White wine in Serbia
Your first thought when you hear “Serbia” probably isn’t wine. Maybe it’s Yugoslavia. Or Nikola Tesla. Or neither.
A member of a a British university’s basketball team tells me that, at first, he thought he was packing for Siberia. “And I was like, isn’t that cold?” he says. I nod and sip my dry white blend. I am surprised to be sharing my once-cozy hotel in Belgrade with him and his nine teammates, who are here for a pre-season tournament. I hadn’t planned on sharing my two bottles of white wine with a group of hormonal and super-athletic 18-to-22-year-olds, but here we are.
Serbia loves wine, and the local wine industry is booming right now. Small family vineyards thrived for hundreds of years, up until the communist era, when winemaking was controlled under large, state-owned cooperatives. While some favored family wineries were allowed to remain open during the 60-year period, many were forced to halt production. Starting in the 2000s, though, the economy grew stronger and local, family-run wineries began to reemerge. This was good news for Serbia—and for any visiting tourist who likes a glass of white or red alongside a fascinating history lesson. One winery in particular, just a few hours away from Belgrade by bus, had its vineyards totally destroyed after World War II. After a 40-year hiatus, they’re back.
Intrigued by this story of exile and renewal, my friend and I took a day trip from the capital city in search of these hundred-acre vineyards. We planned to walk through the town of Topola on to the nearby winery, maximizing the shrinking hours of fall daylight before heading back to Belgrade on the last night bus home.
Topola was blanketed in damp orange leaves and the muted, friendly sounds of small-town commerce when we arrived. There was a bread shop, a locals’ bar—closed, at 2 p.m.—and a pizza joint. Bone-white orthodox churches sprinkled the landscape, and we could see vineyards in the distance.
We took a brief, self-guided tour through town and ended at the winery. With hundreds of acres of thriving grapes set behind a sprawling, sterile central headquarters of production, it doesn’t feel much like the quaint little winery I had pictured. There was also a 13-minute promotional video.
But in the tasting section, stern portraits of past generations watched from their places on the walls, and a warm fire crackled in a corner. Looking out at the vines soaking up the last of the day’s sun, it wasn’t hard to imagine drinking from an old family recipe, passed down for hundreds of years and finally brought back to life after a long hiatus. My wine was light, dry, and storied. So we smiled, finished our tasting, and took several bottles home to share with the basketball team, who were just finishing up their Saturday night game.