedonia.
The cultivation and consumption of wine forms a vital part of the region’s history, the roots of which go back as far as the 13th century BCE. The wines grown in North Macedonia’s ancient wine district, the Tikves Valley, were the same as those consumed by Alexander the Great’s armies, and by successive civilizations such as the Roman and Byzantine empires. But while ancient Macedonian wine enjoyed a reputation for quality, it was as much infused with pragmatism as it was with artisanal production.
The ancients mixed their wine with honey, and added olive oil to the top of their amphorae to stop the wine from oxidizing. Drawing 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 hosts more than 139 officially registered wineries growing 38 different grape vine varieties, from the autochthonous red grape variety Stanushina, to the regional reds such as Vranec, Prokupec, and the white vine variety Zilavka.
You can quite see how the landscape lends itself to cultivating such variety. North Macedonia is blessed with a warm climate typical of Southeast Europe’s central Balkan peninsula, with an annual average of 283 sunny days, rich soils, an abundant water supply and varied altitudes combining to form the perfect conditions.
The market reflects this, with wine contributing enormously to North Macedonia’s economy. Vineyards occupy more than 28,213 hectares and produce 91 million liters of wine each year (only around 15% of which is consumed domestically; the rest is exported). And yet, with just nine industrial wineries producing the lion’s share , the country’s sustainable wine sector remains unexplored and underappreciated, especially the indigenous varieties cultivated using traditional, chemical-free methods.
This owes in part to the reputational pedigree of its neighboring competitors’ small-scale wineries, Greece and Italy in particular, but also to North Macedonia lacking a guide to sustainable wine. This lacuna in guides, books, magazines and other media does little justice to the diversity and richness found in North Macedonia’s vineyards.
But change is on the horizon.
The Slow Wine Guide: Putting Macedonian Wine on the Map
Slow Food Macedonia has been awarded a grant from the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund to put Macedonian wine on the map through the creation of a national wine guide.
The “Slow Wine Guide for Sustainable Local Wine” taps into a rich vein of potential for the promotion of the region’s wine. By showcasing 15 emerging small-scale wineries together with the indigenous varieties they cultivate and the traditional techniques they use, the project will deepen the connection between wine enthusiasts and small-scale local producers.
The guide will be supplemented with a catalog of photographs and videos, which will further contribute to communication efforts both at home and abroad. Indeed, as well as serving as a roadmap to help wine-lovers navigate North Macedonia’s rich wine landscape, the guide will engage other audiences, from tourist operators to the general public—raising awareness about the intrinsic value of the region’s local gastronomy and cultural heritage.
The ultimate aim is to nourish a thriving enogastronomic tourism sector, spotlighting small-scale wineries that embrace the principles of biodiversity and fair, regenerative agriculture, and promoting Slow Food Travel as a sustainable model of the future.
The Slow Wine Guide: A Project Roadmap
The project will span an eleven-month period, starting in July 2023 with a series of field visits and photo/video shootings, which capture the essence of North Macedonia’s small-scale vineyard, and finishing in time for the successive summer season.
To bring this project to fruition via engaging multimedia content, Slow Food Macedonia has teamed up with local digital media company, Concept Production. Through the creation of multimedia content and the implementation of a social media campaign, this collaboration will blend 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 the Slow Wine Saloon in Bitola in May 2024, where the guide will be unveiled to the world. But rather than mark the end, this event will be a platform for an ongoing nationwide campaign, which promotes small wineries, celebrates indigenous varieties and stands as a beacon of recognition for North Macedonia’s wine culture.
When telling the story of wine of a certain country, one should also tell the story of the winemaking tradition, viticulture history, the terroir and most of all, the story of the winemakers of that country. And when you connect all these concepts into one, you will get the aim of the Slow Wine Guide for North Macedonia to serve as a herald of the work of these winemakers, their dedication in preserving the tradition in the winemaking, the indigenous varieties and the environment where their vines are grown – and beyond.
Ivana Simjanovska, sommelier and project coordinator for the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund funded project
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 avenues for local vintners to showcase their craftsmanship on a global platform, cultivating pride and economic growth within the community.
“The beauty of this project lies in its potential,” says Nikolce Nikolovski, the project coordinator for Slow Wine Macedonia. “Many people are deeply passionate about wine, and North Macedonia has everything—and more—to accommodate them. The tough part is getting the word out there, but thanks to our network, our partnership with Concept Productions and the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund, I have every belief we will rise to the challenge.”
Beyond North Macedonia, the project brings the capacity to foster an international dialogue, heralding a movement that celebrates diversity and inclusivity in the wine world. It stands as a testament to the power of community, inviting individuals worldwide to join in this journey, and contribute to a narrative that emphasizes sustainable development and cultural preservation.
The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund: Supporting Sustainable Innovation
Paving the way for North Macedonia’s journey onto the global stage of sustainable wine is the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund, a collaboration between Slow Food and the Negroni which supports enterprising projects in the world of food, drink and hospitality.
Through its incubator grants, the fund acts as a catalyst, channeling support to projects that aim to preserve traditions while carving paths 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-led initiatives, fostering a culture where food and beverage serve as vehicles of change, nurturing a movement that embraces tradition while looking forward to a sustainable future.