Wine and Ideas Flow along the Vardar River

Chianti Classico and Cotes du Rhone are familiar names to anyone who drinks wine; but Povardarski is still unknown to the world. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and FAO’s Investment Centre have been working with Macedonia’s Ministry of Agriculture and wine producers to develop the country’s wine industry with the help of Geographical Indications (GIs). Groups of producers can register a GI so customers know they are buying a high-quality product with specific characteristics attributable to local growing conditions or regional production traditions.

Macedonian wine is known and respected in the Balkans but is still unfamiliar to the EU and US markets so efforts are being made to raise quality standards and gain name recognition for some of the country’s superior terroirs. With the help of the association “Wines of Macedonia”, which represents 85% of bottled wine produced in the country, the wineries of Povardarski (a region known as “along the Vardar River”) will apply for the country’s first Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

The Vardar River region is a key area of wine production accounting for approximately 85% of the country’s national production. The area is a rather extensive swath of land from Skopje in the north-west to Gevgelija in the south-east.

On 13 and 14 March 2012, a select group of Macedonian wine sector representatives, including nine Macedonian wineries, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Oenology Faculty of the University of Skopje and the Wines of Macedonia Association met in Skopje, Macedonia, to implement key findings from a December study tour to Côtes du Rhône, France. The Study Tour was organized by FAO with the aim to learn about GI systems in a renowned French wine region. The March workshop was held to present key findings from the Study Tour and plan next steps for the establishment of the Povardarski GI. A GI Working Group has been created to define production standards and rules around the proposed GI. Under the leadership of the Wines of Macedonia Association and the Ministry of Agriculture, the Working Group has already taken steps to establish a Code of Practice (CoP) that will set requirements for grape growers and winemakers in the Povardarki region.

The key outcomes of the Workshop were: first, a practical understanding of the GI registration process; second, the creation of Working Groups to develop on all aspects of the documentation required for the GI registration; third, the confirmation of the GI name; and last, an agreement to create a specific association for the promotion of the new GI and to pay membership fees to the GI association based on quantity of wine sold as opposed to wine produced. At the start of the workshop the Macedonian winemakers were daunted by the complexity of the French GI system but international wine expert Frédéric Julia remarked, “It is important for the Macedonian team to realize they should not just “copy-paste” the French system which, by the way, could be improved on many accounts. This is an opportunity for producers to learn from France and Italy but then make adjustments, adapt to the local situation and create a framework that will suit domestic conditions.”

Elena Urumovska of the EBRD commented, “I am encouraged by the progress made in this workshop. The GI registration will set a positive precedent for other Macedonian wine regions. I am pleased that EBRD has been able to contribute in making a difference at the sector level through this project”

One day soon, Macedonian wines produced along the Vardar River may be as well-known as their famous French and Italian counterparts.

 For all workshop material, please click here.