Wine from the Vardar River Valley in Macedonia will soon join the exclusive club of protected appellations such as Chianti Classico and Champagne. On 21 May 2013 the first Geographical Association (GI) in Macedonia was registered, leading the way to the protection of the promising wines of the Vardar River Valley.
The Association “Wines of Macedonia” and the Macedonian Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Economy were instrumental to reach this important breakthrough in Macedonia’s wine sector. Wine is one of Macedonia’s main agricultural exports behind tobacco and fresh fruits and vegetables, and is the main source of income for 15 000 rural households.
The registration is a key output of a joint project of FAO and the Eureopean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) commenced in April 2011, which aimed to add value to the Macedonian wine sector through the development of origin-based labels. The project consisted in identifying a region where the terroir and the quality of wines would qualify for a protected geographical indication, and then to assist a group of winemakers and grape growers in the development of this label through knowledge transfer and technical assistance. The creation of this first appellation will lead the way for other groups of producers wishing to join forces to protect and promote their terroir and collective know-how.
Over the project period, the FAO team held technical workshops to facilitate knowledge transfer from EU wine countries and guide a group of winemakers and winery representatives through the registration process of the new appellation. Two study tours brought the group to Côtes du Rhône and Tuscany to allow its members to learn directly from the extensive experience of French and Italian winemakers with regard to the protection, promotion and control of geographical indications
Dane Jovanov, Managing Director of Stobi Winery, attended both study tours and admitted that “we have learned a lot in terms of seeing how other wine regions have gone through the process long ago and with this experience we think that we can implement an even better geographical indication system in Macedonia.”
In Macedonian, the Vardar River Valley is called “Povardarski”. This region produces autochthonous varietals like Vranec and Temjanika as well as internationally established varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The wine sector accounts for 18 percent of agricultural GDP in Macedonia, covering a territory of 35 000 hectares. The country’s long history of winemaking lacks international recognition however, as until recently most wines were exported in bulk, with less focus on quality. In recent years, though, winemakers have been striving for international respect to match the growing quality of their wines; and this is starting to pay off. Notably, in 1994, a Tikves Winery vintage received a 94 rating from the renowned critic Robert Parker.
Geographical indications will add to these individual efforts, allowing wineries and grape producers to work together on the recognition of Macedonian’s terroirs and winemaking ability. Now that the GI Association has been registered, it must focus on finalising the registration of the GI, monitoring its members compliance with the newly developed standards, ensuring proper international use of the Vardar River Valley name, and of course marketing the label. Zivko Brajkovski, Head of the Department of Fruit Growing, Viticulture and Wine Production in the Macedonian Ministry of Agriculture, commented: “The Ministry supports the creation of geographical indications to effectively communicate and protect our unique terroir and wines in international markets. This approach is fully in line with the EU acquis and we will be happy to support the efforts of the association and any other group of producers that wish to register other appellations.”
The final project conference was held on 9 July 2013 in Skopje, where the new Geographical Indications Association logo was launched. The workshop focused on the necessity to set up control bodies and develop a clear marketing strategy for the Vardar River Valley Geographical Indication Association so it has all the tools to protect and strengthen the future appellation.